Many writers know the tyranny of the blank page - and not just at the start of a piece of writing. It's a strange and magical trick to conjure up something seemingly from nothing, and then believe (that's one of the most important parts) in its reality so much that you stick with it and eventually it will become real to other people too. Small wonder then that writers are always on the hunt for inspiration, both in terms of ideas for writing and ideas about writing.
Every writer worth their salt knows of Stephen King's book On Writing, but recently a poet, Penny Shutt, introduced me to Anne Lamott's bird by bird: Instructions on Writing and Life.
You can - and will! - find oodles of reviews on life. I'll sum up what I feel are Anne's key messages in a few bite-sized pieces:
1. Write what's true for you. Bleed it on the page if necessary.
2. Writing is not a cerebral process, not entirely. It involves sweat, angst, effort and those master tricksters, joy and sorrow.
3. Writing won't give you whatever you feel life has denied you. Its purpose is to give you a means of discovering what's true for you, finding it within and out there in what passes for 'the real world' and then making magic with it on the page.
What seduced me about this book was the very material that some critics loathed.* All that 'life' and 'God' and 'emotional' stuff that are universal themes and also intimately personal ones for the author. If you don't like her truth? Tough. That's the point. We can only write our own words our way and then see where they take us. Anne Lamott is both an author and a teacher / lecturer, and both come through the text. She may have earned the right to tell it her way, but that right is bestowed by all of us upon ourselves.
She writes about death and loss and elation and jealousy and all that good stuff that makes us truly human. (Show me a giraffe who's jealous of another one and I'll concede the point.)
It's a book about the process of stringing together words and not only what brings you to the writing desk in the first place, but also how what happens next can affect you.
Here's a link for bird by bird.
* When we start out as writers it can be tempting to look ahead to the validation of publication bidding war, or all those approaches from the film industry. However, writing isn't a substitute for life and nor is it a passport to a different self. That may happen, over time, if we work at our craft, and even then my personal opinion is that our potential is capped by a number of things (life experience, character, time, education, opportunity, connections - yes, for most of us that is a major factor, etc.) that are less malleable to our will than we are comfortable with. But...writing and reading will give depth to ours lives and deepen our understanding of the world around us and the people who inhabit it. When every stranger is a possible character or inspiration, if we're paying attention, how could it be otherwise.
If you are a writer who's stuck, who maybe feels robbed of their dues, or who wonders what the heck they'll do if their latest book gets no further than a hard drive, bird by bird may be the book to seduce you with writing all over again.