At the genesis of my writing journey, I possessed a freshly inked degree in English Literature and a passion for story. I'm not sure what pushed me from simply reading novel-length stories to actually believing I could create one (it was probably the week before Christmas break or after a week of lunchroom duty), but several years before I quit teaching to write, I coyly perused the writing resources section at Barnes & Noble for a book on how to write a novel.
I started with a how-to book on mysteries, because I'd been playing with a cathartic storyline during my 20-minutes drive to and from school. Happily, I forgave that person and turned my attention toward contemporary women's fiction--my favorite read.
Only my husband knew I was tiptoeing along this path. I'd seen other teachers leave on sabbatical to write children's books and come back empty-handed and rather sheepish, so I kept mum and kept reading. It was very lonely. Singular. A bit strange, playing with characters and scenes while supposedly concentrating on cooking or driving or--sigh--a conversation.
The more I studied the craft of novel-writing, the more neurotic I became. So many balls to keep in the air! I needed nitty-gritty help from someone who balanced on the knife-edge of perfectionism like me.
I must have confessed my frustration to a stranger at the checkout, because someone suggested I read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. I loved her voice immediately. Finally, someone more anxious than me--but not much. Anne and I connected on a level that empowered me to face a blank computer screen day after day after day. I owe her.
In my dream life, Anne and I are sipping iced tea on a lanai overlooking Kealakekua Bay. Humpbacked whales are breaching offshore as yellow tangs do their synchronized swimming thing in the shallows. We hardly notice. It's all about the art. The breeze lifts the corners of our manuscripts as we talk shop. Well, she talks shop. I listen, trying to absorb everything she says.
This scene will not happen, but I have picked Bird by Bird up again. I really need to hear Anne's voice. I'm wondering if ten years of writing novels has changed how I will receive her wisdom. I'm wondering what I missed the first time around. And I'm hoping I have something to add. I might even disagree with her on certain points. And while I've recommended this book more than any other writing book, I've never actually discussed it with another writer.
How crazy is that?
Over the next few months, I'll be responding to what I read in Bird by Bird, and I hope you'll join the conversation, whether you choose to read the book again or not. Let's do it. Let's talk shop over Anne's book. Starting on January 31st, I'll be responding to something I've read in Bird by Bird when it's my turn to post. I'm not sure how far I'll get for that first time, maybe the intro and the first 20 pages.
I have 5 copies of Bird by Bird to give away! Be one of the first 5 to say you'd like to talk shop over Anne's book, and I'll send you a copy.
In the meantime, what great writing books have you read lately? I'm studying The Anatomy of Story by John Truby. I don't think I'll ever finish it. Dense. Very dense.