Writing is more than filling pages with words in a sequence. It’s a chance to find yourself, discover the world and uncover the secrets of life which connect us. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is the perfect guide for this wondrous journey.
The book is full of wisdom for both life and writing. I could write an essay on everything I learned from it but I thought picking five of, what I think, are the best nuggets of advice would give you something you could use to get your writing flowing right away:
- Set short assignments: This is what Anne Lamott means by ‘Bird by bird’. The concept comes from an experience early in her life when her brother had to complete a project on birds which he’d put off until the day before the deadline. He was so overwhelmed by the volume of work he had to complete that he became immobilised. That’s until their father sat him down and advised him to simply take it ‘bird by bird’. Breaking up your writing into a series of short assignments, as little as 300 words each time, can make the task ahead feel more manageable and so you’re more likely to take up the challenge.
- Accept first drafts are bad: Even award-winning authors don’t sit down and type out novels fully formed. Like the rest of us, they begin with terrible first drafts. So don’t put pressure on yourself to write something designed to win the Pulitzer prize straight out. Trying to edit in your head as you write is likely to block your words. Let go of perfectionism and allow your story to flow out. Remind yourself that you can edit later.
- Free your characters: Characters can become like children. It’s easy to love them so much that you want to protect them. But you can’t. You must let them live their story and face the things they must, however sad. Write their truth not yours. Your story will sound less controlled and more real. Listen to what your characters say to you. Even though you’re the author, they know themselves best of all and they like to surprise.
- Trust yourself: When you’re stuck, the answers are within you. Get to a quiet space and try to listen for the small voice inside you. It will tell you what to do. Try to sit down the same time every day to train your unconscious to start up your creativity when you sit. Ideas and solutions should then flow to you regularly.
- Writing itself is the best bit: Although publication is the dream of many writers, it turns out writing itself is the best part despite the tough days. “It offers challenge and delight and agony and commitment.” Don’t do it for fame or fortune or you’re likely to sound forced and be disappointed. Do it for love. That’s the real reward. The irony is, the less you write for success, the more likely you are to stick with it and succeed.
These five tips from Bird by Bird are just a flavour of the wisdom contained in this delightful book. There’s so much more to discover that I’d encourage you to get your hands on a copy especially if you struggle with writers’ block or self doubt. It’s a liberating read.