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

Late July Reading

Another month has whizzed by and left me getting ever more behind in reading all the books I want to read, but July was another rewarding month of reading for me. I hope you’ll enjoy reading “my take” on the three books I read the last couple of weeks of July. On July 17 (Reading South Africa and South Carolina Novels) I blogged about the two books I read earlier in the month.

The Orphan’s Tale, by Pam Jenoff

I kept reading about The Orphan’s Tale, by Pam Jenoff and decided I wanted to read it. It was the first book I’d read by Ms. Jenoff, who has a fascinating background in government work. I look forward to reading her other books.

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         The Orphan’s Tale,           by Pam Jenoff

The Orphan’s Tale revolves around a toddler who is rescued from the Nazis by a young woman who is no longer welcome in her parents’ home. She ends up being taken in by a circus and assigned to the trapeze, although she knows nothing about being an aerialist.

The woman assigned to train her resents her. Throughout this book of numerous twists and turns, the two women resent each other, support each other, and risk their lives for each other. It is a tale of humanity, forgiveness, trust, friendship, love, and loss set in Germany and France during World War II.

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

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

As someone learning the art and craft of writing, I enjoyed Bird-by-Bird, by Anne Lamott. In the book’s introduction she writes about learning to love books as a child. The following quote comes from the introduction:

“The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.” ~ Anne Lamott

I set out to write about the many things I liked about this book and the beautiful way Ms. Lamott writes about the many things a novelist needs to pay attention to in the writing process. It soon became obvious that today’s blog post would be longer than anyone wanted to read if I did that. Therefore, I will write about Bird-by-Bird in my August 14, 2017 blog post.

The Midnight Cool, by Lydia Peelle

I read this book because it was set in Tennessee during World War I. I haven’t read many novels set in that era and I wanted to learn more about it. I’m participating in the Read America Book Challenge from the Mint Hill Branch of the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. The object of that challenge is to read novels set in as many different US states as possible in 2017. Thirteen down and 37 to go. Seven months down and five to go. Hmmm. Not good.

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      The Midnight Cool,         by Lydia Peelle

I was conflicted as I finished reading The Midnight Cool. Lydia Peelle has a way with words, but I found the book hard to follow since the dialogue was not enclosed within quotation marks. It was tedious to have to go back a couple of paragraphs at times in order to discern who was speaking.

I was interested in the subject matter, but the middle of the book did not hold my attention. I enjoyed the last 50 or so pages of the book, so I’m glad I didn’t give up on it. For all the hype of the book to be about mules for World War I and a killer horse, I found it to be more about the two men who traded in mules and the women they loved.

The book gave me some things to think about that I really hadn’t considered before, such as the massive number of mules the United States transported across the Atlantic in ships to pull artillery and do other hard labor in the Allies’ war effort in Europe.

I learned that horses have to be trained, but mules more readily reason things out. (Don’t hate me, horse lovers!) According to the book, the only thing the mules had to be trained in was being fitted with gas masks. Gas masks for mules was another thing that had never crossed my mind. This goes to show that you can learn things from reading well-researched historical novels.

The website, http://www.mountvernon.org/george-washington/farming/animals/father-of-the-american-mule/, confirms that George Washington was the “Father of the American Mule.” The site explains that there were advantages that mules had over horses in the Allies’ efforts in World War I in addition to their not needing much training. Mules eat one-third less than horses, they don’t need to drink as much water as horses, and mules are more surefooted than horses.

If Lydia Peelle writes another novel, I will check it out because she has a gift for turning a phrase and I believe she does her research.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Killers of the Flower Moon:  The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann.

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