On Writing || What you aren’t writing

And the story begins to materialize, and another thing is happening, which is that you are learning what you aren’t writing, and this is helping you to find out what you are writing.”

~ Anne Lamott, bird by bird

Right now I’m making my way through Anne Lamott’s bird by bird. One of the handful of writing books I’ve come across that isn’t an insomniac’s non-medicinal cure. The above quote was the first huh moment of the book. The best books have huh moments. Sentences or paragraphs that state the obvious in such a way that you didn’t realize until that moment that you knew it for truth.

Learning what you aren’t writing. This is totally true. It’s like anything that develops. You don’t realize it’s happening until you’re at the opposite end looking back. I can see it in my own notes for “the book” from the past many years. When I first began writing, I bought a little journal with a plastic, leather-look cover. It went everywhere with me, at the ready for any inklings of inspiration that may hit. This was before I was even considering getting a smartphone.

“The book” was started in this little journal while waiting in line for a replacement Social Security card, it’s predecessor having gone to the land of missing socks and lost house keys. Nothing like a government office to get the creative juices flowing, right? I think my brain was desperate for stimulation.

It began centering around fairy tales. The main character was charged to become the new Mother Goose and write the next, great fairy tale or something very bad was going to happen. Suffice it to say, that plot was scrapped into something entirely different. The fairy tales became a subtle influence underlying the story. Looking back, I can’t even remember when I went from the first idea to its current form. But it all happened by writing. By jotting out ideas and seeing what flowed and what died a necessary death.

“The book” is still waiting to be finished, but it’s younger sibling has a beginning, a middle, and an end, and will be soon on it’s way out into the world to see if it can make something of itself. The same thing happened with it, as the first inklings I jotted down are very different from what it’s become.

I guess this is just another way of saying to keep writing, even if you have no inspiration to speak of and writer’s block has killed your will to live. Write anyways. It’ll be cringe-inducing, but, like Edison with his lightbulbs, you’ll find out how not to write your story.


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