One of the books that is consistently recommended by writers is Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. At less than 250 pages this book is worth your time. Bird by Bird, subtitled, “Some Instructions on Writing and Life”, resonated with me in several chapters.
Although Bird by Bird isn’t a book written for bloggers specifically, I really appreciated the suggestions offered to writers, and I have already seen a payoff in my own process. Here are my favorite tips from Bird by Bird.
Write Something Every Day
Writing every day not only keeps you in the habit of writing, but keeps your thoughts flowing. Anne Lamott says “Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul.”
Regardless of the content you are trying to produce, you are most likely writing because you care deeply about your subject matter. The best sales people are the ones that actually believe in whatever it is they are selling.
Anne explains that it doesn’t matter what it is you are writing. If you have a block on the subject you are supposed to cover don’t let that stop you. Describe what you ate for breakfast. Write about what happened on the bus, or what is on the shelves of the grocery store. Be as descriptive as you can. The goal is simply to write something every day.
Write A Terrible First Draft
Anne Lamott includes a different word when she highlights the first draft, but I’ve subbed in the word terrible. The point is still the same. If you are more concerned about the exact order of your words than you are about getting them out of your head and onto paper you will hinder yourself.
This terrible first draft is not to be shown to anyone else. This draft is just to purge your mind of all the idea you have on your subject. Getting all your thoughts on paper gives you the chance to consider how they flow altogether. You may decide that half of the original thoughts need to be edited out, and that’s fine.
Research and Consult Experts
My favorite story of this example in Bird by Bird is the story of Anne calling a greenhouse. Anne is not a gardener. She is aware of her limitations, so when the time came to write about a character who is a gardener, she consulted an expert.
At first, I thought the suggestion to call an expert could be replaced with the more modern research tool of Google, but as I’ve considered this more, I think the suggestion to seek out an expert is still the best move.
By listening to someone with understanding on a subject you are less familiar with you get a perspective that includes emotion and experience not always apparent on paper. There will be details added that might have seemed unimportant to a novice reading up on a subject. These details can be the difference between someone trusting you to present a subject or not.
Keep Notes on Everyday Experiences
The best ideas are created out of the things we know. Remember the funny thing that happened in the grocery store the other day? It might be a great way to start a blog post or an experience that can be attached to a character in a story to make them come alive.
Details make a story great. What better to move a story along than things that actually happened?
Throw Out the Words That Don’t Work
Even if it’s your favorite paragraph in the entire post it might need to be deleted. Copy and Paste it for future use if you need, but don’t force it into the work. Not every example needs to be included. If you have three, chose the best one and leave the others for future posts.
It’s most important that the content flows. If you read your words out loud and it sounds like an awkward first date then it’s time to edit. That is unless it’s supposed to sound like an awkward first date.
It’s Okay to Let the Words Guide the Story
If you find that your writing takes a twist you didn’t expect, don’t stress. I find that this most comes up in my terrible first drafts. I tend to process things verbally, and if I haven’t spent a ton of time on a subject before I begin typing I sometimes find myself changing directions mid-stream.
At first, I tried to get myself back on track, but would end up frustrated. Forcing words to come out in a certain order to surround a pre-determined point will lead to choppy paragraphs that don’t always make sense.
Now, when this happens I pull the parts out that are no longer a part of the story I’m telling and paste them into another document. I re-focus on the way the story is unfolding and usually realize I’m much happier with the flow around the new main point than originally planned. I can always resurrect the content I pulled out on a later date when I’ve thought the concept through a bit more.
Before You Publish Let Others Read Your Work
It’s always a good idea to have your content proofread by outside eyes. Have someone read your story and tell you that it makes sense or needs a bit more explanation to be understood. Surround yourself with those who naturally cheer you on and give constructive ideas on how to shape things. This will strengthen your writing.
Anne Lamott offers many other suggestions in her book Bird by Bird. If you want to improve your writing, reading authors who desire to encourage you along in your own process is a great place to start. If you need help with your content Shelley Media Arts is here to help!