If you feel compelled to write, whether or not you classify yourself as a “writer,” you know that something inside must be released through your fingers and organized on a page in order to think something through or to organize your thoughts or to release creativity. Here are some writing tips that I personally found helpful from Anne Lamott in her book Bird by Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life:
Why to Write: Writing makes you stop and think about details. This quality of attention gets lost in the course of a day, but when we write, it demands us to notice and forces us to pay attention. It helps us to see who we are, why we behave as we do, how people relate with each other, even how to live and die. (15)
Where to Write: Write everywhere. Organize later. Carry a notepad with you everywhere and jot down a few phrases to help you remember a scene or character or event that compels you to write. You might think you’ll remember it later, but you won’t.
When to Write: Sit down at the same time every day. This is how you train your unconscious to kick in for you creatively. Compose sentences. String words together like beads to tell a story. Preserve moments of grace or joy or transcendence; make real or imagined events come alive. But you cannot will this to happen. It is a matter of persistence and faith and hard work. (7)
What to Write: All you can give is what life is about from your point of view. Your job is to present clearly your viewpoint, your line of vision, and to do this, you must know who you are so you can see people as they really are. (97)
How to Write: Write in short assignments, like describing a one-inch picture frame.
All good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something – anything – down on the page. The first draft is to just get it down. The second draft is the draft you fix up. The 3rd draft is the dental draft – check every tooth to see if it’s loose, cramped, decayed, or healthy. (25)
How NOT to Write: Perfectionism kills. Perfectionism means that you are trying desperately not to leave so much mess to clean up. But clutter and mess shows us that life is being lived. Clutter is wonderfully fertile ground; tidiness suggests that something is as good as it’s going to get. Perfectionism keeps us from moving, causes us to write in tight, worried ways, and makes us stand back from life. We need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here. Just write – something may appear on the page you never though much of before. (32)
Some notes I provided here are the bare bones that Anne Lamott shares in her humorous and inspiring book. She builds up these tips with the muscles, joints, skin, and then dresses it up in a costume for entertainment. If you find any of the above tips even remotely interesting, she will spin you into further vivid details and string together colorful images about writing in life that will forever burn itself into your brain. She also gave me a few new vocabulary words, like “colo-rectal theology”:
To be engrossed by something outside ourselves is a powerful antidote for the rational mind, the mind that so frequently has its head up its own a** - seeing things in such a narrow and darkly narcissistic way that present a colo-rectal theology, offering hope to no one” (102)