Anne Lamott’s Gems for Novelists

My blog post on August 7, 2017 (Late July Reading) was about the three books I read during the second half of July. I wanted to share more words of wisdom I gleaned from Anne Lamott’s book, Bird-by-Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.

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Bird-by-Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott

As I stated in that post, as someone learning the art and craft of writing, I enjoyed Bird-by-Bird, by Anne Lamott. The following quote from the book also sums up how I feel about good novelists.

“Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve thought that there was something noble and mysterious about writing, about the people who could do it well, who could create a world as if they were little gods or sorcerers. All my life I’ve felt that there was something magical about people who could get into other people’s minds and skin, who could take people like me out of ourselves and then take us back to ourselves. And you know what? I still do.”  ~  Anne Lamott

Ms. Lamott waxes poetic about what makes a book a good book. I cannot say it any better than she does in the first chapter. She writes about all the things books do for us.

She has some words of wisdom for people like me. One takeaway I took from the book was that I need to get over being a perfectionist.

Ms. Lamott talks about characters and gives tips about how to get acquainted with a character before you write about him or her. However, she cautions that you won’t really get to know your characters until “you’ve started working with them.”

My interpretation of one of her recommendations is for writers to focus on character and the plot will fall into place. You have to know what means the most to your protagonist so you’ll understand and can convey to the reader what is at stake in your novel. To quote her again:

“That’s what plot is:  what people up and do in spite of everything that tells them they shouldn’t,….” ~ Anne Lamott

Ms. Lamott writes about the parts of a novel and the importance of the writer paying attention to those details. If no one is changed in the course of the novel, it has no point. She writes about dialogue and how it must be written as real people talk. It’s essential to get voice right in order to get character right.

She writes, “We start out with stock characters, and our unconscious provides us with real, flesh-and-blood, believable people.” (I hope she’s right. I hope the unconscious part of my brain kicks in as I rewrite my manuscript for The Spanish Coin!)

All this is just the tip of the iceberg. She writes about a writer’s self-confidence and the importance of a novelist deeply knowing the setting for their novel. She says that a writer needs to recapture the intuition they had as a child and let that lead their opinions.

I could go on and on, but I’ll leave you with two more quotes from the book:

“Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance.” ~ Anne Lamott

“Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you are a writer, you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act –  truth is always subversive.” ~ Anne Lamott

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time. I also recommend that you read Bird-by-Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott.

Janet

6 thoughts on “Anne Lamott’s Gems for Novelists

  1. Don’t worry. If your subconscious doesn’t help turn them into flesh-and-blood, I know a book coach whose questions will definitely nudge you and them in the right direction. I still owe you, after all, and I’m looking forward to paying you back. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Andrea. I look forward to your “paying me back” even more than you look forward to it. Trust me! LOL! I’ve had sort of a rough summer, but I’m optimistic that I can get back to some serious work on my book soon. I have truly missed working on it these last six months or so.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Gabby. Great to hear from you. I’m writing what I hope will be my first novel, so I spend lots of time reading writing “how-to” books. I found Anne Lamott’s to be written in a nice conversational voice rather than the way most such books are written. I hope you’ll find her book helpful, too. I’m glad to connect with you. Thank you for finding, commenting on, and following my blog! (I apologize for my delay in responding to you. I’ve been out-of-town and off social media for a few days.)

      Liked by 1 person

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