Tag Archives: bird by bird

“Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg (Part 1)

Whenever I talk to another writer about my current plans, they inevitably recommend that I read Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg. I’ve had the book on my shelf for months and finally was in the mood.

The great thing about this book is that each chapter has a self-contained message. So, I have scribbling down her underlying message and I’ll share them with you here.

Goldberg’s recommendations:

1. Set up your writing system, whether its the right pen and notebook, or coffee shop and laptop. The goal is choose the method that least slows you down so those words can flow.

2. Turn off your critic on your first draft. (This also happens to be advice given by Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird–the shitty first draft). Her advice seems to say we should NaNoWriMo all year long.

3. Practice writing every day, be in the moment with your thoughts, don’t try to control them. If you let go of control, your voice will come all on it’s own.

4. Compost! Let your ideas and thoughts spin and churn. Eventually, you’ll get fertile soil.

5. Trust the writing process, stick with it, and you will improve.

6. Keep a running list of writing topics so that you’ll never feel blocked. You’ll always have a place to turn for a quick start.

7. Write. Don’t argue with yourself about when you’re going to do it, or why you’re not. Just do it. Use rewards, deadlines, a buddy, whatever it takes to just get writing.

8. Learn to hear and recognize your inner editor so you can more efficiently ignore it. (my inner editor just asked me whether I should change this to “recognize and hear” instead–I just told the bitch to shut up. :))

9. Write about what’s in front of you and expand thereafter.

10. Don’t read about writing as a way to learn to write. Just write (no, I didn’t stop reading the book right there, but I did put it down to re-work on a chapter).

Goldberg’s approach is simple and I like that. This is a fast, informative read. It’s interesting that she uses a lot of examples from her life to color these themes, including Buddhist teachings, quotes, and a variety of poetry.

I’m a third of the way through, so there will be a Part 2 (at least) in the next couple weeks.

I will be working it in around my plans to enter my first writing contest since 5th grade (which I won!). By Feb. 18 I will enter the first 27 pages of my memoir, along with an amazing synopsis, in the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association Literary Contest.  I have  a couple friends who were finalists in the contest last year and they very much recommend the experience, which includes feedback from at least two people, one of which might be a literary agent.

This week I’ll be learning what qualities make a good synopsis. Will let you know what I find out.

Lorraine

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Positive Feedback

I’m still kicking ass with NaNoWriMo. I’m currently at 29,169 words, approximately one full week ahead of schedule. I’m really liking the approach, which is to write with little or no editing. Of course that means that the draft I have is quite rough, as Ann Lamott’s Bird By Bird refers to it, my shitty first draft, but I don’t think its all that shitty. So I’m optimistic that I can use December and January to whip these chapters into shape.

I have a couple of writing friends who graciously will be looking over my chapters during that time and they can only improve.

I woke up to a new rejection this morning of my book proposal, this time from St. Martin’s Press’ (one of the big girls) editor, Michele Richter. Calling this a rejection seems like a misnomer though. I think I’ll start calling it a “pass” when it sounds like this one. It’s always hard to know whether they’re just being kind, but I’d like to think there is sincerity here. I met Michelle at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Conference and she seemed like a true New Yorker, not one who beats around the bush to spare people’s feelings, so this pass is very encouraging to me.

I’ll keep plugging away and hopefully will send out my proposal to another round of agents and editors in February or so. I think I’m waiting to hear back from only one more agent from the round I sent out in August.

Here’s her e-mail message in all its glory:

Dear Lorraine,

I enjoyed meeting you very much, and I thank you for sending me EGG MAMA. You do have a fascinating story to tell, and there’s certainly an inspirational aspect, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to pass on the chance to make you an offer. Memoir is a very crowded market, and we’re having to be more and more selective with the projects that we take on. I do think that your writing is engaging, and that someone else will snap you up and give you a happy home. I wish you all the best of luck.

best, Michelle Richter

Productivity

I’ve had a less productive couple of weeks when it comes to writing. I don’t think it’s connected to my latest rejection, but I’m not ruling that out entirely.

I think its because I was trying to write about a subject that causes me some anxiety. I have been working on a parenting article about whether or not to allow toy guns in the house. Not exactly an earth shattering topic, but for some reason, the subject meant enough to slow me right down. I’ve been motivated to work on lots of other things, but not that. Facebook, exercise, improv, cleaning the bathroom, and writing this blog post all got done instead.

In avoiding my own writing, I was also able to critique other writer’s works, which I found profoundly satisfying. So its a misnomer to say that I wasn’t productive over the last couple weeks, but the writing hasn’t poured out of me as easily as it has in the past.

Productivity in general has never been an issue for me. I’ve always been a do-er. I always have a list I’m working on, usually three or four, and I feel guilty if I spend most of a day lounging and reading.

But recently I’ve noticed that I’m enjoying the time I do have to hang out and socialize in an entirely new way. Now I’m socializing as a writer. When I’m at a dinner party, in a bar, or at the theater, I’m not just there hanging out, I’m taking mental notes as well. I’m studying strangers as if they are characters in my book. I’m noticing what they’re wearing, how they wear their hair, the hint of an accent in their voice, and how they talk to their friends.

So maybe I’ve actually been more productive than I realize over the last two weeks. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the connection (or the absence of one) between toy guns and handgun violence and about what it takes to “describe” a person fully.

In her book, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott talks about calling around. She says that writers spend a lot of time alone and it can make them crazy. She recommends taking little breaks to call around to learn specific things about the world so that it can be incorporated into your writing. She spent the better part of a day calling wineries to determine that the wire thingy that goes over the cork on a champagne bottle is a wire hood. Then the wire hood appears as the most memorable reference in one of her best selling books.

So maybe, productivity isn’t just about word count or the number of publications, but maybe it’s also about paying attention, even when you don’t know how a particular piece of information will be useful in the future.

I’ll be wrapping up and sending out my piece on toy guns tomorrow so that I can move forward. But I’m going to work hard not to judge the recent days with little writing.

I’m hoping tomorrow will be a fresh start to get me back on track toward actually getting some words on the page. I’m gearing up for NaNoWriMo which begins on November 1st. I’ll be attempting to get 50,000 words down in 30 days. Please let me know if you’d like to join me for any part of this big new adventure.

Lorraine Wilde