The Page a Day Writers Group

Posts Tagged ‘Anne Lamott

If you’re like me, you’re looking for words of advice–any kernel of wisdom to help you transform 250 pages of prose into a published novel.

Writing a book is a long journey and the trek isn’t for the weak of heart. E.L. Doctorow likened it to “driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” I see it more as trudging through the darkness with only a flashlight to illuminate the way — and your batteries are low.

Along our writing path, we stop and talk to other writers. Ask their opinion, question their methods and delve into what system works for them. We read the pages of published authors, hoping to uncover a secret or two. We’re learning, bit-by-bit, how to persevere. Not to give up the quest. And maybe, hopefully, some day be published.

During my journey, I’ve uncovered a few nuggets — manna for my writing soul . . . some more useful than others:

“Read. Read. Read.”

“Minimize the back story. Less is more.”

“Use active verbs.”

“Limit exclamation points!!!!”

“Put your butt in the chair.”

“Show, don’t tell.”

“Make sure you back-up your work on an external drive.”

“Get real familiar with story structure: Set-up, Response, Attack, Resolution”

“Up the stakes for your protagonist.”

“Stick to one POV.”

“You need more POVs.”

Obviously, I add to this list regularly.

This week, my shout-out for “the best writing advice I’ve ever received” goes to Anne Lamott. Her book, “Bird by Bird” is jam-packed with worthwhile, real-world information, advice and guidance she has shared with her students. For nearly two decades, writers have eagerly dipped their spoons into this book and scooped tasty tidbits of enlightenment designed to keep them at the keyboard. Among Lamott’s most famous advice is permission to write that “shitty first draft.”

The gem I’ve mined from her book is: “…sit down at approximately the same time every day. This is how you train your unconscious to kick in for you creatively.”

I’ve put her concept into practice and within a few weeks, my writing has improved, not just in quantity, but in quality. Amazing how showing up for work actually works. Thanks Anne.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received .. at least up to this week?

–Claire Yezbak Fadden

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Near my writing desk, always at the ready, is a dog-eared copy of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. Also Operating Instructions and Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith.

When I ‘m doubting my ability to write anything special or meaningful, I reach for these dear books (and some dark chocolate, of course) and give myself the gift of half an hour of reading- or 15, if that’s all I can spare- and I’m fortified with the faith that I just need to keep writing and reading through the doubt. What is doubt anyway, but a small, sour, troll-like persnicketer trompling through the daisy field?

From Bird by Bird (Perfectionism, p. 28): “…perfectionism will ruin your writing, blocking inventiveness and playfulness and life force (these are words we are allowed to use in California). Perfectionism means that you try desperately not to leave so much mess to clean up. But clutter and mess show us that life is being lived. Clutter is wonderfully fertile ground- you can discover new treasures under all those piles, clean things up, edit things out, fix things, get a grip. Tidiness makes me think of held breath… while writing needs to breathe and move.”

Oh, what ambrosia, those words. Just write “shitty first drafts,” as Lamott suggests. It’s so freeing. As I move forward, editing is more fun with every year. Even when it’s painful, it’s a satisfying pain (let’s not consult Freud on this one!)- and I wouldn’t even call it pain anymore. It’s more of a slight post-workout ache- I know I’ve been strengthening muscles in the process.

Here’s a beautiful passage from Traveling Mercies: Thoughts on Faith (p. 126, Fields): “Both babies on the beach finally fell asleep. The mother sighted a grunty exhausted sigh and let her head drop down onto her chest. It had grown very quiet on the beach again, and I dug a fingernail into the palm of my hand, traced its furrows, the wrinkles, the life line. A breeze began to blow, finally blowing in the smells of the sea, of the sun on the salty water. I listened to the sound of the air moving softly and thought about my father at the gates of the prison, thirty years ago, standing with his friends and me underneath the moon.”

I love that passage because I can see it, smell it, and feel it. Beyond just the tactile feel of the beach and the wrinkles on the palm- it has an emotional resonance that fills the moment. I want to read more. It teaches me again and again how to do that.

And finally, from Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year, a book that made me feel so gratefully human ten years ago in my new motherhood, I’m sure I kissed the book jacket several times (page 119, December 3): “I have spent so much of my life with secret Swiss-cheese insides, but I tell you- right now, Mama, my soul is full.”

It was difficult- so difficult- to pick a quote from this book, but I love that one like many, many others. This book reminds me that even with all the challenges of life (much moreso at that stage of new motherhood than now, thank God- at least until the kids’ teen years hit!), life is also full-to-the-brim delicious, in a soulful way.

A timewarp bookmark rests on that page, placed there long ago for me to find today. It’s a simple white rectangle of construction paper and it says, in my mother’s writing, “Roller Coaster Start.”

Yes! Got it? Roller Coaster Start!

Rock ‘n roll daisies to you,

Ondine


Who are we?

The Page a Day Writers Group is a diverse collection of wonderful writers based in San Diego, CA. We've been meeting monthly since 2004. Our primary function is in-depth writing critique, marketing and brainstorming, but there's usually some wine, chocolate and ribaldry involved too. We write fantasy, humor, literary fiction, nonfiction, romance, thrillers and YA. Join us on our journeys to publication and the wonderland beyond!

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