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Anne Lamott: Put the puppy back on the paper
Merlin Mann | Apr 27 2005
I’ve previously mentioned Bay-area writer Anne Lamott in the context of her fondness for index cards and her belief in the importance of capturing ideas at the moment they come to you (it’s something I also really believe in). It’s fun to hear her talk about this stuff, too. She has a discursive speaking style that’s, by turns, insightful, frustrating, and very funny.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reading her book Bird by Bird a section or two at a time whenever I have a few minutes, and I have to say, it’s one of the most inspiring books I’ve read in a long time.
As a guide for young or aspiring writers, I’d put it up there with On Writing Well and Writing Down the Bones in terms of practical, really useful advice. She strips away so much of the pretense and BS about the writing process and encourages you to just start writing—focusing on small assignments (all you need to do is fill a 1″x1″ picture frame with words) and what she calls “the shitty first draft.” Great stuff.
But I think some of the most amazing passages in the book have little to do with writing, per se. It’s all about how we choose to look at the world and ourselves.
Anne Lamott speaks very candidly and unromantically on topics that I typically regard as calcified, pre-chewed, or just irredeemably corny. Faith in God, the realities of parenthood, and our sick feelings of inadequacy, jealousy, and self-doubt are all laid out with raw honesty and often potty-mouthed humor. So refreshing.
Anyway, this is mostly just in the service of explaining the photo above, which depicts one of the many index cards I have over my desk. It refers to a passage from Bird by Bird that’s been on my mind a lot lately.
For my own reasons, I’m really attracted to the idea that our minds are not others that need to be subjugated or punished for non-compliance; to see yourself as somebody who could benefit from a little stewardship and patience is really not such a terrible idea.
Next time you start to beat yourself up for all the things that aren’t working out or all the ways you’re falling short in your own eyes, try thinking about that puppy and what might be the best way to guide it back to the paper.
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