To be completely honest, I’m usually not a fan of how-to books, of writers who give advice on how one does a particular thing well. They too often squelch creativity by providing a cookie cutter way to do a particular project. I’m more of a ‘look at the necessary components and maybe a picture and then give it a go’ sort of person, ie when I did crafts as a child I never followed the instructions, instead gathered the ingredients for the orgami/cookies/glitter star ornaments and made it up myself. Sometimes this was successful, other times a disaster entirely. But I always enjoyed myself. However, one how-to book has stolen my heart entirely, and that is Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Because in most ways it’s not really a how-to book at all, rather a surprisingly personal and often hysterical account of how and why one writer does what she does.
Though I am only about 2/3 of the way through the book, I have learned, or rather, re-learned, several things about writing:
-more often than not it’s an arduous process, but do it anyway if it’s what you love
-write in small pieces, ie. what you could fit into a one inch picture frame
-when it’s done well, fiction writing in particular writes itself; the characters unveil their true selves and create the plot as a result
Anne has the uncanny ability to say things I’ve heard before (sometimes several times) and make them sound fresh through life and workshop anecdotes, hilarious metaphors, and a friendly yet cynical conversational tone that makes you feel as though you’re conversing and complaining about your kindred writing spirits over a nice cup of French roast, rather than reading her writing alone in your room.
I’m still skeptical about writing fiction, as my failed NaNoWriMo attempt attests to. Blog posts, poetry, and random bits of journalistic-type writing on food and books and social issues, sure. But stories, let alone a novel? Still kind of scary. But Anne Lamott inspires me to give it a go when I next feel compelled to document the world in my head and heart.