Tag Archives: bird by bird

Scenery Writing: More Help From the Internet

“Sometimes you may find it useful to let your characters huddle in the wings without you preparing for their roles, improvising dialogue, while you set the stage for their appearance.    Imagine yourself the set designer for a play or for the movie version of the story you are working on.”

-Anne Lamott, bird by bird


I was a strange child.  By fifth or sixth grade, I was attempting to read Steinbeck, Hemingway, and Dickens, in addition to more predictable childhood favorites like R.L. Stine and Madeleine L’Engle. What I remember most about those classic authors was the detail with which they described almost every scene.  Even my adult eyes now sometimes grow impatient when met with that much description.

One of my theories about why these authors included such long descriptions of space was because the world was a different place when they wrote.  Mass media did not exist.  People’s prior knowledge of places beyond the familiar was much more limited.  Today you mention practically any major city around the globe and mental images abound, helping to catch the reader up to speed without the necessity of a two-page Steinbeck description of Salinas.

However, I also recognize that good writing needs to put you in the setting, so that you can see, smell, feel the place where the characters exist.  Admittedly, I have a tendency to glance over this aspect of writing, more fixated on the inner workings of my characters and the actual action of the plot/dialogue than taking the time to carefully establish scenery.  I blame this on being part of an impatient generation that is bombarded by imagery in fast-paced entertainment.

So, of my own accord, I am going back into each chapter and making sure I created scenery that provides enough detail, inspired in part by those same great writers that sometimes make me impatient.  Today I took myself back to the Gare d’Austerlitz train station in Paris.  As I imagined all of the sights, sounds, smells, etc., I began googling for inspiration.  Funny how six seconds on YouTube can evoke such strong memories.  I am now aching to hear the anxious clicking of that departure board again in real life.

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The Joys of Writing in Circles

Sitting in the car for nearly 24 hours over the past week left me with a lot of time to think.  Mostly, I thought about my writing, how far I have come, and how far I have left to go.  I’m sure that reading bird by bird along the way did not hurt.

I had a few epiphanies that I want to share because writing cements them in my mind.  The first is that I was writing too fast.  Nanowrimo was amazing in getting me into a disciplined practice of producing words quickly, but it also instilled this frenzied need to write for a deadline.  The more I pore over my work, add sections, listen to feedback, and rewrite, the more I realize that books emerge on their own time.  Instead of pushing myself to finish with a deadline, I’ve switched philosophies.  As long as I’m working everyday to make it better, I have no deadline.  I’d rather create something I’m proud to share with an audience than something I’m proud to have finished quickly.

Second, the ability to write well develops slowly.  I get impatient when things do not come easily.  I have always loved to write, but I never believed I was capable of writing a book.  It seemed too complicated, too hard.  Nanowrimo was amazing because it pushed me past those first few chapters that always left me stalled in the past.  Now that I know I can write a whole book, I have to refine my abilities, even if it means that sometimes I am writing in circles.  Acknowledging that learning to write well takes time is important because I am determined not to give up.  In the grand scheme of things, I am still a writing baby.  It will take time to grow into the writer I want to be, I need to stop pressuring myself to grow too quickly.

Third, I have to remember why I write.  I write because it’s fun, because I have this deep need inside myself to let all the words in my head escape.  For me, writing is like running or drinking coffee, it’s something that I wake up with the need to do each day.  When I wrote my book, I wrote it for me.  I asked myself what kind of book I would like to read and then lived inside the story as it unfolded.  It was amazingly fun.  Sometimes I forget this feeling when I start to pressure myself to get it right for other people to read.  That’s why I think it’s important that I continue to remind myself that I write because it’s part of me, because I derive enjoyment from it.  This is why I’m removing my internal deadlines.  Deadlines make it feel stressful, take away the joy.  At this point in my writing career, they’re just not necessary.

So, there you have it.  Writing thoughts from 24 hours in the car and reading bird by bird.  If you have not read bird by bird and you are a writer, I highly recommend it.

I’m realizing that my writing evolves on its own timetable, not mine.

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bird by cat

“I wanted him to have a regular job where he put on a necktie and went off somewhere with the other fathers and sat in a little office and smoked.  But the idea of spending entire days in someone else’s office doing someone else’s work did not suit my father’s soul.  I think it would have killed him… So I grew up around this man who sat in the study all day and wrote books…” – Anne Lamott, bird by bird

Two pages in and Anne Lamott already has me figured out.  I’m adding this book, recommended by two of my lovely novel readers, to my small pile that I’m reading simultaneously, (Snow Child and Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking).  I think I must have a very advanced form of ADHD because I find myself alternating between reading multiple books, working on my novel, and blogging all within the same afternoon.  I’m okay with it though.  I like the writing that is coming out of all of this, even if it’s progressing slowly.

Luna is already loving up on bird by bird too…  And, yes, I appreciate the irony of the cat and title.

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