Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Dose of Anne Lamott

“We write to expose the unexposed.  If there is one door in the castle that you have been told not to go through, you must.  Otherwise, you’ll just be rearranging furniture in rooms you’ve already been in.  Most human beings are dedicated to keeping that one door shut.  But the writer’s job is to see what’s behind it, to see the bleak unspeakable stuff, and to turn the unspeakable into words—not just into any words but if we can, into rhythm and blues.”


“Thus, good dialogue encompasses both what is said and what is not said.  What is not said will sit patiently outside that stuck elevator door, or it will dart around the characters’ feet inside the elevator, like rats.  So let these characters hold back some thoughts, and at the same time, let them detonate little bombs.”


“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people…Besides, perfectionism will ruin your writing, blocking inventiveness and playfulness and life force (these are words we are allowed to use in California).  Perfectionism means that you try desperately not to leave so much mess to clean up.  But clutter and mess show us that life is being lived.  Clutter is wonderfully fertile ground—you can still discover 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 think of held breath, of suspended animation, while writing needs to breathe and move.”


“My students assume that when well-respected writers sit down to write their books, they know pretty much what is going to happen because they’ve outlined most of the plot, and this is why their books turn out so beautifully and why their lives are so easy and joyful, their self-esteem so great, their childlike senses of trust and wonder so intact.  Well.  I do not know anyone fitting this description at all.  Everyone I know flails around, kvetching and growing despondent, on the way to finding a plot and structure that work. You are welcome to join the club.”

Of course, this is all from Anne Lamott’s fabulous book, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.  It makes me so happy when I get to be the one assigning this book to a student who hasn’t read it before…they always love it!  


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.