Saturday, March 06, 2010

'Bird By Bird' ...

I don't read a lot of books about writing. Maybe I should. But I don't. Writing for me has always just been something I do. Whether or not I do it well is open to interpretation. I think I do it well. My parents do, too. But they're my parents. And they're nice people. Even if they thought my work was dreck, they'd find something nice to say. Or mom would offer to make me a sandwich.

Mind you, I have a fair number of books about writing. Just as I have a fair number of books about figuring out what I should do with my life. Just as I have a fair number of books about diet and exercise. There's always the hope that owning such books will inspire me, or, as is really the truth, do the work for me.

So far, no luck.

I don't remember who told me to read Bird by Bird. Several people, probably. So I bought it, once again hopeful that this book, this time, would hold all the answers.

It doesn't. No book does.

But not only do I recommend it as a must-read for every writer, no matter their area of specialty, I recommend it as a must-read for anyone who knows a writer, who cares about that writer, who wonders what the hell is going on in there.

This book will tell you.

C.S. Lewis once said, "We read to know we are not alone."

My copy of Bird by Bird is now heavily marked up, many passages underlined, many notes in the margins. Some go on at length. Others simply read, "Exactly."

So, it's not just me. Other people feel the same way, think the same way, worry the same way, obsess the same way.

Of course they do. And I knew that, really. But it's so comforting to read her words, her honest, funny words, and know that there is at least one person in the world who can relate to the Technicolor scribbles in my head.

Bird by Bird is geared toward fiction writers but her advice relates to writers of other stripes, as well.

I thought I might leaf through all the pages and pull out parts to include here, but really, there's no need. Those are the parts that resonated with me, and including them here would only serve to explain myself as a writer to you, but that's not necessary. I am the writer I am. You are the writer you are. Or aren't. Or wish you were.

But I do recommend it. It's as laugh-out-loud funny as it is insightful, which is a pretty good recipe for a bestseller. Its subtitle is "Some Instructions on Writing and Life" and it does indeed contain useful advice about writing as a craft, as an art. But a lot of it is commiseration, like sitting down with a wise friend who very kindly pulls you out of your head and makes you realize that, no, in fact, everything is not about you.

Writing, real, honest writing, is all about you. It must be. Who else is going to write what you have to write, say what you have to say? If you imitate other writers, you're not really a writer. You're a mimic. The world is full of imitations. It's the reason everyone now feels compelled to capitalize on all things vampire.

But real, honest writing is equally about giving. As Anne writes, "... think of how many times you have opened a book, read one line, and said, 'Yes!' And I want to give people that feeling, too, of connection, communion."

That's when I'm most fulfilled as a writer. Next Saturday is the five-year anniversary of this blog. Five years of my prattling on about mostly nothing but sometimes something, sometimes writing a post that resonates with someone who takes a moment to comment and let me know. And what I wrote probably didn't change their life, but if it gave them a moment of understanding that there's one other person in the world who can relate to the way they're feeling, who's felt that feeling, too, there is no better reward.

This is not the post I thought I'd write about Anne's book. But then, writing rarely follows any rules we have in our heads. We think that we're in control, so crafty, bestowing beauty and surprises on our readers, when really, we're often just as surprised ourselves.


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