Me? Quirky? Not according to Anne Lamott

July 23, 2009

I had an epiphany recently while reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, a book on writing that several author friends recommended.

Putting my book together in pieces, imagining my end product but watching it morph into something different, all-in-all feeling like I don’t know exactly what I’m doing… These feelings are all normal!

Well, according to Anne, anyway. And I suppose since this is my first book, I’ve got some leeway.

Lamott writes:

Very few writers really know what they are doing until they’ve done it. Nor do they go about their business feeling dewy and thrilled. They do not type a few stiff warm-up sentences and then find themselves bounding along like huskies across the snow.

Until now, I thought my way of writing was quirky. Since I’m writing the book out of order — albeit following an outline — I allow myself to write whatever scene I feel like on a particular day. My book is in pieces, and I’m pasting them together. But this goes along well with Lamott’s advice to think about a project as a series of short assignments:

Say to yourself in the kindest possible way, Look, honey, all we’re going to do for now is to write a description of the river at sunrise, or the young child swimming in the pool at the club, or the first time the man sees the woman he will marry. That’s all we are going to do for now.

She also gives writers permission to write what she calls “shitty first drafts.” No, even better, she encourages writers to produce at less than par the first time around:

The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later.

Oh my gosh! I thought while reading this. No one will see my first draft! It can be horrible and no one will ever know!

She continues:

Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something — anything — down on paper. A friend of mine says that the first draft is the down draft — you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft — you fix it up. You try to say what you have to say more accurately. And the third draft is the dental draft, where you check every tooth, to see if it’s loose or cramped or decayed, or even, God help us, healthy.

Thank you, Anne Lamott, for making me feel a bit less abnormal and a little more like an emerging author.

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    20 Replies to “Me? Quirky? Not according to Anne Lamott”

    • theoldsilly says:

      Well I’m glad to know that it’s OK to write “shitty first drafts” cuz lord know I’ve written my share of those! LOL

      The Old Silly

    • Ami says:

      Some of my absolute favorite bits of Bird by Bird here. I love Anne Lamott and really need to pull this book off my shelf and thumb through it again.

      Thanks for this!

    • Helen Ginger says:

      Lamott knows what she’s talking about, for sure! And it’s always nice to read advice and discover it fits you to a tee.

      Straight From Hel

    • sallysmart says:

      Very nice. Anne Lamott is my kinda gal. Glad to have found your blog on Twitter – best of luck.

    • Carolyn Yalin says:

      I loved Bird by Bird – when I read it, it may me feel good too!

    • I like her advice and encouragement – looks like I’ll be adding another book to my collection!

    • Dawn Herring says:

      Thanks for sharing Anne Lamott portions for everyone to digest. It’s been a long time since I read Bird by Bird. I should probably read it again.
      I love her idea of writing what comes to you rather than trying to force it out in a certain way. Organization can come later.
      We have to learn to give ourselves permission as writers to follow our gut, our instincts, and our love for what we want to share with others.
      Dawn Herring
      JournalWriter Freelance
      writing in genres of fiction, memoir, essay, devotinal and poetry

    • Belle says:

      I think it’s time for a re-read of Bird by Bird! I loved the quotes you posted. I am knee deep in all-over-the-place, not-too-sure-of-myself land right now and I felt better just reading your post!

    • Lisa Romeo says:

      I love, love, love Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and try to reread it once a year, and recommend it to everyone who will listen.
      And now…let’s all go write some really awful first drafts! It’s allowed. Anne says so.

    • Stacy says:

      Thanks for sharing these points. It’s great advice.

    • Christine Fonseca says:

      Bird by Bird is one of my favorite books – and I think you really nailed why!!! Nice post.

    • jessiecarty says:

      It is fun to hear you talking about Bird by Bird. I only read it last year and it can apply to so many different genres of writing and steps in the writing process. I say it is a must have!

    • awesome- makes me feel so much better- because I am so in the middle of my new novels down draft- not even worry about spelling or punctuation- just getting it down!! thanks!

    • Linda says:

      Anne Lamott makes me feel like I’m normal too. 🙂 And I’ve read Bird by Bird so many times it’s falling apart.

    • I need to go back and read Lamott again as well. It’s one of my favorites.

    • julielomoe says:

      Great quotes. I’ve got this book sitting on my shelf and you’ve inspired me to go pick it up again.

      I may be immodest, but I don’t feel any of my first drafts are shitty! Maybe that’s because I write on the computer and edit so much before printing it out that it’s more like a third draft. As for how it fits in with the entire structure, that’s another issue entirely.

      Julie Lomoe’s Musings Mysterioso

      • Alexis Grant says:

        Hey Julie!

        I like to think mine aren’t shitty either, but I think the the point is they aren’t perfect. If you stop to make every word or sentence or paragraph exactly the way you want it the first time, you’ll never finish the draft. At least I won’t!

    • Joanna Penn says:

      I love this book as well Alexis. Anne is on my interview hit list! Her other books are also fantastic – so honest about her life, her son and her faith. A real inspiration!

    • I love Bird by Bird and I’m not even a novelist! I find most of what she says translates quite nicely in the playwriting world. Quirky writers unite!

    • Omar Ahmed says:

      Bird by Bird is an intresting book to read. Anne gave me a bold advice, generous and hilarious guidance of writing.

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