Tuesday, November 30, 2010

#5: Read a Book on Writing

One of my childhood dreams was to be an author.  I didn't know what I would write, only that I loved writing.  I felt sure that someday I would write a book. False starts have occurred over the years and I started to think I didn't have a Good Idea in me.  Blogging became a form of creative expression since I was sure it would be the extent of my writing capabilities.

Only...writing begets more writing.  A couple of years ago I started to wonder if perhaps there was a book in me after all.  I have a few ideas that haven't let me go.  In the spring, amidst packing all my belongings and saying goodbye to friends and family, I wrote an outline and first chapter for one of those ideas, then submitted it to a writing contest.  I knew it was a long shot but I thought the feedback would be worth it.

It was and wasn't.  The contest had quite a few stipulations of what needed to be included in the first chapter, which turned out to be details I didn't want to reveal so soon into the story.  These parts, of course, turned out to be what the judges didn't like, which I found frustrating.  One judge, in particular, appeared to relish doling out the criticism.  It was rather deflating in a sense. 

I know it's a a good story, or at least the start of one, but I haven't written since submitting the piece back in March or April.  Yes, I've been a bit busy but I was also irritated with the contest.  Apparently they're more concerned with cliches and formulas than they are with developing new ideas.  Very disappointing over all.

I wrote a blog friend who's an author for words of advice and maybe a writing book recommendation.  She told me I must read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, which I'd intended to do awhile ago but never got around to.

Timing is everything.  I love the way Lamott writes and she especially excels in this book about the writing craft itself.  Whether discussing [crappy] first drafts or the difficulty in sitting down to write, I found myself responding and nodding in agreement.

By the end, I felt that writing is still a part of my future.  There's still a story in me and the book I started deserves some good solid attention.  No more contests.  No more thoughts of publication.  I honestly don't care if anyone reads it other than friends and family.  I want to know that I can write something worth reading.  I want to be taken over by my characters and plots the way I was when I first sat down to work on this. 

Lamott captures why we write so perfectly:
"Because of spirit, I say. Because of the heart. Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It's like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can't stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship." -p. 237
My first step is to get back into the habit of working on this book.  My second step is to find a writing group or establish a small group of people who will read the book a chapter at a time and provide timely feedback. For the record, this is fiction, in the contemporary/chick lit vein. If you know of a writing group in Nashville or would like to provide feedback, please email me.  It's scary to let others read what I've written outside this blog but this is part of the process.

Bird by Bird has given me the courage to take this project up once again.  I don't know when I'll start or when I'll finish but it will happen.


  1. leigh,

    i need to add this book to my list. i have always loved to write but am only now calling myself a writer. ann lamott is, of course, brilliant and one of my favorite authors as you know. can't wait to read bird by bird!


    p.s. write. your. BOOK! :)

  2. MK, you are definitely a writer! Move to Nashville so we can form our own writer's group:)


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