Jess over at Reading on the F Train suggested sometime back that we should read and post about Bird by Bird. I'm taking on the first half of the book and she will be wrapping up the latter half at the end of the month. If you would like to join us, feel free to email Jess with a link to your post. Since I have too much to say in one post, I'm going to cover some things today and post again another day.
Drafting and Unabashed Suckitude
I think perhaps the biggest thing I've gotten from this book so far is the challenge to buck perfectionism and embrace the "shitty first draft". (Henceforth referred to as SFD so I don't have to keep typing such an "excrementitious"** word.) For as long as I can remember, I've tended toward perfectionism, which stinks when you're writing to get published. I'm not sure I could write a truly SFD even if I wanted to. Maybe if I was to pry my delete button off my keyboard, but I'm not sure that's a good idea. I revise as I go, and that seems to work for me. But I wonder if it would be less stressful getting that initial story plunked out if I just ignored the urge to polish and prettify my WIP as I write it. It's okay for it to suck. It's supposed to suck.
"All good writers write [SFDs]. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts."
More On (Moron?) Perfectionism
On the issue of perfectionism, Lamott mentions a friend's suggestion to "learn to keep yourself company", to basically treat yourself a little better. You wouldn't tell a CP, "This sucks monkey spleen. Fix it now."*** Instead, you'd probably offer them a really well-crafted compliment sandwich: "This part is really great. Have you thought about doing this? Oh, and this part is fantastic!" So why do we become our very own personal Regina George? (Thanks, Rebecca, for this comparison. It's totally fetch.) Treat yourself like you'd treat your CP.
Eureka Moments and the Crud Leading to Them
Lamott touched on something that was both interesting and very, very true. She talks about sitting down to write and rereading what she wrote the day before. (I totally do this to get in the right frame of mind to write.) There will be a pile of 'meh' sentences—paragraphs even—limping along pathetically until they reach one golden nugget that basically breathes life into the whole story. This is what we were going for, what we wanted our story to be. While everything leading up to this stroke of brilliance seems like a waste, it really isn't. We needed all of it to show us what we really wanted to write. Like the yellow brick road leading to the Emerald City.
Gagging the "Drunken Monkeys"
The process of writing is often fraught with just as many rock bottom lows as over the moon highs. We sit down to write and find ourselves plagued by self-doubt—"banshees and drunken monkeys" as Lamott calls them. But we persevere, managing to ignore those voices and write something. And it might totally suck (as SFDs are wont to do), but we do the work and eventually that SFD will suck a little less. It's never going to be easy, but that's what makes finishing so darn satisfying.
"Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do—the actual act of writing—turns out to be the best part. It's like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward."To be continued another day...
* I just felt like rubbing that in because I'm cruel like that.
** Her word, not mine. Though, I think I might adopt it.
*** If you do, maybe you should retire from CPing. O__O