Pursuing writing as a career or even just a side project is a choice that often leads to a Sisyphean battle. Whether pursuing creative writing for the arts such as poetry, fiction writing, and critiques, or delving into hard journalism, it is often incredibly difficult to establish a voice and a passion that will connect readers to a central idea or goal as a writer.
A book detailing the pitfalls and difficulties - as well as the soaring heights of satisfaction - that can be gained through pursuing the art of writing is “Bird by Bird,” by Anne Lamott. When I first read this book in late 2022, I was struck by quite a few notes and commentaries that Lamott unravels about the pursuit of writing. “Bird by Bird,” essentially opened my eyes to the reality of the writer’s plight. The book gathers its title from an experience Lamott had with her brother growing up. He was stuck studying for a primary school exam on birds and was utterly overwhelmed by the sheer amount of knowledge he needed to retain. Their father’s advice was, “Just take it bird by bird.” Lamott applies this statement to writing, whether the author must struggle word by word, paragraph by paragraph, or year by year, to create something that piques curiosity and arouses interest.
On the surface, this advice and wisdom may seem hopeful and captivating to an aspiring writer, but for me, it was wildly daunting as I realized I may not be able to grasp a level of inspiration and knowledge suitable enough to write something I am proud of until much deeper into my life experience. A point where I have seen and experienced more of humanity in order to create a piece of writing that feels lived in, understood, and welcoming.
That could be the case, however, there is no way to improve and understand one’s own writing skill and style other than to relent to the writer’s block and attempt to shatter it.
In a quote reminiscent of Hemingway’s “There is nothing to writing, you just sit at the typewriter and bleed,” Lamott’s quirky thought process in “Bird by Bird,” at one point spills out the bizarre statement,
“One writer I know tells me he sits down every morning and says to himself nicely, ‘It’s not like you don’t have a choice, because you do - you can either write or kill yourself.’”
This is strange and potentially quite hyperbolic at first glance, however, Lamott also pens out a theory in her book that people who have generally felt overlooked, quiet, and silenced throughout their lives have a certain gravitation toward writing, perhaps out of sheer curiosity to see who will listen.
There is a common theme of self-destruction and desperation I’ve picked up on among older and more seasoned writers. There is a clear pattern of organized chaos among older authors who tell stories or write poems. These patterns are sharp, grisly, and frankly, Dionysian. Whether it is the drug-fueled ramblings of the first half of Stephen King’s grim yet glorious career or the semi-autobiographical chaos and crudeness of Charles Bukowski’s puzzling novels, it has become more clear to me than ever in recent months that many authors are sacrificing themselves to humanity in order to get something off of their shoulders or drive home a point that has been decades in the making. This is all a contribution - or a result - of the writer’s plight. Writer’s block, lack of inspiration, and the general distractions of life are all elements that make the task of writing incredibly difficult.
There is a great bit of nuance and niches in literary society where completely different styles of writing and approaches to art are appreciated in different ways. As mentioned above, Charles Bukowski, from the two novels of his that I have read, is not a particularly imaginative or elegant writer. He writes with a rugged, headstrong approach that breaches on senseless crudeness and cringe-worthy descriptions of hyper-sexual encounters and prolonged substance abuse as a means to and end towards creating poetry, which highlights his downtrodden look at existence. Despite his grisly writing style, Bukowskin is hailed as a revolutionary figure in writing, someone who is unafraid to portray his slightly skewed literary versions of himself as subpar, rude, and strange.
This idea goes to show that there are lots of angles to shoot from when it comes to pursuing writing, and oftentimes there will be years of difficulty, lack of passion, and senseless, personal adversity when finding a niche and style as a writer. Taking a look back at Anne Lamott’s ideas in “Bird by Bird,” She often reminds the reader that in order to find elements of their voice and inspiration, it is often best to just write in a stream-of-consciousness format. No matter how terrible of a draft it is, nobody ever has to read it. Through months of reconstruction, analysis, and self-discovery, perhaps that draft will become something tangible, thoughtful, and worth reading.
The writer’s plight is a very tricky one to maneuver, now more than ever, as the modern landscape of writing is one that is now plagued by AI, social media, and a worldwide lack of attention or care to the written word. This can be a bleak and uncomfortable truth to fathom as a young writer, however, the countless examples of authors who have taken years upon years to hit their stride as well as the relentless pursuit of understanding that we seek both within ourselves as well as the world around us is the mark of an early writer who very well could become a seasoned one with the right outlook and an insatiable thirst to create something better.
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