Reflections on Lamott's Bird by Bird
Lamott, A. (1994). Bird by bird: Some instructions on writing and life. New York: Anchor Books.
While Anne Lamott's free-flowing train-of-thought prose was not my ideal writing/reading style, I found myself looking forward to learning about writing and life with her each day. Her honesty and unfiltered writing style helped me to connect with her experiences. Throughout the book I not only learned about being a writer, but I gleaned some advice about life from her perspective. The story that still stands out the most is when Sam loses the keys. In fact, we read it aloud to start off a meeting with colleagues the other day, and it offered us all a little chuckle and started the meeting on the right note. If ever I need to smile, I will simply think of Sam and those ______ keys. (If you want to read it, I believe it's on pp. 14 - 15, but don't quote me since I do not have the book in front of me. A colleague borrowed it after we read aloud the Sam story.)
What I learned about writing from Anne Lamott:
- Writers should write every day. They should set writing times and stick to them. While I know this thought is true, it's very hard to do. This past semester one of my courses, "Writing About Research," taught me the same thing. During the semester, I set times and stuck to them. The only consistent time I could find in my schedule was 6:00 a.m. I know - it's early, but I found that as long as I could get up, I really enjoyed the writing. Since the semester has ended, I confess that I have abandoned that schedule, and I miss it. I also know, and while it's not an excuse I've been using it as an excuse, when this new little addition comes into my life, I'm going to have to redo my entire schedule. So...the good shoulder voice is telling me to just set up the schedule and deal with it when the time comes. The not-so-good shoulder voice is saying - "Why bother? It's just going to get messed up anyway." However, sticking to that time also involves going to bed at a consistent hour. Since it's not New Years, is it possible to make a half-year resolution? After all, there is Christmas in July...will this work the same way? Can I make a resolution to make a summer schedule and stick to it?
- Don't let the content overwhelm you. Start somewhere - the 1 in. picture frame - and begin writing. Just take it bird-by-bird. I need to take this advice. I know that I let the content overwhelm me sometimes and then I begin my procrastination routine. A colleague of mine called it "cleaning out the refrigerator." Cleaning out the refrigerator is a task that you don't need to do at the moment, but you can't work on the task that you need to work on until you have completed all of these other, menial tasks that really could wait but truly can't wait because it will drive you insane if you let it wait; so in order to write, you must clean out the refrigerator. I am truly a professional at this type of cleaning (and I wish I weren't so good at it). I wonder - do they have therapy for compulsive refrigerator cleaning? I bet Anne Lamott would say, "Don't worry about the refrigerator. Just look through a one inch picture frame and get down what you can. While it may be a yucky (she uses a different choice of wording, but I'm keeping this entry G rated) first draft, something brilliant may be in there that will help you on your way. You never know unless you start, so don't clean. Just start writing bird by bird - one part at a time." I think I need to get a picture of a bird and put it over my desk to remind me of this slogan.
- When writing, just tell the truth and recognize that the truth is from your perspective - it's truly how you understand it at that moment in time. This thought really spoke to me. Anne Lamott tells us that perfectionism is our downfall. I'm so afraid of being wrong or making a mistake that it truly can be stifling. Instead, I need to write as honestly as I can, which I do anyway, but I must recognize that if something turns out unexpectedly, it was the truth as I saw it in that moment of time. That's all I can do, and that's the charge I am given as a writer and scholar. Tell the truth as I see it. (I guess that thought also opens the philosophical debate of what is truth, but I'm not going to travel down that path at this moment. I think I'll just let truth be where it is for me at this moment in time.)