Bird by bird: Some instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott (Part 2)

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Your can read the part 1 here.

In this post we look at the Lamott’s Instructions on Writing.

To start the writing process, do short assignments. Keep writing about the past with an imaginary gun to your head. One step at a time, one scene at a time, one passage at a time. One bird followed by the next.

Lamott throws in little tricks like the one inch frame to help the scene emerge. She tells us that dialogue is writing down exactly what people speak. She advises us to research things we don’t know and ask around. Connect the dots. Write letters about your characters so that you can figure them out. Talk to Broccoli.

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You have to sit long enough with your thoughts and you will know what it is you are sitting there for. Never listen to that voice in your head that says you can’t write anything sensible. Writing is a kind of self-hypnosis in a way- you write and then unhypnotize yourself and have lunch.

The part about the book that I loved the most was the Index cards section- I cannot believe that someone can be so meticulous and devoted to her craft. Lamott places index cards everywhere: by the bed, in the bathroom, in the kitchen, by the phones, the glove compartment of her car, just so that she never loses her words.  Like a journalist researching her everyday life, she moves from card to card, creating snapshots of her life and of those around her

Do you have the photographic memory that does not require note taking? Memory can go away- I’m talking real memory and of course hard drive memory, the back-up that can get lost. Writing notes can save you- and writing notes by hand brings pictures to your mind that you can translate. Taking notes makes you focused and this habit gives you permission to think like a writer 24×7.

So a writer is someone on whom nothing is lost.

You could be in an office with a cupboard stacked with books and files. There could be a sign that says Out for Lunch. Write all of it down, take everything in and turn it into a piece of prose. After a while, you learn to find the right things.

Although writing a book may be like “leveling Mount Mckinley with a dentist’s drill” (you can’t get Lammot’s turn of phrase out of your head!), it’s easy once you start and persist with a capital P.


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  1. Pingback: The Craft of Novel Writing by Dianne Doubtfire – (Part 1) | InstaScribe

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