Too Many Voices

I needed some inspiration today. I haven’t been happy with my voice lately. There’s too much noise in my head and too many voices competing with each other for attention. It’s kind of like the shell game, my voice is the pea underneath one of the shells, and no matter how confident I am that I’ve picked the right shell, I come up empty (unlike the cat).

On the very top shelf, I found Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. It’s been at least 12 years since I spent any time with this book. I remember liking it at the time, but the only thing I remember from reading it is the story behind the title.

Her brother had a report due about birds. He had had all summer to write it but waited until the day before it was due to start working on it. As you would imagine, he was pretty stressed about it. He had all these books on birds, but he couldn’t get the words to flow.

Their dad, who was a writer, whispered to him by way of encouragement, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.” That piece of writing advice stuck with me. Sentence by sentence and eventually you’ll get there.

The other bit of advice I remember is the idea of writing a shitty first draft because that’s the only way to get to a good second draft and a terrific third draft.

Anne’s voice in the introduction is exactly what I needed to hear today.

About her father:

I suspect that he was a child who thought differently than his peers, who may have had serious conversations with grown-ups, who as a young person, like me, accepted being alone quite a lot. I think that this sort of person often becomes either a writer or a career criminal.

Like her father:

Throughout my childhood, I believe that what I thought about was different from what other kids thought about. It was not necessarily more profound, but there was a struggle going on inside me to find some sort of creative or spiritual or aesthetic way of seeing the world and organising it in my head.

I can relate to this:

I read more than other kids; I luxuriated in books. Books were my refuge. I sat in corners with my little finger hooked over my bottom lip, reading, in a trance, lost in this places and time to which books took me…I came to believe that I might be able to put a pencil in my hand and make something magical happen.

I think I’ll spend the rest of the weekend with this book. Maybe it’ll help me get my voice back.

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