One step at a time, one brick at a time…bird by bird?

Posted on February 15, 2012

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“…a life oriented in leisure is a life oriented to death- the greatest leisure of all.”

This is going to be off-topic compared to other things on this site. Part of having a consistently updated website is consistently writing. Part of having a good website then is to be a good writer. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamont is primarily a book on writing. There are also bits and pieces about life in general, bits that have applicability to weight-loss / exercise, but that won’t be the focus of this post.

I’ve gotten a good amount of comments about my writing since I started this site a year ago. While I’m grateful for the compliments, often times I have no idea what I’m doing. And I’m sure that’s reflected in the writing at times.

This is me trying to learn.

If you’re not someone who writes or does something creative I’m not sure you’ll get much out of this. This book does a great job of making you feel comfortable knowing others also have no idea how to write at times. Or the struggle it can be. This post will talk about what most resonated with me from the book as well as reminders to myself on how to write.

“Some people wanted to get rich or famous, but my friends and I wanted to get real. We wanted to get deep. (Also, I suppose, we wanted to get laid.)”

The real reason we do everything.

“Do it every day for a while…And make a commitment to finishing things.”

“I wrote every day for a an hour or more…(often while) drinking great quantities of wine.”

Drinking while writing is a great method. Seriously. I’ve heard a couple of authors recommend it. Here’s why: If I find myself having trouble communicating a topic, I think how would I tell my friend this if we were at a bar and a few beers deep?

This allows me to get back into “my voice.” If I’m at a bar using some ridiculous SAT words with my friends, either their eyes are going to glaze over, they’re going to give me shit for sounding pretentious, or I haven’t drank enough.

In essence, this reminds me to write like I talk. Which is the easiest way to write for me. I’ve had people tell me they liked my writing because it made them feel like they were sitting next to me having a conversation. (I’ve also had people tell me they had no idea what I was saying.) This is exactly what I’m striving for.

“And then I tell my students that the odds of them getting published, and of it bringing them financial security, peace of mind, and even joy are probably not that great.” 

Ironically, I’ve heard some extremely successful authors say this. The people you’d think would be the least likely to say so, as they’re the ones making the most money from books.

Before I started writing I had heard some people whom I respect the most, or whose writing I love the most, say this on numerous occasions. This forced me to decide that my first goal of writing would be to make sure somebody got something out of it. (My clients were my first priority.) For example, if I wrote a post on knee pain and it helped one person get rid of their knee pain, it was worth it.

I think this is a crucial mindset. If money or recognition is the first goal of writing what are you going to do when you first start out, and NOBODY is reading your stuff? You’ll stop. However, if you write something on knee pain because your friend is having issues, you send it to them, it helps them and they say thank you, you’ll be glad you spent the time writing it.

“Learning what you aren’t writing helps you learn what you are writing. But you don’t know this until you start writing.”

“Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

“The only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts.”

“This is the nature of good writing: you find out things as you go along.”

When asked for her best advice on writing, Lamont lifts up a pad and starts scribbling on it. As in, start writing.

Brick by brick, one step at a time, or, ahem, bird by bird.

I’ve found this extends far beyond writing. In any endeavor, it’s so much easier to look at placing one brick at a time as opposed to trying to build one wall at a time. You need to lose one pound before you lose twenty.

In writing, I use this approach by first writing an outline. I just write down whatever crap comes to mind on a particular subject. I then go back and look at what I have and see where I can add commentary, or what is useless and needs to be taken out.

I never try to imagine what a post will look like when completed. I have a topic in mind, and go from there. I’ll know what it looks like completed when it’s completed.

“Nothing is as important as a likable narrator…Now, a person’s faults are largely what make him or her likable.”

I think this is the best advice I’ve read about writing. I’ve seen two people state it, Lamont and Tucker Max. If you pay enough attention to how they write you will notice self-deprecation is a recurring theme. And we like self-deprecation. We hate perfect people. Perfect people suck.

Honest, authentic, raw writing is so much more refreshing than hearing some associated press member ramble on about what congress did today. It’s not that what congress did isn’t important, it’s that it’s so god awfully boring. Think of it this way: would you rather read a book report on the news today or would you rather have a well informed friend tell you what happened, voice their opinion on what happened, all while having a few beers?

Something I strive for in my writing is to showcase I have a personality. Our personalities are what make us stand out. Adding personality to your writing will thus help your writing stand out. At the end of day I realize a great deal of what I write is not going to be completely original. It’s material likely covered somewhere else. However, if I’m sure to inject my personality into my writing, I can be assured it will at least be different. Maybe not always better, but definitely different.

This is one reason why I curse when I write. I’m from New Jersey; cursing is part of our lifestyle. In fact, if I a person claims they are from New Jersey and doesn’t curse, I’m extremely skeptical of them, willing to bet they’re from south Jersey (might as well be another state), and I probably will never be friends with them.

“You must assume your readers are bright and attentive.”

“Done is better than perfect.”

This isn’t specifically from the book, I heard it somewhere else, but it’s something Lamont touches on.

Trying to do something perfectly is pointless. It’s unattainable. You are always going to look back and find something you could make better.

My barometer for “done” is when I find myself nitpicking, and I’m concurrently sick of what I’m working on. At that point, I don’t care anymore, it’s done because I’m sick of it and looking forward to working on something else.

“It is so much easier to embrace absolutes than to suffer reality.” 

AHH! Fantastic quote. This has an infinite amount of applications to weight-loss and exercise. The weight-loss world is bombarded by extremes. It’s either never touch a carb or be carbtastic, never eat fruit or eat fruit with every meal, cook your own food or only eat food your personally hunted, etc. It’s a hell of a lot easier to banish entire categories than to say It depends.”

“But you have to believe in your position, or nothing will be driving your work. If you don’t believe in what you are saying, there is no point in saying it…this belief will keep you going as you struggle to get your work done.”

I’m reminded of another quote, “You have to follow your values. Whenever I’m stressed out I find it’s because I’m doing something that isn’t in line with my values.  For example, if you value hate, then fucking hate everybody.”

 

“But a writer always tries, I think, to be a part of the solution, to understand a little about life and to pass this on.”

This is the greatest appeal of writing to me. I feel writing is our best way of passing what we know to others. Now, often times people don’t know anything worthy of being passed on (think 20 year olds spewing their opinion on politics). However, for those who do, or for those who feel they can convey information in a better way, I feel it’s almost a responsibility to let the knowledge be available to others. It’s a great way of making our world better.

Writer’s block: 

Lamont’s primary advice for writing block is to accept it. Take advantage of the fact you don’t have much to write at that particular moment and go do something else. Go to the beach, go for a walk, whatever. Her next piece of advice is, instead of trying to write something particular like a story, write about anything. Write about the weather, your dog, how it’s noon and you’re already drinking, etc.

I can’t say writer’s block has affected me (I haven’t been writing that long though). I’ve had moments where I felt like I didn’t have much to write, but I find constantly reading and paying attention to my client’s keeps me full of ideas. Reading is a great way to come across new ideas as are the questions people ask you.

Using humor:

Lamont is fantastically witty. She consistently inserts humorous remarks even while speaking about something very serious.

I love writing with humor in it, no matter the subject. It helps add some personality to your writing, make you more likable, more “real” (due to communicating over the internet), and makes you different. You might convey the same information on lower back pain as someone else, but if you do it in a funny way compared to the drawl of someone else, your writing is going to stand out and be more remembered.

When people shine a little light on their monster, we find out how similar most of our monsters are. The secrecy, the obfuscation, the fact that these monsters can only be hinted at, gives us some sense that they must be very bad indeed. But when people let their monsters out for a little onstage interview, it turns out that we’ve all done or thought the same things, that this is our lot, our condition. We don’t end up with a brand on our forehead. Instead, we compare notes.”

 Again, be yourself. A lot of people are going to read something I write and go, “Ugh, why does he have to curse? It’s just a sign he couldn’t think of another word.”  Meanwhile, someone from Jersey is going to read that same thing, find it hysterical, and search for more things to read. You either don’t piss anyone off and partially please some people, or you can really piss some people off and really please some other people. Do the former and nobody cares about you. Do the latter and have loyal friends / readers / fans.

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Posted in: Miscellaneous