Friday, August 15, 2014

Reading About Writing

            Just because I’m waaay behind on my self-inflicted goal of creating a post at least every two weeks, that doesn’t mean I’ve been totally neglecting my writerly duties. Sometimes writing pursuits include activities other than putting pen to pad—or fingers to keyboard. Sometimes the best thing a writer can do to improve her craft and jumpstart her creative juices is read. And more specifically, read about writing.  
The Book Nest - Not Your Ordinary Bookstore
            About a year ago, I picked up a used copy of Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott at my niece’s little book nook. I’d heard of Lamott for years but never got around to reading her. Since I qualified for the good relative discount at The Book Nest, I grabbed the copy with a what-the-heck attitude. If I didn’t like it, at least I wasn’t out a wad of money.
            As it turned out, I got a lot for my $4.95 investment. (And no tax! Oregon has no sales tax!) Let me say up front, I don’t see eye to eye with all of Lamott’s religious and political views. But I found Traveling Mercies full of funny, witty, honest, and passionate observations on her life and her writing journey. I enjoyed the book so much that when I saw her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life at another used bookstore (you’re learning where I do a lot of hanging out), I snapped it up. Once again, it was a shrewd purchase.
            What I like about Bird by Bird is the “instructions” on writing don’t really seem like instructions at all. They aren’t technical “to do’s,” promising a New York Times bestseller. But while her advice isn’t a paint-by-numbers guide to constructing plot or developing scenes, it is  tremendously helpful. She gives practical guidance on generating content, overcoming writer’s block, and finding one’s voice. There’s even a chapter on dealing with professional jealousy (not that I or anyone I know ever deals with that).
            My favorite take-away from this book, though, is the author’s thoughts on publication. If you read this book with dreams of discovering the sure road to Big Five publication, those dreams are most likely going to be dashed. Or at least broken and bruised a bit. In fact, Lamott cautions you—very nicely and with lol humor—you’ll be lucky to receive anything other than a form rejection from an agent. But once you’ve massaged your injured hopes and resisted the urge to shred your three-hundred-page manuscript, you’ll find inspiration in her words. And you’ll discover the real reason to write.  

               

 

8 comments:

  1. Bird by Bird was the first Lamott read years ago. At the time I wasn't ready for her soul-baring writing style. However, I've read other stuff of hers since. I wish I felt I could be as candid as she is. My Pinterest board related to writing is labeled in her honor: Bird is the Word (http://www.pinterest.com/findingthegoods/bird-is-the-word/) :-)

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    1. Aw, Natine, "bird is the word." That would've been a great title for this post! I agree with you that it would be difficult to be as candid as Lamott. However, should we ever achieve that degree of honesty, she has some good advice on how to avoid being sued. :-)

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  2. I've not read anything by her, but I am intrigued because I keep seeing her quoted. I actually used one of her quotes in a post earlier this week ("Laughter is carbonated happiness" - how's that for a word-smile??). Thanks for the review, Dee Dee - I'm looking forward to reading more.

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    1. Shel, you know how when you read a book (one you own) and underline the great lines? Well, when I finished this one, I had well over half the book underlined. One of my particular favorites is when she wraps up a rant with "I worry that Jesus drinks himself to sleep when he hears me talk like this." How often have most of us had that feeling?

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    2. Oh my gosh - you're only suppose to do that in books you OWN?? The librarians must be pissed at me - and here I thought I was being so helpful! (I do love that Jesus line - I actually HADN'T had that feeling before - now you have me paranoid!)

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  3. Loved this! BIRD BY BIRD was such an important book for me. It's probably about time to revisit it. And I'm working my way through Traveling Mercies a little at a time. I just enjoy her voice so much.

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  4. Ugh. I hate my capitalization inconsistency above. But reading BBB was such a watershed moment for me, perhaps it's fitting to ALL CAPS the title?

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    1. Sonia, I absolutely love her voice. That's why I paid close attention to her chapter on developing it. And don't worry about the all caps. The title on her books uses NO caps for the "bird by bird" part, so I was in a quandary as to how to refer to it in my post. I finally went with capitalizing the first letters, but now I'm thinking I should go back and change it. What dilemmas we writers wrangle with!

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