Thursday, September 23, 2010

What I've Learned - Bird by Bird (1)

Today I'll start my four post recap of the writing book Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

The book starts off with a brief recap of how Ms. Lamott ended up teaching writing workshops. She started just like most of us, and didn't get out of her "starving writer" stage until her fourth book. I'm not sure if you find that depressing or hopeful, but I think it's a little bit of both. It goes to show you that hard work really can pay off, but also that you have to work really really hard to make it happen.

After talking a little about her early life in writing, Anne Lamott shares some basic advice that is central to the courses on writing she teaches:
  1. Short Assignments
  2. Crappy First Drafts
This is some very good advice. Think of your story as a bunch of smaller stories, and suddenly it seems more manageable. When you're sitting there staring at a blank page, about to have an anxiety attack because you can't remember how to form a word, let alone a brilliant, cohesive sentence, think of this. All you have to do is start with a scene. One scene. It doesn't even need to be a scene that will end up in your draft, just something to get you going. The words will come, but you have to start somewhere.

Crappy first drafts is something Stephen King touched on, too, but I didn't mention it when I recapped On Writing. Every writer has bad first drafts. I think that's probably why they're called first drafts. They're just a foundation for the story. The second draft is when it comes alive for me. My characters start to pop off the page, and the story isn't a mess anymore. It's cohesive, and it makes me feel like I'm actually getting somewhere.


  1. First drafts are good for the soul, it allows you to finally get your story out to the world (even though no one reads it) your characters unfold, thoughts start to make sense.

    You don't seem so crazy for talking to that one invisible person since they're finally on paper.

    Here's to the second draft!

  2. Yep, you know I wrote about those first drafts (yesterday) too!

    OOh and I can't wait for Anna and the French Kiss either (post below) ;--)

  3. I've heard of this book, and it sounds like one I'd enjoy. I like the crappy first drafts part. Takes the pressure off!