Writers on Writing ~ Bird by Bird


8.22.09

Image by aprilzosia via Flickr

Bird by Bird ~ Anne La Mott

This week I started reading this amazing book on the craft of writing. I am already half way through and still going back and rereading many parts. This is a book that is a must for writers. It is a book that will resonate with both novice writers and professional writers. She writes from her own experiences and this comes through in the ease of reading. The pages seem to turn themselves. We writers are generous types: we always want to share what is on our minds and what inspires us. So today I am going to share a couple of tips that I am learning so far from Bird by Bird with you:

  1. “Good  writing is about telling the truth.”
  2. “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” – E.L. Doctorow
  3. “…the idea of shitty first drafts. All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts.”
  4. “Very few writers know what they are doing until they’ve done it.”
  5. “The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later….Just get it all down on paper, because there may be something great in those six crazy pages that you would never have gotten to by more rational, grown-up means. There may be something in the very last line of the very last paragraph on page six that you just love, that is so beautiful or wild that you now know what you’re supposed to be writing about, more or less, or in what direction you might go – but there was no way to get to this without first getting through the first five and a half pages.”
  6. “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something – anything – down on paper…the first draft is the down draft – you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft – you fix it up. You try to say what you have to say more accurately. And the third draft is the dental draft, where you check every tooth, to see if it’s loose or cramped or decayed, or even, God help us, healthy.”
  7. “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.”
  8. “Clutter is wonderfully fertile ground – you can still find new treasures under all those piles, clean things up, edit things out, fix things, get a grip. Tidiness suggests that something is as good as it’s going to get. Tidiness makes me thing of held breath, of suspended animation, while writing needs to breathe and move.”
  9. “Writing a first draft is very much like watching a polaroid develop. You can’t – and, in fact, you are not supposed to – know exactly what the picture is going to look like until it has finished developing.”
  10. “The evidence is in and you are the verdict. This will be true for each of your characters.”
  11. ” Nothing is as important as a likable narrator. Nothing holds a story together better.” –Ethan Canin
  12. “Another thing: we want a sense than an important character , like a narrator, is reliable. We want to believe that a character is not playing games or being coy or manipulative, but is telling the truth to the best of his or her ability. (Unless a major characteristic of his or hers is coyness or manipulation or lying.).”
  13. “Just don;t pretend you know more about your characters than they do, because you don’t. Stay open to them. It’s teatime and all the dolls are at the table. Listen. It’s that simple.”
  14. “Plot grows out of character. If you focus on who the people in your story are, if you sit and write about two people you know and are getting to know better and better day by day, something is bound to happen.”
  15. “Worry about the characters. Let what they say or do reveal who they are, and be involved in their lives, and keep asking yourself, Now what happens? The development of relationship creates plot.”
  16. “Life is not a submarine. There are no plans. Find out what each character cares most about in the world because then you will have discovered what’s at stake.”
  17. “There must be movement.”
  18. “Let your human beings follow the music they hear, and let it take them where it will.
  19. “So aim but not too hard, and when you finally see the climax forming in front of you, then you can race toward it.”
  20. “She said that sometimes she uses a formula when writing a short story, which goes ABDCE, for Action, Background, Development, Climax and Ending You begin with action that is compelling enough to draw us in, make us want to know more. Background is where you let us see and know who these people are, how they’ve come to be together, what was going on before the opening of the story. Then you develop these people, so that we learn what they care most about. The plot – the dram, the actions, the tension -will grow out of that. You move them along until everything comes together in the climax, after which things are different for the main characters, different in some real way. And then there is the ending: what is our sense of who these people are now, what are they left with, what happened, and what did it mean.” – Alice Adams

All of these lessons and tips are like gold veins through the murky clay of a writer’s craft. There are so many more tips and tools that I have read but I will leave that for my next post next week.

Until then remember to just ” take it bird by bird…”.

– Kim


 

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19 Comments

  1. Brilliant blog Kim. Love it. Great advice, and great quotes in there that make us wee writers feel that much better about ourselves. 🙂
    Thanks for posting this!

    • Thanks Leigh. Just finished Bird by Bird and it really brought home so many truths about the road we creative types have chosen to follow. Look out for next week’s post when I will sum up the rest of the book. 😉

  2. I have heard so many, many great things about this book. I’m working through my first draft in a very, very long time and this was just what I needed to hear. Now to seek out the book!

    • You MUST get a copy of this book Kerryn. it is fantastic. I have just finished it today so watch out for next week’s post when I will sum up the last half of the book. Well Done on getting back to your first draft. Good Luck with it. 🙂

  3. I recently read that book, and it really is amazing. I recommend it to everyone too 🙂 Lots of gems. Definitely one I’ll be reading again and again over the years!

  4. Thanks Kim..for this really wonderful post. Loved reading it. Bird by Bird sounds like a great book. I am looking for good writing craft books. Will buy this one. Thanks for sharing this information.

    • My pleasure Rachna. Yes, get this book ASAP! This should be a Must-Own-Must-Read-Must-Repeat book on any writer’s bookshelf. 🙂

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