Sunday, December 18, 2011

Bird by Bird - Writing Advice

I recently went to a Ragan Communications/Great Place to Work conference and attended a story telling workshop while I was there. Although the conference was work focused, the speaker in this workshop had experience both in internal communications at Microsoft and as a young adult novelist, and her session focused on writing in general. It was nice to get to attend something that gave me great advice for work writing but also for novel writing, since I'm trying to finally finish writing a full novel. During her session, she mentioned a few writing books that she recommends, and one of those was Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.

I honestly think Bird by Bird is the best book on writing I've read. Too many writing books are sadly dull and boring, not exactly great selling points for the advice they're trying to give. Many of the writing books I've read tend to give an example of what another writer wrote and then they analyze it. While that can be helpful, it usually comes across as very technical and doesn't make for good writing in and of itself.

What Lamott does differently is tell stories. She sprinkles stories of her own writing experience and gives his examples of what she means through these stories. Her stories are all interesting and memorable, making them much more effective for sharing her writing advice. A lot of her advice is the same thing every writing book focuses on - write every day, just get a first draft down and then revise like crazy, have someone review your work, etc. What makes her different is that she's effective at convincing you that you do need to actually do these things. You are not the exception; you are not special. Sorry. She also provides a lot of advice about more technical aspects, such as character development and plot structure, but she shares examples of writing prompts she gives her classes and uses those to show you how to do this instead of just telling you, following the most important writing rule of all - show, don't tell.

Lamott also offers realistic advice on publishing. She talks about how in every workshop or class she teaches, everyone just wants to know about being published and thinks they will become rich and happy once they are published. She quickly dispels these beliefs. She emphasizes that you should focus on writing, not on being published, as that will make your writing better. Then, you really must get an agent. Finally, if you finally do get published, it might be for a a hill of a beans, you may have to deal with bad reviews, bad reviews in your local paper that everyone you know reads, or worse, no reviews or attention at all.

I'm not usually a big quote person, but there were many great quotes in this book. One that I particularly enjoyed was "You can safely assume you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do," Anne's prist friend Tom.

"Nothing is important as a likeable narrator. Nothing holds a story together better," Ethan Canin. I liked this one, partly because whether or not characters need to be likeable tends to get discussed quite a bit by book bloggers. I like this answer. Lamott explains that you don't have to want to hang out with them, but they do have to be likeable in some way.

"Characters should not, conversely, serve as pawns for some plot you've dreamed up. Any plot you impose on your characters will be onomatopoetic: PLOT." I think this is why I prefer literary fiction to genre fiction most of the time. I don't usually like it when characters exist only to carry the plot forward

"Faulkner's books work because they focus on character - they are compelling." Again, she really drives home the importance of character, and has some writing exercises to help you learn more about your characters and further develop them.

If you're looking for ways to improve your writing, I definitely recommend this one. I'm now interested in reading some of her novels, although since I don't own any of them I guess I'll be waiting until April for that, once the TBR Double Dare is finished. I'd be interested in learning the best writing advice others have ever received if anyone wants to share!

No comments:

Post a Comment