Monday, January 18, 2010

The Birds.

One of the best books I ever read on writing -- and I know many people would agree -- is Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird. It gets its title from this anecdote, which I'm quoting in full from the jacket:

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."
Quite apart from the eerie relevance of this situation to Primus (project due tomorrow, barely touched), it does capture the plodding, slow-motion experience of getting the next book done. Getting any book done, I imagine. For too long, I had barely started, living with my copious notes and plans, but having less than a chapter of finished text, ducking that "when's the next book due out?" question -- even ducking the "are you writing?" question. Feeling like a fraud for even describing myself as a mystery writer, in fact. But you knuckle down. You have to. No short cuts. No quick fixes. No instant gratification or overnight success.

Words, paragraphs, pages are easy, but you still pat yourself on the back for those 3,000 word days (more for time management than creativity) even if you cut half of them during the next day's edit. Chapters, each one a new Word file in the folder, are more of a cause for celebration. Then you look up and realize that, bird by bird, you've finally got something to show for your ambitions -- I'm now about 80% into This Private Plot -- and like a great fractal, you're within reach of opening up not just a new file, but a new folder for the next book.

P.G.Wodehouse wrote 96 books. Ruth Rendell's nearly up to 70. This is my fourth. Sigh. Mind you, there was a time when even one seemed a bird as fabulous as a roc or a phoenix. As the saying goes, apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair. Hmm, maybe I'll give that advice to Primus -- he took the "bird by bird" story too personally.

1 comment:

  1. I hear ya. I'm on #11, and it never gets easier. I keep hoping it will, but it never does. And yet I continue...