Saturday, April 4, 2009

The brilliance of writing bird by bird

On Agent Nathan Bransford's blog earlier this week, he opened a discussion about the best books on writing. I found it fascinating, and two books that were named again and again were On Writing by Stephen King and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.

I have to say I've read both and would agree they're must-reads for writers.

Taking a second look at Lamott's book this week, I've picked out a couple excerpts that I found particularly interesting.

First of all, to explain the title..."Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he'd had three months to write. [It] was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said, 'Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'"

Lamott suggests to write a bad first draft "bird by bird" or short assignment by short assignment, not allowing perfectionist ideals to cramp your creativity. But there's a downfall with that theory of a bad first draft.

"The whole thing would be so long and incoherent and hideous that for the rest of the day I'd obsess about getting creamed by a car before I could write a decent second draft. I'd worry that people would read what I'd written and believe that the accident had really been a suicide, that I had panicked because my talent was waning and my mind was shot."

Presently, I'm working on that bad first draft as part of Backspace's April Marathon, as you know. By way of an update, I'm at 5,000 words (and will be on target if I get another 1,700 by midnight).

I should be writing at the moment, but it's time to make dinner, and I write better late at night anyway. So, on to another Anne Lamott excerpt on procrastination. When she should be writing, here are some hilarious thoughts that steal her focus:

"After a moment I may notice that I'm trying to decide whether or not I am too old for orthodontia and whether right now would be a good time to make a few calls, and then I start to think about learning to use makeup and how maybe I could find some boyfriend who is not a total and complete fixer-upper and then my life would be totally great and I'd be happy all the time, and then I think about all the people I should have called back before I sat down to work, and how I should probably at least check in with my agent and tell him this great idea I have and see if he thinks it's a good idea, and see if he thinks I need orthodontia - if that is what he is actually thinking whenever we have lunch together.

"Then I think about someone I'm really annoyed with, or some financial problem that is driving me crazy, and decide that I must resolve this before I get down to today's work. So I become a dog with a chew toy, worrying it for a while, wrestling it to the ground, flinging it over my shoulder, chasing it, licking it, chewing it, flinging it back over my shoulder. I stop just short of actually barking. But all of this only takes somewhere between one and two minutes, so I haven't actually wasted that much time. Still, it leaves me winded."

1 comment:

  1. Bird By Bird is one of my favorites! Someone just brought it up at dinner the other night and reminded me it's been a while since I read it.

    Might have to sit down with that one again soon...