Welcome back for our second book talk on Anne Lamott's classic, Bird by Bird. We're covering two chapters, "Getting Started" and "Short Assignments." Haven't read the chapters? No problem. We have an open forum here. Chat away!
I probably wouldn't have made it through Anne's first day of writers workshop. Warm-up exercises? Why not spend the day at the department of motor vehicles? Good grief, let's get on with it. Get to the game. Get to the problem at hand. Get to the story. I'm a yellow Lab with a swashbuckling tail who is either running at full-tilt or taking a nap. Come on! (Mixed metaphors duly noted. So sorry.)
But I get what she's after, this truth-telling about ourselves. No one is likely to see or care what we scribble in journals, but this is where it starts. To tell the truth about our characters--the way life works and sometimes smells like rotting garbage or feels like a paper cut to the heart--we must tell the truth about ourselves, at least to ourselves.
I'm embarrassed to admit that it took a year of "pre-writing" before I started my first novel. Not far into the experience, I realized the story's premise forced me to face down what I feared most. My character would have doubts, follow rabbit trails, treat those she loved cruelly. She would not deal well with loneliness. Act stupidly because of it. Just like me. She isn't me, of course. Let's be clear on that. But Mibby and I share a lot, some things better left in the back of the refrigerator. To begin Like a Watered Garden, it came down to a decision-- tell the truth or go back to teaching. I typed until my fingernails splintered.
"Good writing is about telling the truth" means going after writing like we should go after life--eyes wide open, the Divine embraced, never forgetting that redemption weaves a thread of hope through the darkest evil. It isn't our job to prettify our lost paradise, writers. It is our job to show we have a victorious King. He has surrendered no ground. Our darkness is light to Him.That's where we're dancing, crying, doubting, and calling out to the One Who hears.
Please note: Anne uses "bad" words in this chapter. Let's not allow words to distract us from the fabulous lesson taught here. Most probably, being published isn't what you hope it is. It hasn't been for me, although it's many other things--some like creme cheese filled delights of any name. Others maddening. Still others weird. Writing, however, is what you hope it to be. Writing compels us to live more fully, look for God everywhere, and enter into the joy of creating.
This chapter set me free in two very important ways: First, I loved knowing I wasn't the only one playing with the gap between my front teeth to avoid writing, and second, I'm easily overwhelmed. Big jobs set my heart a-pounding until I figure out the first step and have an idea about step two...and three. Anne's advice to give ourselves short assignments--a paragraph, a piece of dialogue, some description--makes writing a novel doable for flighty folks like me.
Here's my head chatter as the computer whirs through its warm-up: "Today, I'm going to write the scene where Lucy, Goody, and Mercy arrive at the farm. Period. I don't have to write straight through to the end. I don't even have to know the end. In fact, I don't have to know what I'm writing tomorrow. I'm going to write what I can see through a one-inch frame. That's it! Get to work. Grr."
A recommendation: When you hit page 100, hit the print button. You won't believe the heft of 100 pages. Fan the pages. Toss the pages in the air. Spread them on the floor and do a happy dance right in the middle of the crinkling pages. Go ahead and scare the dog to death and roll on them. In short, write small; celebrate big.
What does it mean to you that "good writing is about telling the truth?" How do you remind yourself to take one step at a time in the writing process? Anyone care to plug their noses and jump in, meaning write a short paragraph about their childhood? What does your pre-writing chatter sound like? What did I miss? Anything? Anything?