If you haven't read Anne Lamott's, Bird by Bird, yet, and you need a little writing pick-me-up, then trust me, and read it. I've had amazing writing days since reading this book. The book influenced me to attack writing in a totally different way. I've stopped feeling overwhelmed by the revisions ahead of me, and have learned (very quickly) how to force myself to focus, as the title suggests 'bird by bird'.
Here' is an excerpt of the part that made something go click in my head (and made me laugh!). The next day I revised a whole chapter effortlessly:
It's hard to get your footing, and your fingertips get all red and frozen and torn up. Then your mental illnesses arrive at the desk like your sickest, most secretive relatives. And they pull up chairs in a semicircle around the computer, and they try to be quiet, but you know they are there with their weird coppery breath, leering at you behind your back ... What I do at this point ... is to stop. First I try to breathe, because I'm either sitting there panting like a lapdog or I'm unintentionally making slow asthmatic death rattles. So I just sit there for a minute breathing slowly, quietly ... and I finally notice the one-inch picture frame that I put on my desk to remind me of short assignments. It reminds me that all I have to do is to write down as much as I can see through a one-inch picture frame. This is all I have to bite off for the time being. (pages 17-18, Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott, 1995 paperback)
How do you deal with that overwhelming feeling? Have you got any tips on how to overcome it? And what's the best writing advice you've ever read?
Note: I'm taking the rest of the week off from blogging to focus on revising my novel. So have a great Thanksgiving all you American folk and catch ya again on Monday! :o)
So I just added this to my wish list. Thanks Jess!ReplyDelete
I know that feeling quite well and I love Anne's suggestion. What I do is tell myself that I'm going to be doing a million edits later, so just write it now, have fun, let it out, then anything bad can be edited in the afterglow. Sometimes handwriting helps because it's so informal.ReplyDelete
Sadly, I can only do shorts...the idea of a book would scare me to death!ReplyDelete
That's a great idea. I only have short bursts of time to write, and that would help me feel like I'm being productive.ReplyDelete
I only write picture books, but I feel very overwhelmed when getting started. It is always daunting looking at a blank page and trying to get that first stanza (or two) down!ReplyDelete
Wow, great advice! I must admit, when I feel overwhelmed, I tend to just stop writing for a few days, whether I want to or not. That way, by the time I get back to it, I have several thoughts in my head about plot/dialogue/etc, and I'm usually chomping at the bit to get back to work.ReplyDelete
I curl up in a ball and cry, er, I mean I go for a run. It's amazing how exercise solves many of my writing problems. ;)ReplyDelete
Have fun with the writing. Even though I'm not American, I'm going to take the rest of the week of from blogging, too. :D
I love Bird by Bird! It's all written in and highlighted. :)ReplyDelete
When I'm having trouble, depending on how serious it is, I'll either take a shower or start pacing in my office, talking out loud through my issue. Sometimes to my husband, in which he gives me suggestions and I usually do the complete opposite. If it's really super bad, I'll get in my car and drive around, generally get something to eat or drink, and think think think.
So far I've always come through to the other side, so I guess something's working...
I own this book but I haven't finished it yet. I do love the parts I've read. This one and The Forest for the Trees are two great ones.ReplyDelete
I used to have a piano teacher who told me about a similar trick she used. When she felt overwhelmed at the thought of straightening out all the junk in her house, she'd tell herself all she had to do was just clear out one drawer. And drawer by drawer, she'd eventually get the whole thing done.
Love Lamott's Bird by Bird. Here method of just tackling one small part at a time always seems to work for me.ReplyDelete
Love this book. I read it years ago, during a time when I didn't think I wanted to write, but it's a great lesson for everything that I procrastinate about. Another great source of help through our perfectionist/non-starter tendencies is Flylady.com. It's about cleaning your house, but it's about getting through the stuff you don't want to start, fifteen minutes at a time.ReplyDelete
I love this book, too!ReplyDelete
It's good advice--to break down your goals into smaller pieces.
Sometimes I tell myself, "All I am going to do today is write this one paragraph." Then, if that's all I get done, I feel a sense of accomplishment and feel more confident at my next session. And sometimes writing that paragraph goes so well and quickly that I find myself pounding out the rest of the chapter in one sitting.
That is a great piece of advice. I am going to treat myself to the book. I am having a rotten day today, feeling overwhelmed with four different projects to edit.ReplyDelete
Thanks, Jessica, you published this before I hit the delete button!
I love Bird by Bird, and I think it gave me the best writing advice ever: to take things one step at a time. That's the only sane way to conquer revisions in my mind.ReplyDelete
Good luck with the rest of the week and revisions!
I've had the honor to study writing with NY Times authors Steve Berry and James Rollins - both of whom have given me immeasurable advice. When I am stuck, I listen to James who says "I give myself permission to write crap today" - which takes some of the pressure off Steve's advice which is to "write tight, every day and stop whining" :-) When neither of my mentors seems to inspire me, I read a good book (like yours...ahem) or revisit my favorite writing tutorial, Stephen King's On Writing.ReplyDelete
Ooh. Now I totally want to read this. I love the idea of a once inch picture frame.ReplyDelete
I so have to buy BIRD BY BIRD. I keep hearing great things about it. We all get overwhelmed at one time or another with writing. Just need to know when to step back, or when to attack with a plan.ReplyDelete
Funny. The writing doesn't overwhelm me. It is the life that interferes with the writing that I find overwhelming. I want a sugar daddy and a tropical island. I want a bucket of floo powder (that's a harry potter reference... see--you need to READ THEM) so i can just LEAVE for the day and go somewhere fabulous and write.ReplyDelete
Good advice! I'll have to check out Bird By Bird--thanks for posting the excerpt!ReplyDelete
I've heard good things about Bird by Bird. I think after reading the excerpt I need to go buy this book!ReplyDelete
Bird by Bird is one of my favorite books about writing. I also like Take Joy by Jane Yolen because it reminds me to find the joy in writing.ReplyDelete
Oh, I get that feeling! I rely on tips from a different book--Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit. The book reminded me what a discipline our work is, and that by working through the nasty feelings, we grow more creative.ReplyDelete
Sounds like a terrific book - thanks for the tip! :)ReplyDelete
So many people have recommended "Bird by Bird" to me that I haven't read it simply because everyone's telling me I just HAVE to. :oPReplyDelete
How do I deal with the overwhelming feeling?
a. Do housework. There's always housework needing to be done.
b. Gripe on my blog about how overwhelmed I feel.
c. Pick a point and start writing. Any point. Doesn't matter. Just write something.
I overcame my reluctance when I finally realized that having something to edit is better than not having anything at all.
I don't have advice with this because this is what I'm in desperate need of help with! I need to read this book! Now!ReplyDelete
I've heard so many good things about Bird by Bird. I have got to read it!ReplyDelete
Love this book. I'm always recommending it.ReplyDelete
I now must order this book!ReplyDelete
Myself, when it overwhelms me, I start something new. I find the beginning of anything fifty times easier to write than the end, so if I can't get going, I open up a blank document and fill the page. That tends to get me jazzed enough to focus on what I need to be writing and doing.
I am also much better under pressure, so an externally created deadline will help me focus!
Bird by Bird is one of the best books I've ever read on the writing process. Funny and inspiring, it really changed my outlook on how to get down to the bones of writing.ReplyDelete
However, I still have those days when everything seems overwhelming. I'm a trained painter, and one of the things that always helps me is to think of rough drafts as sketches. You wouldn't expect an artist to paint a masterpiece without first sketching out his ideas. Once you have the sketch, you can then refine.
I apply this idea to writing--just sketch. Have fun. See how ideas design together. This always helps me. It's a kind of Bird by Bird process from a different teacher.