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You could read the entire book with a highlighter and finish with every other line marked. Here are a few more gems: “Tidiness suggests that something is as good as it’s going to get. Tidiness makes me think of held breath, of suspended animation, while writing needs to breathe and move.” How much of what you do is actually writing? How much is what one of my editor friends affectionately (or not) calls “word vomit?” Dumping out something to meet a deadline? Writing to a rigid template? I do an awful lot of template-driving writing. It pays the bills, but sometimes it is hard to make the paragraphs sing, not to mention making sure that I haven’t left anything out that will leave the reader in a lurch about how to do whatever it is I’m describing. “I believed, before I sold my first book, that publication would be instantly and automatically gratifying, an affirming and romantic experience, a Hallmark commercial where one runs and leaps in slow motion across a meadow filled with wildflowers into the arms of acclaim and self-esteem.” Needless to say, as she goes on to write, that isn’t exactly what happens. “It’s like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.” If you’ve gotten too far away from the joy of writing about camellias because you love camellias, or vermiculture because you like the word vermiculture, it’s time to revisit the process. “. . . the first draft is the down draft—you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft—you fix it up.” Do you turn in first drafts? If you say “they don’t pay me enough for a second draft,” please stop a minute and think. If you don’t edit your work, someone else has to. Make yourself indispensible to your editor by rereading your pieces and improving them. Does every word count? Is everything you included necessary? Did you leave something out? “Writing a first draft is very much like watching a Polaroid develop.” I find this to be so true. I will start writing and then lop off the entire first paragraph. Then I’ll cut the last 2/3. Not until I’ve written for a while do I always understand what I’m actually writing about. “Jealousy is such a direct attack on whatever measure of confidence you’ve been able to muster. But if you continue to write, you are probably going to have to deal with it, because some wonderful, dazzling successes are going to happen for some of the most awful, angry, undeserving writers you know—people who are, in other words, not you.” You’re lying to yourself if you don’t see the green monster every now and then—especially if you write to make money. In addition to writing techniques, Lamott deals with what it means to be a writer and experience crushing doubt in yourself, raging bouts of jealousy, and the desire to do everything but put your butt in the chair and write. Bird by Bird, in that way, is as much of a self-help book as it is a writing book. Non-writers smart enough to make the connection could get a lot out of of it too. I could go on and on. The point is, to me, to grow as a business person means I also have to grow as a writer. There are many ways to do that, one of which is working with a good editor. That’s another article another time. Even easier than that is to pick up a worthwhile book and take its advice. Katie Elzer-Peters is the founder of The Garden of Words, LLC. She writes, edits, reads, surfs and even manages to find the time to garden once in a while in Wilmington, NC.
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