Anne Lamott provides a unique take on teaching writing by making her writing guide a memoir, too. This combination of life lessons and writing tips offers a deeper perspective on being a writer and learning to write well. In Bird by Bird, Lamott covers the insecurities many writers have, pushing through your lousy first drafts, and the classic bird by bird story of how we need to take the immense task of completing a novel one step at a time.
- “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something—anything—down on paper. A friend of mine says that the first draft is the down draft—you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft—you fix it up. You try to say what you have to say more accurately. And the third draft is the dental draft, where you check every tooth, to see if it’s loose or cramped or decayed.”
- “Writing a first draft is very much like watching a Polaroid develop. You can’t—and, in fact, you’re not supposed to—know exactly what the picture is going to look like until it has finished developing.”
- “Something must be at stake or you will have no tension and your readers will not turn the pages.”
- “You need to be moving your characters forward, even if they only go slowly.”
- “As you learn who your characters are, compassion for them will grow. There shouldn’t be just a single important character in your work for whom you have compassion. You need to feel it even for the villain—in fact, especially for the villain. Life is not formula fiction. The villain has a heart, and the hero has great flaws. You’ve got to pay attention to what each character says, so you can know each of their hearts.”
- “Metaphors are a great language tool, because they explain the unknown in terms of the known.”
- “So if you want to get to know your characters, you have to hang out with them long enough to see beyond all the things they aren’t.”
- “To be a good writer, you not only have to write a great deal but you have to care.”
- “Writing is about hypnotizing yourself into believing in yourself, getting some work done, then unhypnotizing yourself and going over the material coldly.”
- “I don’t think you have time to waste not writing because you are afraid you won’t be good enough at it.”
- “You are going to have to give and give and give, or there’s no reason for you to be writing.”
- “Try to write in a directly emotional way, instead of being too subtle or oblique. Don’t be afraid of your material or your past. Be afraid of wasting any more time obsessing about how you look and how people see you. Be afraid of not getting your writing done.”
- “Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul.”
Keep an eye out for my next blog post on Monday where I will share a book about embracing your creativity.