Last month I wrote about the top 10 lines from Stephen King’s On Writing. I mentioned that it is a great resource for those of us who are trying to write books. Guess what? There are plenty of other great books on writing.
Today I would like to feature one that has been called “A gift to all of us mortals who write or ever wanted to write… sidesplittingly funny, patiently wise and alternately cranky and kind — a reveille to get off our duffs and start writing now, while we still can.” (Seattle Times). I am talking about Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.
Here are what I found to be the book’s top 10 lines:
Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report written on birds that he’d had three months to write, which 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 about 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.”
Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artists true friend.”
Writing a first draft is very much like watching a Polaroid develop. You can’t–and, in fact, you’re not supposed do–know exactly what the picture is going to look like until it has finished. First you just point at what has your attention and take the picture.”
I mean, you can’t just sit there at your desk drooling. You have to move your hand across the paper or the keyboard. You may do it badly for a while, but you keep on doing it.”
You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
Try looking at your mind as a wayward puppy that you are trying to paper train. You don’t drop-kick a puppy into the neighbor’s yard every time it piddles on the floor. You just keep bringing it back to the newspaper.”
E.L. Doctorow once said that ‘writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you.”
I don’t think you have time to waste not writing because you are afraid you won’t be good at it.”
If you are a writer, or want to be a writer, this is how you spend your days–listening, observing, storing things away, making your isolation pay off. You take home all you’ve taken in, all that you’ve overheard, and you turn it into gold. (Or at least you try.)”
My students assume that when well-respected writers sit down to write their books, they know pretty much what is going to happen because they’ve outlined most of the plot, and this is why their books turn out so beautifully and why their lives are so easy and joyful, their self-esteem so great, their childlike senses of trust and wonder so intact. Well, I do not know anyone fitting that description at all. Everyone I know flails around, kvetching and growing despondent, on the way to finding a plot and structure that work. You are welcome to join the club.”