Reading + Writing = #writerslife
When you’re not writing—perhaps you’re procrastinating or avoiding the important work you’ve set for yourself (we all do it!)—take the opportunity to read about writing. Study the craft, pay attention to how your favourite novels are structured, figure out why certain non-fiction books keep you hooked. Reading is the other part of the essential helix of your writing life, so here are my favourite books on writing!
1. Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott
This was my textbook for a creative writing class in college. I keep coming back to it because of the idea of taking things one step at a time, that writing does not tumble out of you fully formed and perfect. This is the “fantasy of the uninitiated,” a fantasy that has a long shelf life…
The two single most helpful ideas I invoke on a daily basis are “short assignments” and “shitty first drafts.” (Shitty as in rough and unpolished, not intended to be an assault on your self-worth!) Both these tools help keep perfectionism, the main obstacle between you and the first draft, at bay.
To do a short assignment, write only as much as you can see through a one-inch picture frame. This might be your opening scene. It might be a setting you saw in a dream. Whatever it is, the task becomes manageable because you’re not sitting down to write your entire magnum opus; you’re “taking this bird by bird.” The shitty first draft is like a Polaroid developing, where you’re allowing yourself to stitch together your short assignments in some semblance of a story or narrative.
I come back to this book every time I forget that writing is iterative and first drafts are not only necessary but the foundation of the writing process. This book will help ease your cramped psychic muscles and give you permission to write, and to continue to write even after you’ve convinced yourself out of it.