Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott

Is there anything better than opening a book to find the author is speaking directly to you? It’s like discovering an old friend you’ve never met before. Someone you just click with, who warms every cockle of your old heart.

That’s what I felt, reading Bird by Bird.

Lamott’s willing to be vulnerable, to show not only her worries and her fears, but also her jealousies and her anger, her depression and her rage. It makes the book feel more human, to me, than other writing advice books. More humble.

And more realistic. Lamott insists over and over again that writing is wonderful, that when the words come together it’s one of the greatest joys she’s ever known, but that doing the work needs to be enough on its own, because publishing — whether getting rejected repeatedly, or getting accepted and dealing with the disappointment that comes when your work doesn’t get the attention you crave — is not the path to happiness for a writer.

So for her, it’s the triumph of getting in the day’s word count that matters. Or the knowledge that the book you wrote for your dying father was done before they passed, so they got to read it. Or the thought that writing about your own struggles, your own pain, can help someone else who’s going through the same thing.

For me, her book has been like a stay in a remote cabin with a good friend. Relaxing, conversational, but also deep and moving. I’ve already incorporated a lot of the techniques she advocates, from focusing on getting one single thing down to staying in the chair until the words come.

I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Southern California Writers Conference 2019 Wrap-Up

My brain is full, in the best way.

This weekend I went to my first writer’s conference, SCWC LA17, up in Irvine. I was nervous going in: I went alone, not knowing anyone, and not really knowing what it would be like.

But from the moment I checked-in at the registration desk, everyone made me feel welcome. Both of the people running the sci-fi/fantasy read-and-critique group were working registration, and their excitement at hearing that was my genre made me change my mind both about attending the banquet and trying to make one of the late-night critique groups.

In fact, their excitement and happiness was, if you’ll forgive the cliché, infectious. For the rest of the weekend, my usual shy self was gone, and I felt perfectly comfortable introducing myself to anyone I happened to sit next to and ask: “So what are you working on?”

It was an incredible feeling. My imposter syndrome — always whispering in my ears at other conferences and events — was quiet the whole weekend. We were all working on different books, in different genres, at different points in our careers. But we were all writers, all facing the same struggle with the written word.

I’d found my people.

I took…too many notes. Each workshop was full of great information, from the panel on writing convincing courtroom scenes — that reminds me, I need to find a way to attend a trial or two — to the talk on writing a strong opening, which ended up giving me insight into what I needed to do to finish a short story I’d started writing.

Yes, I started a new short story while at the conference. And finished a new flash fiction piece. And I came away with ideas for four, no five, new novels.

It was that inspiring.

So thank you, more than I can say, to the organizers and presenters and guest speakers at SCWC. You’ve put new wind in my sails, and given me new ways to up my writing game.

Keeping Score: April 5, 2019

Written 1,014 words so far this week. That’s a little short of my 1,500-word goal, but given I ended up with 3,805 words for last week, I’m going to give myself a bit of a break.

I hit that awesome word count last week because of WorldCon. Partly because it was so inspiring. Partly because I had more time alone in which to write.

But it was more than that. WonderCon made me feel like a writer.

For maybe the first time, my imposter syndrome was flipped. I started seeing myself the way one of the panelists said we should see ourselves: that like superheroes, the day job is our secret identity, but in truth we’re writers.

And I finally felt that way. Not only did I feel like a writer, I felt like myself. That it isn’t shameful to not be published yet, because everyone starts out unpublished. That it isn’t bad or a barrier to have a day job, because everyone needs a way to pay the bills.

I even got to share this feeling. In the last panel, on “Writing the First Draft,” Jonathan Butler gave us all homework: to turn to the person sitting next to us, introduce ourselves, and build our support network of fellow writers.

But when I turned to the woman sitting next to me and said “So, you’re a writer?”, she looked down and said, “What makes someone a writer?”

I told her what Jonathan Maberry has told us at every Writers Coffeehouse, something I’m not sure I really believed until that moment: “Writers write. If you write, you’re a writer.”

She smiled, and started telling me about the screenplay she’s working on.

I might never see her again, but for that moment, I felt like we were friends, peers, fellow writers making our way along the path.

It was an incredible moment, and for that feeling alone, that feeling of being at the same time an authentic writer and my real self, it was worth it to go to WonderCon.

What about you? What moments have inspired you as a writer, or made you feel comfortable calling yourself a writer?