When you’re trying to begin writing seriously, either in long form or short, you may find yourself looking at craft books – books that teach you the technical approaches to writing in your desired format. You will also come across empathetic books that show craft with emotion, a kind of peek into the realities of writer life. Two books show up on every list of suggestions: On Writing by Stephen King and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.
The titular story is how her brother had a report to write about birds and procrastinated until the night before to write it. He threw up his hands to give up when their father told him to take it one bird at a time, to write the paper bird by bird. And so should we write our novels, our stories.
I didn’t devour this book like I did On Writing. It may have been the religiosity interwoven with the advice that turned me off, or perhaps the fact that the focus seemed to be on shorter pieces and non-fiction as opposed to longer works. But I finished it and took several tips away that I plan to come back to.
Write Letters: I have encountered this suggestion several times now, to write a letter in the voice of a character. Have them tell a story about their life outside of the story you are writing in an effort to unearth something about them that should be used to enhance their presence in the story you are trying to write.
Write 300 Words Every Day: Everyone says to do this and I really need to find a way to work this into my daily routine. I’m thinking I’ll try to do it right before bed after I brush my teeth.
Write Things NOT Related To Your Current Project: I am a very task-oriented person. Efficiency is the name of my game and I don’t like to waste time or resources. But the act of writing improves future efforts, and everything I write doesn’t have to be my novel, and writing about other things might inspire something I would want to include.
Find A Writing Group/Close Reader Friends: This is the first time I’ve seen sending a book out to agents too early as “burning bridges” but it makes sense. Once I get through a couple more drafts I will need to try to find people to collaborate with so I can learn how to critique a work in progress and receive feedback on my own work.
Write Out of Vengeance, Nicely: There are many aspects of my writing that are too close to home, too easily recognized. Something writer-helpers talk about as writing about myself as the heroine instead of creating a character who is the heroine. I get that and am slowly wringing that tendency out of my writing each time I sit down. But I have stories. Stories I want to tell through fiction. Stories I think that other people will be able to relate to. Lamott tells us to change all the details about these stories except the most important points, and then give the guy a tiny penis so he’ll never come forward to complain even if he sees himself in your story. Avoid that libel, advice I haven’t seen much elsewhere but is easy to hear and apply to your work.
Publishing Does Not Equal Insta-Fame: I know this, my friends have told me this, I read about this all the time, but every time I hear it I’m glad to hear it, if only to temper my expectations.
The book did its job and I feel motivated to continue writing. You’ll want to add it to your queue as well if writing is something you like/want to do.