Monday, September 23, 2013

Recent Read: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

I finally read something I knew I'd been needing to read for a long time: Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. As a writer and editor, I've always known I need to read and reread a few of the classics: On Writing Well, Strunk and White's The Elements of Style and a new favorite: Grammar Girl Presents the Ultimate Writing Guide for Students by Mignon Fogarty. Now as someone teaching writing to middle and high school students, this seems even more important. Though I'm not sure if I could get away from having my classes read this (too many references to "shitty first drafts?"), the information in this book is helping me think about writing and revising in a different way. Plus, for such a short book with so much instructional value, Lamott's writing is hysterically funny. More than once while I was reading it, my family must have been wondering about the cause of my amusement. Here are the things that struck me the most that I'll try to implement with my students:

  • telling the truth in your own voice
  • focusing your writing (at least at first) on your childhood
  • seeing your book as a long series of short writing assignments
  • bad first drafts translate to good second drafts and great third drafts (three is my magic number for writing too)
  • don't listen to the voices in your head when you sit down to write; just listen to your voice
  • "perfectionism will ruin your writing" (p. 28 of my 1994 paperback version)
  • the great equalizer of writing topics: school lunches
  • being comfortable with not knowing how the piece you're writing will finish up when you're just starting to write it
  • take the time to get to know your characters, and then your plot will fall into place
  • read your dialogue out loud to determine if it's realistic
  • the importance of being observant
 ...and about a jillion other great pieces of advice. If you're a writer you need to read this book. Period.

And speaking of school lunches, I visited a school recently during lunchtime and got all nostalgic about what I got to eat (yes, that's a corndog back behind the salad).

Perhaps I should write about it.

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