writing quotes

Wednesday Words of Wisdom: Anne Lamott

Today’s Wednesday Words of Wisdom come from writer Anne Lamott. I read Anne Lamott’s book on writing called Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life in preparation for NaNoWriMo. Compared to other books on writing advice, it’s extremely funny and extremely honest, giving you a candid and real look at what the life of being a writer entails.

There are lots of quotable pieces from the book and it was so good I just had to buy a copy of it to keep on hand. One particular topic Anne touches on is perfectionism and how it stifles creativity.

“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. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.” –Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

As a self-confessed perfectionist, this really opened my eyes. After reading Anne’s book, I realized that I had let perfectionism rule me and my writing for too long. Of course, you want your story to be polished to be the best it can be but it will never be “perfect.”

If you obsess over making things perfect, you’ll drive yourself crazy and you won’t get very far. As Anne says, there are other people more concerned with having fun and taking risks than stressing over things and staying stuck to one spot. If you just go for it and realize that mistakes are inevitable, you’l learn more in the long run. I know I learned more approaching NaNoWriMo this way.

I wrapped up my NaNoWriMo novel on January 11th and decided to put it to rest for six weeks. Until then, I’ll be letting the novel sit while I work on other projects. Once the six weeks are up, I’ll revisit my novel and start editing it for a second draft (ideally). Was I scared and doubtful about my novel? Yep. Did I have fun writing it though? Yep. Did I do better in 2015 than other years by just forging ahead, despite my fear? I sure did.

It may not be perfect, it may not even be very good but I finished it. I got a lot farther than I thought I ever could. Perfectionism can be a big obstacle to our writing if we let it be. I believe that the year I won NaNoWriMo was the year that I finally let go of my perfectionism. I think the imperfections make us more interesting anyway.

23 thoughts on “Wednesday Words of Wisdom: Anne Lamott”

  1. I enjoyed Traveling Mercies so much I added Bird By Bird at the top of my reading list recently. You’re the third blogger to recommend it to me 😉 . Happy Writing!

    1. Cool! It’s a really great book that you can read over and over again. I have to add Traveling Mercies to my TBR list. You’re the first blogger to recommend her other book to me. 🙂 Happy writing to you as well!

      1. Your points about perfectionism are good ones. It tends to be death to creativity. (It isn’t even very helpful in the edit process when a “new pair of eyes” helps more than “just one more pass.”)

      2. It is about finding an optimal solution rather than a “perfect” solution. It is intended for managers in a manufacturing setting, but I think it has direct application for artists (including writers) who are trying to be productive.

      3. That’s a great approach to take to writing. It reminds me a bit of SMART goals, which is used in business too but I think can also apply to writers setting measurable goals.

      4. I use the SAM version of SMART all the time. And, I agree. It applies to writing and art. The reason why comes out of behavioral psychology: even if you are initially producing crap, you will get better. (The concept is called “successive approximations.”) See, also: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wcw84-5tVRc Frequent repetition is the key.

      5. Thanks. Repeated sessions chisel away at the mass outside leaving the beauty of the writer within.

  2. I need to read this book, apparently. (I’m scratching my head over how I haven’t yet read this book.) Perfectionism will be the death of me. And of my writing.

    Congratulations on finishing your novel! As a fellow perfectionist, I know how very hard it is to overcome the feeling that every word we write must be the right word. It makes writing miserable sometimes. Even getting just one word down can be a daunting process. Overcoming the resistance and finishing your novel — no matter what state the first draft is in — is a huge victory. 🙂

    1. It’s a great book, one that you can constantly revisit too. Thank you, I appreciate that. 🙂 Perfectionism really can make writing hard, especially when you find yourself self-editing while you write. The temptation to do so is so hard lol.

  3. what a wonderful story about yourself with Anne Lamott quote… I wish you all the best with your novel editing and I hope to read it soon 😀 I love how you have put the struggle of writing a novel in a month in this post..

    1. Thank you! I appreciate that 😀 It was a really rewarding and satisfying experience, sometimes difficult, but worthwhile nonetheless. I have to admit that the editing part is my least favourite part though lol.

      1. haaha editing is my least favorite too, its so difficult to find out your own mistakes.. Sometimes I just don’t do it for my posts. Guilty as charged.

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