Earlier this week I finished Anne Lamott’s book on writing, Bird by Bird. The author offers useful advice about the writing process, and I especially like what she has to say about paying attention and workshopping. The book has brought me to ask myself not only how I should write, but what I should be writing.

Lamott says that “there is ecstasy in paying attention…. Anyone who wants to can be surprised by the beauty of pain of the natural world, of the human mind and heart, and can try to capture just that – the details, the nuance, what is.” Annie Dillard’s writing demonstrates this kind of surprise and delight. I have been reading and rereading Dillard’s nonfiction since I was 16, and if someone decided to destroy all the poems in the world, I would still find solace and joy in Annie Dillard. I appreciate the intuition that goes beyond reason, all meanings manifest in a single word. What Hopkins did with inscape in his poetry, Dillard does in her prose. I don’t know if I could ever write like Dillard, but she always reminds me how much I like writing, because I really like paying attention.

Lamott also describes the value of getting people to read your stuff and providing honest, constructive feedback. I always get nervous whenever I have asked friends and reliable readers to critique my writing, but it’s ultimately beneficial to get another perspective. (I’m actually waiting on some feedback right now.) And people’s comments often emphasize that being a good writer also means being a good reader, and I need to revise my work with that in mind.

I’ve had the opportunity to give feedback on several projects friends have been working on. I can’t help feeling that these readings are little nudges to get back on the horse. A friend asked me to look over her blog post, six solid and enjoyable pages of funny anecdotes and observations of a roadtrip. For the past three years, I’ve been looking over a friend’s phases of a book he’s working on, at least 80,000 words. And I recently read the 30-page outline for another friend’s really fun-sounding book. I can’t get over how brilliant these friends are. They do so many incredible things with words, and I always feel self-conscious in my comments on their work. I always feel humbled that they would ask me to read their writing.

Whenever Reilly and I walk by the YA section of a bookstore, Reilly tells me that we could easily write a book better than most of those on the shelves. So what about my own writing? Writers use SO MANY different sources. Do I write about my limited, but really cool travels? Do I try to fictionalize intense personal experiences? Do I draw from mythology or a specific point in a culture’s history? Do I try to show up 98% of the YA writers in the world? I haven’t been participating in NaNoWriMo, but should I do it at least once? The short and not very definitive answer to these questions is: Yes. At least it has been affirmed that:

I have a pretty good sense of how to arrange words into sentences sometimes
I can write a blog/online journal post
I can write an outline for a novel/memoir

It’s time to saddle up.

Feedback Stats

This has been fun, and ever-so valuable. I’m enjoying the dialogue, too. I’m learning stuffs.

As of Wednesday, March 17, 2010. Regarding this work in progress:

Total responses (not including mine): 7

Responses on blog: 5

Responses via email: 2

Male responses: 4

Female responses: 2

Responses from those who are married and/or with children: 3

Responses from those who are single: 3

Thanks to everyone who’s made time for my little project so far. It really means a lot.

Something I’m Working On

Friend:  guess what?

me:  what

Friend:  I blogged for the first time in a yr and a half.

me:  i saw
you’re in my reader

Friend:  oh.

it was partly inspired by your writing, as usual.
I was trying to do a good critique, ya know and I did a little experimenting and then it grew…

me:  that’s great
i like it

Friend:  thanks. Um looking for somethign. hold please

me:  ok

Sent at 8:55 PM on Monday

Friend:  you’re gonna laugh.
I’m searchign searching
where did i put that thingy I wrote?
it’s not on the pooter. I wrote it longhand in a notebook on Saturday.
But it was the same premise. I took the skeleton of what youd done with a subway suicide and wrote it my own way.
It just got the juices flowing. And since then the gates feel [sic] open.

me:  cool

Friend:  I can type it out, but it’s nothing to write home about. it greased the wheels though.

me:  nice

Friend:  yeah, credit goes your way.
So, did my feedback help? the difficlutly picturing the  rail confusion?

me:  it did
i haven’t revisited yet
trying to get everyone’s feedback first

Friend:  yep. is it part of a bigger whole or just it’s own thing?

me:  it’s gonna be something bigger, but not much bigger

Friend:  I. want. to. know. more.

me:  i know

Friend:  success