Study Guide

Bird by Bird Part 3, Chapter 24

By Anne Lamott

Part 3, Chapter 24

Writer's Block

  • Speaking of stuck, Lamott is ready to tackle that fierce monster, writer's block. It's even worse than a Hungarian Horntail, according to lots of writers.
  • Lamott says that writer's block will happen sometimes if you're a writer. She offers a funny description of just how bad it can get. She even says that you might start feeling "as if writing a novel is like trying to level Mount McKinley with a dentist's drill" (24.2).
  • Luckily, Lamott does have a solution. She says she's come to think of writer's block as looking at a problem from the wrong angle. As she puts it, "If your wife locks you out of the house, you don't have a problem with your door" (24.3). You don't have to be married to get what she's saying here: maybe there's another way to look at writer's block that will help us figure it out.
  • Lamott suggests two things for the stuck writer: 1) Acceptance. 2) Writing 300 words a day.
  • Okay, so those may sound a little contradictory. Lamott wants us to just accept writer's block, and then she wants us to write? But actually, her advice is pretty solid here.
  • We're usually taught to try and fix things if they don't seem to be going well. The trouble is, that may not work with writer's block. Lamott says we should just accept that sometimes we're in an uncreative period, and we should let ourselves refill our tank.
  • Lamott also recommends writing 300 words a day when we feel stuck. But here's the great part: they can be 300 words about anything. Even how much we hate writing.
  • Then, Lamott spends about a page on another thing writers can try when they're stuck. She says to imagine you're dying tomorrow. What would you want to do? Well, you should do whatever that is. Basically, that will help you pay attention to everything life can be, and eventually that paying attention will give you more stuff to write about.
  • Lamott says when you're beginning as a writer, it's important to commit to finishing things. This could be a story or a part of a story. Even if what we're doing right now is just practice, and we start over on something else later, this is the way we'll get better.
  • In case this sounds hard, Lamott tells us how hard her last novel was to write. That'll cheer you up, right?
  • Seriously, though, it is comforting to hear that famous writers have problems, too.
  • Lamott had received a lot of bad reviews on the novel before her last one, so she was feeling kind of worried when she set out to write that new one. She committed to working on the characters in her novel, which sounds like it was a bit less intimidating than promising to finish the whole novel.
  • Lamott spent a little time writing each day, and then she went to the movies. No kidding. She says she spent a lot of time walking and going to movies and reading. Finally, it worked. The book started rushing out, and Lamott had to sit down and write as fast as possible.
  • We should remember that we're not really in control of our fate or our novels. That's one of the keys to getting things written: accepting that sometimes stuff won't come quickly, and we'll just have to wait and work a little bit and fill up the tank until eventually it gets rolling again. This may not work so well as an excuse for turning in homework late, but it seems to work for Lamott. She keeps publishing stuff.
  • Finally, Lamott says that all great stories are already out there, but we can contribute our own way of seeing them. Sure, someone's already told the story of the awesome quest or the fight with the dragon or the little kid growing up. But we each have our own awesome take on it.
  • When we're stuck, we should just do our 300 words and let our unconscious get on with telling the story. If we keep pestering our unconscious during writer's block, it will just tell us to shut up and go away.

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