For my 31st birthday last week my mother bought me a book called ''Bird by Bird'' by Anne Lamott. I have occasionally read 'how to' books on writing over the years, but none of them have inspired me as this one has. Lamott, using personal ancedotes with a touch of self-depreciating humour, distils what she's learned over the years of trial and error. She reminds us that it's good to write really bad first drafts , invaluable advice for one such as myself who often finds the need for perfectionism the main obstacle between me and that first draft, even a shitty one.
Lamott also writes that we should worry about the characters, not the plot. 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 day by day, something is bound to happen''. Lamott argues that characters should not, conversely, serve pawns for some plot you've dreamed up.
Though her most invaluable advice for those times when the task before me feels like trying to scale a glacier: just take it paragraph by paragraph, one small scene, one memory, one exchange at a time. She tells the following story that helps her get a grip when the task seems insurmountable.
''Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he'd had three months to write [it] was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said, 'Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'''
In the end Lamott writes that its okay to feel neurotic, negelected, vengeful or self-doubting, as long as you keep writing.
I would love to hear from others books that have inspired them.