Monday, January 31, 2011

Its Own Reward

Welcome to the first day of our book talk on Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Whether you've read the book or not, feel free to jump into the conversation, which, of course, at Novel Matters is always about writing. Mostly.

I didn’t get very far in the book. Anne has too many nuggets in the introduction to Bird by Bird, and it was hard to pick just one idea to reflect on. I scanned the first chapter too, and I don't have much hope of getting through the book soon. Help me set the pace, won't you? I respond well to a cracking whip.

I first read Bird by Bird about ten years ago. I totally missed--or dismissed--the part about "the small pox-infected-blankets of getting published" in the introduction. I believed anything I wrote would be published, and the publishing world would thank me with a bulging bank account and the adoration reserved for queens. Please note: I also read and believed a book about painless childbirth. This is my nature. I'm optimistic with a rick-rack of delusion decorating my hem.

But Anne knows her stuff. Writing is writing. It's a wonderful art form for expression and playfulness, although it's tougher to display on the living room wall than a watercolor painting. That doesn't make it frivolous, even if our words don't get published. Writing is a tool of refinement in Jesus' hand. Showing up each day is an act of devotion and trust. And our characters--those little connivers!--drag us into topics to explore God's character like no Bible study ever could. There is a fellowship of creativity with Jesus that leaves us breathless. On walks, in our cars, usually in the shower but seldom at the computer, he leads us through a story, pelts us with mind-twisting questions, and reveals himself in a gifted word, phrase, or idea.

"That thing you had to force yourself to do--the actual act of writing--turns out to be the best part. It's like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward." (xxvi).

And so, like Anne, I encourage anyone compelled to write to do so.

What nuggets did you pan from the introduction? How has writing become its own reward for you? What do you tell starry-eyed wannabes about the writing life? If you knew you would never be published, would you continue to write?

Let's read "Getting Started" and "Short Assignments" for our time together on February 16th.


Dina Sleiman said...

One of my friends referred me to your blog because she thought I would enjoy the literary tenor, and on my very first day you're talking Anne Lamott. What fun! I haven't read Bird by Bird, but I did read Traveling Mercies and loved the format and writing style.

I too thought it would be easy to get published. Nearly five years later, I realize how wrong I was. But I also realize I needed that time to truly develop my muscles as a writer. For many of those years I wrote on sheer instinct, fumbling around and letting the characters in my head rule me until I found something that worked. Now I understand how the process works and how to do it correctly the first time.

By the way, I think I read that same book about childbirth.

Footprints From the Bible by Cynthia Davis said...

So much Anne said in her intro resonated with me! From her childhood memories to "writing furtively at the office"-been there, done that.
I agree that the core reason we are authors is because we know Anne is right, "Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises."
There are so many nuggets in the intro, I'll just share one more that caught made me sigh with recognition. "...writing brings with it so much joy, so much challenge. It is work and play together...there will be days when it feels like they have caught and are riding a wave."

Wendy Paine Miller said...

I've read back over my novels and spotted areas I've grown in--not as a writer, but as a person. Anyone who argues novel writing isn't healing or cathartic, I'd be tempted to show them all I've learned from getting the words down. I never realize it at the time, but I am changing as I write. Leaving some baggage behind and picking up things of beauty on the way.
~ Wendy

Patti Hill said...

Dina: Thanks for joining us! Traveling Mercies is my favorite of Anne's memoirs. My husband heard many passages out loud because he would ask why I was mumbling, laughing, sighing. You'll love Bird by Bird. Writing does involve lots of fumbling. What I didn't understand at first was the fumbling is the learning part, the disequilibrium of assembling an amazing story.

Cynthia: See what I mean? There's so much in the intro that I could relate to, probably more now that I've experienced the small-pox blankets. I, too, love the metaphor of riding a wave. Remember, to ride a wave you have to paddle out past the waves and then swim like your heart is going to burst to get in the curl. Sometimes you hit the wave all wrong. The good news? You're still in the process, still writing stories. It just isn't a Beach Blanket Bing party every day.

Wendy: I definitely pick the scariest thing I can think of for me and stick my characters right in the middle of the mess. And then I wrestle God for his perspective. I'm definitely a different person since becoming a writer.

Marian said...

I've given birth to six children. Even the breech births were relatively bearable. I felt no need to scream as did the lady in the next room on my first go-round.

I also have trouble feeling the pain of my characters.

Patti Hill said...

Marian: Wow. I'm impressed. Breech? Bearable? You don't hear those two words often.

As for feeling the pain of your characters, I understand. It wasn't until I experienced bone-crushing pain that I wrote more convincingly of my characters' pain. I'm actually thankful God was able to redeem my pain in this way.

l said...

I laughed at the "small-pox blankets" comment. I remember when I started writing "novels" at the tender age of twelve. I imagined a life filled with casual, leisurely writing while editors piled up on my doorstep wanting to be the first to get my new book contracted!
Ahem...yeah, those days are long gone. ;0)
I also smiled at this quote: "...there will be days when it feels like they have caught and are riding a wave." Been there, done that!

Megan Sayer said...

Patti I was so blessed because your last post, in which you said we'd be discussing this, came just after my new Christmas Kindle came in the post (yay!!! I am DOUBLY blessed).

Anyway, Bird by Bird, naturally, became the first book I have bought and read on a Kindle. Never heard of it before this, but I am truly amazed at Anne Lamott's honesty and voice. So looking forward to reading more of her books.

The nugget for me was the way she's been able to talk about God in a way that's accessible to an unchurched readership. That's my passion in writing.

Oh, and am I allowed to say that the story with her little boy and the keys had me rolling round laughing? This woman is a breath of fresh air!

Ronna Snyder said...

Patti--Since you're the one who got a little stuck in the mud while trying to start reading Bird by Bird, I'll address this to you. Plain and simple, get back at it, girlfriend! As a writer, you owe it to yourself. And don't allow yourself to trip over the nuggets while you're on the yellow brick road of her writing. Read it through for cadence, creativity (she's a wordsmith like no other) but especially "The Big V"--as in, voice. The gal's got it like very few others. She's well-honed that "voice" to an art form I so admire that I dedicated my book, Hot Flashes from Heaven, to her!

Patti Hill said...

Megan: So glad to hear you enjoyed the book--and on your new Kindle! And yes, I admire the way she talks about God--like he's personal and paying attention!

Ronna: I've read Bird by Bird--wholly and favorite parts--many times. My challenge was picking something from the intro for our book talk. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Anne for her voice and her honesty. You did nail it.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Oh Patti, you had me in stitches with your comment about believing the book on painless childbirth. Yep, I read that one too. I prefer "optimistic" to "delusional", although clearly I was both. (Marian - I'm sorry to say that I could have been that woman next door. It seems I have no problem with feeling pain, either real or fictional. Your comment made me laugh too!) :)

Ahem. Back on topic. Confession: I tried to order "Bird by Bird" through our Aussie online bookstore, and it was out of stock. I must try again. I'm still enjoying this discussion, though. As for starry-eyed wannabees, I seem compelled to pour cold water over their hopes for instant success, and then stand there doling out spoonfuls of encouragement whenever they come up for air. If they do come up, that is. That's always a good sign.

I'm a wannabee too, of course, but definitely not a starry-eyed one. No, I've grown cynical and twisted. As you can tell. =)

Susie Finkbeiner said...

I'm on the road to (hopeful) publication of my first novel. Ugh. It's horrifying.

That being said, if I never have a novel published I will gladly find readers another way. Even if I have to give my book away to my Mom and sisters. Having readers (even if I'm not making money or gaining notoriety) is AWESOME! Knowing that I'm sharing the intimate relationship of writer and reader is so fulfilling!

Anonymous said...

I have not had the pleasure of reading this book as of yet...but I will say that getting a book published for still just the last line of my highschool year book "ambition."
My husband walked into our office the other day to find me typing furiously at our computer (ten minutes after I told him I was so totally exhausted that I NEEDED a nap...note that I'm very pregnant). However, when I got to our home from our chicken house...a literary piece of art (maybe only the kind my mom would hang on the refrigerator) that had formed while I stared at thousands of eggs all morning (we're egg farmers) wouldn't leave me alone and I knew there was no napping until I'd typed out those words. My husband was a little annoyed that I wasn't napping and scolded me.
Later that night, I explained to him that writing or drawing or knitting or any such artistic notions I enjoy are not about product for me...there a necessary part of my emotional well-being. Creating anything is a realease and joy for me...if in some way the good Lord decides to use it for His glory...then Hallelujah!...but in truth...the act of creating is essential to connecting with my keeps me (half) sane.
This Anne lady...she sounds like one wise cookie!

Patti Hill said...

Karen: They're out of Anne in Australia? Yikes! Hope you get a shipment soon. You'll love her. Cynical and twisted? Hardly. We love your wise and sweet spirit around here.

Susie: If I don't sell my latest novel, I'll do just that. Print it up somewhere and my Christmas shopping is done for 2011. Writing is a way we share ourselves with others.

Ashten: How great to hear from you here. When God said he created us in his image, we definitely got the creativity gene, even if we're not involved with the arts. Creativity gives us a chance to stand back and say, "Well done" just like our Daddy. And creativity is renewal.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Patti. I love "Bird by Bird." Most of the time it's on my bedside table for instant inspiration or instruction. Thanks for reminding me to pull it out today. And thanks, as always, for your optimistic spirit!

Judy Christie said...

Oops! That last post was from me,and I didn't mean to post it anonymously!

MandyB said...

Writing gripped me late in life and now I am hungry for all and any advice, guidance and resource I can lay my hands/eyes on! I will certainly buy this book - Anne seems to be an inspiring writer. Something we all aim for in one way or another. Thank you.

Patti Hill said...

Judy and Mandy: So glad you stopped by to say hello and to add your encouragement. And Judy, you're never anonymous around here. Mandy, writing hit me late in life too. My first novel came out in my late 40s. It's never to late to tell a great story.

Marian said...

Just received "Bird by Bird" in the mail. Thanks so much. I'm "Getting Started" now.