Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

I finally picked up the book Bird by Bird.  I’ve heard of it many times and even have one writer friend who says it is one of her favorite books on writing, but I was just never interested.  The title always put me off.  I interpreted it as some stuffy book by some self aggrandizing writer.  I could hear a British accent saying, Bird… by Bird.  Then the most recent issue of Writer’s Digest came out and they had an article by Anne Lamott which turned me on to what the book really is.  Part memoir and part writing instruction manual, Anne Lamott’s book is very accessible.  I’m only a couple chapters in but I very much identify with what she has to say.  I recognize myself in her memoir and her advice makes sense.  I still wish that I could make a living writing fiction, but I know that she’s right in saying that it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and I should focus on enjoying the writing process.  I highly recommend the book.

Anonymous comments

I check out the headlines of several local newspapers on a daily basis, as well as a larger news organization.  Occasionally I read the comments that people leave on the articles.  I’m not sure that this is an accurate way of gauging what people really think about the articles though.  If it is, it shows us a very scary picture.  By and large, the comments are often rife with spelling errors.  This would not bother me in the least, if the comments didn’t come with a high level of vitriole.  What exactly is it about the anonymity of the Internet that allows people to feel it is okay to respond in the most juvenile and rude manner imaginable?  I cannot believe that these people act this way to anyone they meet face to face.  I work in a city public library and I think I have a pretty good idea of the best and worst that come in.  All of us say the wrong thing at one time or another, or our words just come out sounding wrong, even to us.  This is on another level, a politician’s level.  We need a return to civil discourse.  It’s one thing to disagree, but no one is going to convince anyone else they are right simply by screaming abusive rhetoric a little louder.  It seems to me that people are so concerned with marking their territory and blustering, that they’ve forgotten how to be polite and make a point.  How are we ever going to move forward when no one is willing to compromise?  At the very least, people need to work on making persuasive arguments without insulting others.

Making notes

I’m doing my best to make notes about the novel that I want to write.  I figure that when my hands are doing better or when I have less typing to do at work, I can spend a little time every day working on the novel.  I admit I feel intimidated by the prospect of writing again.  I guess I’ve left it a lot longer than I should have.  It starts to loom too large in the mind.  Martha Beck might call this my pre-contemplation stage.  I know I’ll get there, sooner rather than later, as long as I keep thinking about it.

But what kind of book is it?

Do I really have to decide ahead of time?  Or should I just write it and let it decide for itself?

Script writing vs. novel writing

Watching one of my favorite shows – The Big Bang Theory – and started thinking about how often I wish I could write witty reparte like I see in some of my favorite shows.  I wonder what the difference really is between novel writing and television writing?  I’ve done very little script reading or writing but the scripts I’ve read have largely been written for stage and contained little direction beyond the dialogue.  The couple screenplays I’ve read contained a lot more explanation of what is going on visually as well as the dialogue.  Still, scripts rely on the director, the actors and the rest of the crew to truly bring them to life while novels rely on the imagination of the reader.  Other than that, I’m not sure where the major difference lies.

A long road

I got to speak with a friend today whose husband is trying to sell a novel.  He’s had so many encouraging situations – getting an agent, getting his novel through to the marketing department of a publisher before it was cut loose, etc. but after a few years, he’s back to looking for a new agent.  This road we choose when we write and try to sell it, can be a daunting one.  What keeps us going?  Is it belief that what we’ve written is really so wonderful?  Considering a writer’s insecurites, I doubt that.  Is it the need to share our stories?  Possibly.  I want to write for a living, but I have to acknowledge that this could be a very long process.  It has taken me a long time to find a wonderful man to share my life with and getting to share my writing with readers may take an equally long time.


Last night I opened my middle grade mystery novel and read a few sentences. “What the heck do I do with this? I wondered.  I know I need to cut out unnecessary bits and add emotional relevancy to what I keep, but I feel like I don’t even know where to begin cutting.  I did get myself a copy of  Writing the Breakout Novel which I could get out and start reading.  Then I wonder if I really need more information or if I’m just procrastinating. 

This morning something happened that got me thinking about the relationship bewtween fathers and daughters, how much daughters crave their father’s approval even when they shouldn’t.  I wrote a couple paragraphs in my journal and I think it may be a useful idea for the new novel.  I had intended the main character to not have any living parents but now I think I may have a bit of an estranged relationship for her with a father. 

I think I will go get out Writing the Breakout Novel.  I’m certainly stuck with my feet up enough to need some reading material out.

Finding the time and energy

I’ve basically had five goals in my life – live on the family farm and work on fixing it up, find a great guy, have a child, lose weight and write for a living.  Not necessarily in that order, of course.  This past year, I’ve suddenly found myself in the position of having the first three of them well under way.  It makes me wonder if the other two just might be possible. 

Things have happened in the past year that have certainly inspired me in the area of writing.  I’ve gotten to meet two great authors in the course of my work as a librarian and I’ve started a writer’s group at my library that keeps me thinking about my writing.  But I haven’t made much headway in my own writing.  I’ve always said it seems like you either have time or money, never both.  Unfortunately, the bill collectors won’t wait until I sell a novel or two. 

Now, I may be forced to have time to myself because of the pregnancy.  It could be a great chance to do some writing!  Except that I’ve developed carpal tunnel that won’t clear up until the baby is born and typing is a bit difficult.  I can only do so much before I need to give it a rest.  So, I may have to work through the pain in order to accomplish anything.  Forced to prove how much I want it I guess.

So, right now, my two goals are editing my middle grade mystery novel to get it ready to try to sell again then get back to writing the novel I started for NaNoWriMo about a woman who finds herself pregnant and alone.  We’ll see where it leads.

Incorporating or imitating?

Where does the line between enjoying a writer’s style and naturally incorporating elements of that into your writing and merely imitating their style reside?  I think we do the former naturally but when we try to do it intentionally, we’re bound to run into trouble.  I read Jim Butcher’s blog and tried to use his formula for writing a novel once.  He says it is the way he was taught in his MFA, but I ended up with something that was just lacking in my voice.  I like the story idea I started with but it went astray when I tried to use his process.  I’m going to have to figure out how to restart it.

Cascades of yellow blooms and…

the sweep of greening fields down the hill to the tree line say that it is Spring!  After a crummy day emotionally and physically, it was a lovely ride home.

Pregnancy has not been easy.  I should definitely be making use of this material.  There’s plenty of humor in it.   I’ve never appreciated handicapped bathrooms more, partially because the hand rails are really useful when you’re leaning over with morning sickness.  I never thought I’d be grateful to have my hands going numb either, as opposed to some incredible pain I’ve experienced due to the swelling and pregnancy induced carpal tunnel.  Wish I’d had the energy to write more down as it was going on.  Now I’m in my seventh month and my brain is just losing information.  I recently had to have a friend remind me how to use a Pampered Chef can opener that I’ve had for years! 

It seems fortuitous that all this wonderful information and experiences came my way right after I started writing a novel about a character who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant.  Now I just need to actually make use of it.

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