Friday, March 27, 2009

The Noble Tradition

If there has been one constant in all the writer's conferences I've attended, besides eating too much, it is that Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird - Some Instructions on Writing and Life, is always one of the most highly recommended books that starting writers "must have" in their generally unread collection of How To books.

It only took me four conferences to get to the book table early enough to snare a copy.

And this year I finally read it.

You should, too.

Bird provides so much fodder for comment I almost don't know where to start.

But I do.

How can a good Christian woman be so profane in her writing? Yikes!

How can a good Christian woman be so funny in her writing? Yikes!

How can ... well, you get it.

However, in between the yuks and the profanity is a garden of wisdom and solid counsel. Too much to cover. But here are some slices I loved from her chapter on Publication. (Other chapters include School Lunches, Jealousy, Broccoli, Radio Station KFKD and my favorite, Shitty First Drafts. Hey, they're not my chapter titles!)

After listing a litany of things that publication is not, Lamott allows herself to dance with the joy of being a published author.

"But the fact of publication is the acknowledgement from the community that you did your writing right. You acquire a rank that you never lose. Now you're a published writer, and you are in that rare position of getting to make a living, such as it is, doing what you love best. That knowledge does bring you a quiet joy."

Lamott is great at chronicling the pitfalls and false security of pursuing publication as the Holy Grail of your writing, but she also says this.

"But the truth is that there can be a great deal of satisfaction in being a writer, in being a person who gets some work done most days, and who has been published and acknowledged. I carry this around in my pocket, touch it a number of times a day to make sure it is still there. Even though so much of my writing time is stressful and disheartening, I carry a secret sense of accomplishment around with me, like a radium pack implanted near my heart that now leaches a quiet sense of relief through my system. But you pay through the nose for this."

Yes, the price is high. Deadly days of pounding out words and wondering if they make any sense ... if they will ever connect with another human being. It's a lonely work, full of self doubt that culminates in allowing people, most you've never met, skewer you and your work in public. Some fun, eh?

Lamott leaves us with some perspective.

"Being a writer is part of a noble tradition, as is being a musician - the last egalitarian and open associations. No matter what happens in terms of fame and fortune, dedication to writing is a marching-step forward from where you were before, when you didn't care about reaching out to the world, when you weren't hoping to contribute, when you were just standing there doing some job into which you had fallen."

Wow. Words like this make it all worth the price.

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