As it comes highly recommended, I decided to try Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott, a copy helpfully shelved the Mentor room. Comic, vibrant, and honest – if quite dark in places – this book is all about the writing process from initial panic right through to the relief that comes with the final product. Though the target audience is literary writers, there were lessons that could apply to anyone putting pen to paper. This is what I took from it:
- Irony: ‘That thing you had to force yourself to do – the actual act of writing – turns out to be the best part’ (p.xxvi); so perhaps we need to remember why we’re studying and/or mentoring when times get tough.
- Expectations are often inaccurate, and certainly overblown, such as the supposed miracle of publishing, which can be really quite deflating.
- Little and often is the key to success. It takes away the burden of productivity, allays fears from life in general, and defies the ogre of perfection.
- Comparison to others is best avoided. It yields little, but harms a lot. Instead, be compassionate to yourself as you would a friend (p.31).
- Narrow a project so it doesn’t overwhelm you (p.34), but at the same time be open to new avenues of thought as the work progresses (p.53). Creativity is fun and productive, and can lead to marvellous discoveries. Don’t let your Tutor or Editor sit on your shoulder as you draft (p.174).
- When in doubt, cut it out. Literally, or virtually, cut and paste the draft to make it work as you need it to (p.88).
- Find your own little rituals that work, such as working at certain times of day, or putting up inspirational quotations on the wall for motivation (p.117).
- The exquisite pain and despair of a lost idea should be avoided at all costs, so keep a notebook/phone/index card/pen and the back of your hand available at all times (p.136).
- Taking criticism is tricky, but the benefits of writing groups far outweighs the drawbacks (p.166).
- Last but definitely not least, the beauty and simplicity of life is wrapped up in the author’s father’s words of wisdom on an otherwise overwhelming project: ‘’Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird’ (p.19).
I would recommend this book to anyone hoping to get a better sense of what it is to be a writer!