Monday, December 20, 2010

Anne Lamott's Instructions on Getting Started

Anne Lamott says Flannery O’Connor feels anyone surviving childhood has writing fodder for the rest of life.

Maybe. Maybe not. But if you’re stuck or in need of writing prompts, Lamott suggests starting with your childhood. Just start getting it down. Scratch around for details be it kindergarten, family vacations, holidays or birthdays. Write everything you can remember about everything. Mine every possible vein.

Once you’re started, in order to keep from getting overwhelmed, go for the short assignment. Lamott kept a one-inch picture frame on her desk as a reminder of short assignments. Or in her words, take each step “bird by bird.’ Perhaps all you can write at the moment is all that you can see through a one-inch picture frame.

E.L. Doctorow says writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip this way. Nice analogy. Whether we’re a pantser or a plotter, we can see only as far as our headlights or imagination can project. We create a novel step by step or word by word.

Lamott reminds us to expect a crappy first draft (she uses another word!). She says the first draft is a down draft. You get it down. The second draft is an up draft. You fix it up. The third is a dental draft, meaning figuratively every tooth or literally every word is checked. So, there you have it- down, up and dental!

If you haven’t made friends with Anne Lamott, buy a book of hers as your personal Christmas present. Pearls can be gleaned from this saint/sinner writer.

Picasso says art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life. Lamott says writing and reading deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul.


Jude Urbanski


  1. Jude:
    Inspiring thoughts, which I need right now. I'm always amazed at the pantser writers who create as they go. I sat in a conference and heard Lee Child say (I paraphrase) "Do I know what's going to happen next when I'm writing a novel? No, I don't even know what's going to happen in the next sentence."

    I just finished his new book and I'm in awe that such a good read was written line by line. But then I remember the Christian walk is not so different. Psalm 119:105 "...a lamp to my feet...light to my pathway." Using an old lantern on a night hike helped me understand that scripture and how we often can't see what's ahead in darkness--we just take a step or two at a time. I guess writing can be the same way.
    Thanks for sharing, Jude.

  2. Kenny, I like the lantern analogy. Oh, how true that both writing and life fit that analogy!

  3. Anne Lamott is such an optomist! Like I could ever get a draft polished in three go arounds!!!!

    One can dream.