I’ve been a librarian for over 16 years. I’ve read a lot of books. Some I love, some I just like, some I discard. I have a rule, you see, the ten page rule. If a book doesn’t grab me in those first vital pages, I’m out of there. Relationship over!!
I don’t read stuff because it’s popular, because everyone else is reading it. I pick up a book because it connects to me in some way, a manner that often, I can’t quite put my finger on. Put simply, the magic is in the writing, and I’m captivated.
And I’ve also read a lot of books on writing, and while some remain classic bibles and helpful tomes, I’ve learned to avoid the formulaic drones from the ‘experts’. You know them, the ones who tell us how to ‘DO IT’ but actually, ‘DO’ fuck all themselves. [Other than keep flogging the ‘how to’!]
Now and again, I discover a book that gives me that warm, fuzzy feeling, like I’ve made a new friend. A frisson of connection that makes me look forward to getting back there, spending more time there, all cosied up between the pages as sentence upon sentence layer up to enlighten and soothe my senses. Affirming what I know, what I feel, and articulating it in language that appeals to me; in language that matters to me.
Bird by bird, some instructions on writing and life by Anne Lamott is one such book. It’s funny, it’s helpful, it’s a kick in the arse and it is honest; probably the most important quality of all. As a self-confessed perfectionist, I balked, squirmed but ultimately laughed out loud at the following passage…
“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and your shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”
And then, there is this brilliant insight!
“The other voices are banshees and drunken monkeys. They are the voices of anxiety, judgement, doom, guilt. Also, there is hypochondria. There may be a Nurse Ratched-like listing of things that must be done right this moment: foods that must come out of the freezer, appointments that must be canceled or made, hairs that must be tweezed. But you hold an imaginary gun to your head and make yourself stay at the desk. There is a vague pain at the base of your neck. It crosses your mind that you may have meningitis. Then the phone rings and you look up at the ceiling with fury, summon every ounce of noblesse oblige, and answer the call politely, with maybe just the merest hint of irritation. The caller asks if you’re working, and you say yeah, because you are.”
Whether you are just starting out, or like me, have been scribbling away for years, you are bound to get something meaningful from this book. So do yourself a favour – don’t pass it by, and of course, it will be all the easier to spot if you quit looking at your feet!
Bird by Bird : some instructions on writing and life / Anne Lamott. Anchor Books. A division of Random House, Inc. New York. 1995