I always enjoy books that give an honest account of the author’s road to success. I don’t know if that is because misery loves company, or because it is an inspiration to know that others have overcome the obstacles they have encountered on this winding road, and it helps me believe that I can as well. It doesn’t hurt that the truth of her lessons (on writing and life) are tempered with humor and wit.
The story she recounts about a certain interaction shared between her father and her older brother, who was ten at the time, pulled at my heart, and it is also the impetus for the name of the book. I can’t tell you how often I use those three little words as a poignant reminder when I find myself up against a wall.
There are two other lessons from her book that I have found extremely useful as well. The first is “Shitty First Drafts”. In this lesson, Ms. Lamott instructs the reader to just get the words written down without worrying about syntax or any of the other technical stuff. Her descriptions of aspiring writers who become mired in perfection during the first round of writing had my picture all over them. This one lesson has helped me more than any of the others. Now, when I get an idea for an article or story, I just write. I don’t worry about punctuation, or spelling, or sentence structure – I just get the words down as quickly as I can – before the vision vanishes. Later, I go back and clean it up. I have to laugh when I realize some of the second and third drafts stink just as much as the first. I’m still learning.
The other lesson was on “Short Assignments”. This is an excerpt of what she had to say in regard to those feelings of being overwhelmed when you sit down to write, and everything but the words to your story start to race through your head:
…I finally notice the one-inch picture frame that I put on my desk to remind me of short assignments.
It reminds me that all I have to do is to write down as much as I can see through a one-inch picture frame. This is all I have to bite off for the time being.
I was so inspired by this lesson that I made my own frame.
Wait, this is the frame with the one-inch view.
When seeking inspiration, you may have to remove an obstacle from your view.\ /.
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
New York, NY
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