Monday, March 22, 2010

A Writer on Writing

I have been reading this terrific book on writing. It’s called “Bird by Bird,” and it’s by Ann Lamott. It’s not the best or the most useful writing book I’ve ever read, although it’s awfully good. The reason I like it is, first, it’s very funny. The funniest book on writing I’ve ever read. And it’s so true. She writes about writing as if it’s a mental illness, which it sort of is.

Lamott doesn’t come out and say, “By the way, all writers are crazy.” But she makes it pretty clear she and all the writers she knows are at least mildly crazy, paranoid, obsessive, with no sense of perspective. All the students in her writing classes are also crazy, she implies. They also mostly seem to want their money back. But that’s between Lamott and the students, I guess.

Anyway, buried in among all the very funny stuff about the ways in which writers’ minds works to keep them unhappy and worried that everyone including their immediate family is talking about them behind their backs – are some really excellent nuggets of advise, including allowing yourself to fail, not sitting down to "write a novel" but giving yourself small, manageable assignments each day that add up to a novel in the end, and my favorite – write a shitty first draft. It may be shitty, but you can’t fix it if you don’t write it down. Perfectionism, she observes, is the voice of the oppressor.

I came across the book, by the way, through our daughter Alex. She’s taking classes at UVI and one of them is a creative writing class and this is one of the texts. Unlike her other textbooks, this is one she won’t be selling back at the end of the semester. If she doesn’t want it, I’m taking it. So there's the island connection for this blog.

Seriously, if you’re at all interested in writers or writing or you just like a good read and enjoy a laugh, pick up “Bird by Bird.” Good book.


Amanda said...

The shitty first draft idea is excellent. I managed to churn out half a novel this past November for NaNoWriMo. It's crap, but by god it's MY crap. I spewed it out, no one else. And this year I'll manage to hurl forth an even more obnoxious sequel.

Which might even, possibly, be complete. Who knows? Anything is possible.

Big_Angus said...

I love the quote; "Perfectionism, she observes, is the voice of the oppressor." This is SO true, and applies to so many disciplines!

D said...

I've read a bit of Lamott's stuff. She's interesting - somewhat fluffy, but seriously ballsy at the same time. Woman has led a life, in which I think she learned quite a bit about shitty first drafts. I like her.