Sometimes, you pick up the right book at the right time, almost as if an angel set it atop the to-read pile as a special message just for you. So, dear reader, I start today with a big thank you to the guardian angel that placed Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird next in line.
My intention with this blog series is to learn by example, study the choices authors make while writing, get under the surface and see what magic they employ. Lamott’s book has plenty to study. She intertwines spot-on writing advice with funny and apropos anecdotes. (Don’t you just love alliteration?) She balances the line between usefulness and entertaining, the ideal blend for non-fiction. I could praise her style, her voice, her rhythm. But this time, it’s the content that taught me something, that made me point at the page and say, “That’s me.” Which, coincidentally, is one of the many reasons she gives for being a writer; giving the gift of truth to your reader, the realization that they are not alone.
Recently, I’ve been asking myself why I want to become a writer. Yes, I want to hold my book in my hand someday, walk into a bookstore and take a picture with it on the shelf, but is it worth it? The submission process is brutal. I’m not sure if this is by design or merely evolution. Between the subjectivity, requests and rejections, only the strong and persistent writers will survive while the rest will disappear with the Dodo bird and wooly mammoth.
The system makes you question -- is my writing good enough, are my ideas good enough, is my story unique enough, will anyone want to read it? After many months of this, I almost packed it all in a box, unfollowed all my author and agent Twitter friends and moved on. I thought about joining a few more PTO groups, reading only for pleasure, making an effort to actually keep my house clean, maybe even organizing my recipes like I always planned to do.
But then I read Bird by Bird, and with a resounding, “snap out of it,” Lamott smacked me on the head a la Cher in Moonstruck. She doesn’t sugar coat the writing process, but gives it to us straight and with laughter:
“I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much.” (page 21-22)
She’s exactly right. The first draft sucks. For me, the second, third and many more drafts have sucked. But with each one I’ve gotten better, I’ve learned something about how to write. Writing is solitary and frustrating and lonely. But we are not alone in these feelings, every writer goes through it, except that one we don’t like. We all write bad first drafts, and we all get better with hard work. In other words, suck it up buttercup, and keep revising, keep learning, keep writing.
But more importantly, Lamott reminded me why I want to be in this community:
“There are a lot of us, some published, some not, who think the literary life is the loveliest one possible, this life of reading and writing and corresponding. We think this life is nearly ideal. It is spiritually invigorating...It is intellectually quickening. One can find in writing a perfect focus for life. It offers challenge and delight and agony and commitment.” (page 232)
And that’s exactly it. I may never publish The Cake Effect, or any future writing. I may be destined to a future of telling people I’m an unpublished writer, only to see the pity in their eyes and hear their story about their nephew’s boss’s cat’s groomer who self-published.
But getting published isn’t the only reward to writing. It isn’t even in the top five -- OK, maybe it’s number two. The best reward for me is the online writing community. In the past few months, I’ve swapped manuscripts, shared war stories, gave and received advice, and cheered on other writers’ successes. My hubby teases my about my Twitter friends, but they are as real as any others. We just meet in the virtual world, rather than at a local coffee shop where baristas give us the stink-eye for not ordering enough.
It is this community, dear reader, which supports and cheers for one another, that is more than worth the rollercoaster ride of self-doubt and rejection. I’m not going anywhere.
Get more of me on Twitter @aereichert.
Reference: Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. New York. Anchor Books. 1994. Print.