Upon Reading Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott: Writing – Short Assignments, Shitty First Drafts & Perfectionism

Now that is one hell of a title.

Yea, it turns out I read faster than I blog, and I wanna make sure that I put everything down in my blog, so I’m covering up three chapters all at once.

Again, I would remind you that I would only put up quotations and chunks of sentences here, instead of summarizing the whole book. And all credits go to the brilliant Anne Lamott, so I would highly suggest you to BUY THE BOOK!

Well, overall, I’ve been reading a lot more than just that three chapters, actually. The last part–Perfectionism–ends at page 32, and I’ve actually reached page 44 right now. So I guess I would need to slow down to make sure that I didn’t miss a chapter here in this blog.

Short Assignments

“You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you.” ~p. 18

Sometimes, we (ME, to be exact) tend to freak out whenever we imagine the length of our own writing. I definitely freaking out every time my mind jumps back to the story I’m currently working. Not because I don’t wanna get back to that. In fact, the more I read Bird by Bird, the more I feel like getting slapped on the face and then scolded by this strange odd voice that keeps popping in my head: “Get back to your writing!”

I really want to. Really, really bad.

But sometimes, every time I open up the document file of my story, I would simply stare, and there comes the panic attack.

What am I gonna write? What if it didn’t turn out to be the story that I want it to be?

I’ve been writing a couple chapters for two to three times, only to scrap them and then start from scratch again. Then I would feel so depressed. I would ask myself, “What are you doing?” Then this low self-esteem would resurface, lurking from out of nowhere, only to tell me that it’s impossible for me to actually finish my story.

But as Lamott puts it:

“We are just going to take this bird by bird. But we are going to finish this one short assignment.” ~p. 20

Okay.

Okay.

I can do this.

Take a deeeeeep, deep breath.

Bird by bird.

Bird by bird.

Shitty First Drafts

“For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts.” ~p. 22

Hell yea I was freaking out.

The usual panic attacked me right away the moment I read that line. In fact, that is the LEAST thing in the world I ever wanna do. Seriously, is there any way I could ever avoid this shitty stage, please-please-please?

“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts.” ~p. 25

Yea, yea, yea. All that craps. We all know that.

So there’s no way I could skip that?

Perfectionism

Now, like that’s not enough, I open the next page to move on to another chapter, and then this line welcomed me right away with a painful, painful slap on my face.

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.” ~p. 28

Oh, come on. Really?

So after telling me as the reader that I ought to do those shitty drafts, which is the LEAST thing in the world I would ever do, now you’re telling me that my perfectionism is the one to be blamed?

No, I’m not perfectionist.

No, I’m not. Really.

Really-really.

Like, every time I would draw a sketch, I didn’t scrap it just because the posture of the chubby-little-guy/girl isn’t proportional. No. Of course not.

I scrapped it because…

Because I want to.

What? Oh yeah, and then I started to work on a brand new sketch because I want to as well! Believe me, it is.

Oh, wait, the eyes are too big. *scrapping it again*

Eeerrrrr… No. It’s not a big deal. I just scrap it because…

Arrrgh, fine. I am perfectionist. Yes I am.

Yes, I’m this bitch who yelled around to my subordinates just because they did what I told them to do. Well, I yelled because it’s not exactly like I imagined it should be.

And yes, of course I’m this bitch who made one of my crews cried because she failed to understand exactly what I meant, even though she tried to do everything I asked her to do perfectly. What? Of course perfect is not enough. It has to be more than perfect.

YES, I’m this obnoxious spoiled kid who made the snake in the Snake Game in my NOKIA hit the wall intentionally. Why? Because I missed a bonus food. You know, the food that worth more than the ordinary usual points, that would disappear after a few seconds. My snake SHOULD be able to get that food in time, but no, it didn’t. Instead, my fingers moved too quick and it missed the food. So I made it hit the wall intentionally so that I could start the game all over again.

Dammit, I’m a perfectionist, so what?

“Perfectionism means that you try desperately not to leave so much mess to clean up.” ~p. 28

Damn right, dammit. Why can’t my writing be this clean sheet, with as little scrapping as possible? I hate going through the chapters all over again only to check whether it’s good enough or not. Or merely to check misspelling and everything, dammit. Why can’t I just have a machine designed to do that for me?

“In any case, the bottom line is that if you want to write, you get to, but you probably won’t be able to get very far if you don’t start trying to get over your perfectionism.” ~p. 31

I feel like someone just shot me in the head with an arrow.

“Perfectionism, on the other hand, will only drive you mad.” ~p. 31

Whaaat? No. It’s not driving me mad, no it isn’t.

No, it’s not.

Really.

Yes, really, I wasn’t rambling all over the place, weren’t I?

P.S. To my friend Danielle, as soon as I read the Perfectionism chapter, “Dammit, Danielle!” actually came to my mind right away. (Danielle is the friend who gave me this book, and she wrote this inscription on the very first page:

“Dian: May this book inspire & provide insights & guidance for you on your quest to becoming a writer.” ~Danielle, 2011

Really, Danielle? Really?)

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Laksmi

An MA student at Waseda University, Shinjuku-ku, Tōkyo, Japan. An avid reader. A language geek as well. And a book hoarder.

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