Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Killing Anne Lamott's birds

In which I offer some No, Seriously. Just Try It advice for giving your stupid book the beat down.

Have you read Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird? It's fantastic. Go read it. I'll wait.


Done? Just in case you missed it, one of the best tidbits explains the title. Seems Ms. Lamott's brother had to write a report about, like, ten million different kinds of birds. He left it for the last minute and was overwhelmed to the point of being unable to start.

"How am I going to do this?" he screamed.*

To which his father sagely replied, "Bird by bird."

The idea being that if you sit down to write the best novel ever written, you will be so overwhelmed that you won't be able to write a word. So instead, you take it one chapter, one page, heck, one word at a time, and you can get it done.

I love this idea, but right now, I need something a little stronger. My novel and I are in a fight. I am trying to re-write it; it is acting like a two year-old who refuses to have all of his limbs shoved into a snowsuit. It glares at me from the blank page, singing songs like "Oh, How I Hate You, Writer Wench" and "Never Gonna Get Me Right" while blowing raspberries and eating all my doughnuts.

So instead of thinking of each scene as a delicate little bird, awaiting the gentle breeze of my words to send it to flight, I am picturing them as those outlines of people at a shooting range. I've written the title of each scene left to re-write on its own index card. When it's time to write, I shuffle the cards and pick one and that's what I have to write. Right then. Whether I'm ready or not. Even if it stinks. And when it's done, I say, "Ch-ch-BOOM!" and picture myself blowing the stupid scene full of holes.**

So. Hate your own book? Embrace that feeling. No, seriously. Just try it. And report back.

* The above is my imagined re-enactment of what is told much better in the book.
** Attn newcomers to Jacqui's Room: I am, I promise, a nonviolent person. Except when it comes to recalcitrant novels. And squirrels.

7 comments:

Diane T said...

I definitely need to move Lamott's book to the top of my to-read list. I also need a better shotgun, although at this point it might be better aimed at my head to get butt in chair than at recalcitrant scenes.

Amber Lough said...

I need to read that book.

Oh, and speaking of squirrels...we have black squirrels here. Solid black, like they've rolled around in charcoal dust. A little eerie, as if they're saying,"It's gets so cold here in Siberacuse that we need dark, dark coats to make it through the winter."

cath c said...

thanks for the book tip. it's good advice - got me through my summer of finish the first draft before it kills me.

Paul Michael Murphy said...

I've read it and enjoyed it. And as for hating your own book, been there. And made the mistake of mentioning it to someone I apparently shouldn't have.

Jacqui said...

Diane, cath and Amber, it's really good. And D, good point about the gun. We'll see tonight if what I ended up with is drivel!

Paul, I am intrigued! But let me clarify: I don't HATE the book. I LOVE the book. If I didn't love it so much, it would be much easier to write! I'm just mad at it for failing to live up to my dreams for it so far.

Aline said...

The Bird by Bird story has gotten me through more of my life than I care to admit. Any time I'm overwhelmed I always think "bird by bird." Once my son's little league team was down 10-0. One parent turned to me and said. "They'll never make it they need 11 runs to win." I said, "No, they only need one." Then paused, "and then another." (And don't you know the darn kids rallied and made it a respectable 8-10 or something.) But much easier to focus on and deal with the next thing you have to do, than to think of everything you have to do. I like the index card idea.

Jacqui said...

Aline, I love that you used it for baseball! Maybe I need "Bird by Bird" to be my new life philosophy. Genius. Thanks.