Sunday, October 27, 2013

Wise words from Anne Lamott

I think it's pretty safe to say that every writer has "woe is me" periods.

It's such a flattering look, isn't it?

Woe is me, I can't get an agent.
Woe is me, I can't sell a book.
Woe is me, I can't sell another book.
Woe is me, my advances are small.
Woe is me, I'll never be as good as I want to be.
Woe is me, I'll never be as good as (insert any successful author's name here).
Woe is me, I never get any big push from my publisher.

I'll stop there because, honestly, the "woe is me" possibilities are ENDLESS.

I can go months without having any. And then, all of a sudden, BAM - and I'm filled with the woe. It sucks. I mean, it really, really sucks.

For me, it usually comes down to one simple but painful truth: I will never be as good of a writer as I wish I could be. I don't have the kind of imagination I wish I had and I don't have the kind of writing skills I wish I had. Please understand - I'm not saying I'm a terrible writer. I just wish I were better.

My career to this point has been all right. I've written and published quite a few books. And I feel fortunate to be able to do the work I'm doing. I mean - I make stuff up for a living. Like I'm getting PAID to write stories. I'm my own boss, which I love, so I set my own hours, which means I can, like, go grocery shopping at eight on a Thursday morning, when the stores are empty. Since I hate grocery shopping with a fiery hot passion, this is a very good thing.

It is a pretty sweet job, and I know this and I am thankful every single day. And what I might lack in skills, I try to make up for in hard work. Because one thing I am is a hard worker and have been since I was twelve, when I picked strawberries every day, since child labor laws apparently didn't apply way back then? All right, fine, my grandma usually picked me up in the early afternoon so we could watch General Hospital together, but in the mornings, I picked those strawberries like... a twelve-year-old girl.

I was recently talking to a friend about all of the books I have coming out next year. In order to have all of these books come out, I've had an insane schedule this year, writing like a crazy person. My friend said something like, "It'd be a lot easier to just have one or two books sell really, really well, wouldn't it?"

Hahaha. Ummm, yes, abso-freaking-lutely.

And that's the thing about this business that could drive a person mad if you let it. Yes, talent and imagination are important, no doubt about it. And I may never have what it takes to be super-successful in this business. But I've always said there is also some luck that plays into this business too. The right book hits the market at the right time and it's an instant bestseller. Or the right person reads a book and it's a movie deal in the works.

Some weeks it seems like everyone around me is winning the publishing lottery with big-named blurbs, award nominations and movie news. And my soul cries to the heavens, can't I catch just one lucky break? Please? PLEASE!? (Usually this happens when I've been working a lot and I'm tired and all I want to do is lie on the couch and take about a week for a Breaking Bad marathon, so I can finally understand what all the fuss is about).

And so, that's where I've been this past week. Despite the beautiful sunshine, the warm temperatures, I just couldn't shake the blues.

I was flipping channels earlier today, and I came across Oprah interviewing Anne Lamott. And it reminded me of her book, Bird by Bird which I haven't read in a long time. I jumped up and went to my bookshelf and got it. What do you know, it was just what I needed. Here are a few little gems I share if you, too, have been sucked down the "woe is me" hole lately too.

"I still encourage anyone who feels at all compelled to write to do so. I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all that is cracked up to be. But writing is. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surpries. That thing you had to force yourself to do -- the actual act of writing -- turns out to be the best part. It's like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward."

"I told myself that historically when people do too well to quickly, they are a Greek tragedy waiting to happen. I, who did not do too well too quickly and who was in fact not doing too well over time, was actually in the catbird seat. I was not going to end up the cocky heroine in an ugly hubris drama. This is not to be underestimated."

"You are going to have to give and give and give, or there's no reason for you to be writing. You have to give from the deepest part of yourself, and you are going to have to go on giving, and the giving is going to have to be its own reward. There is no cosmic importance to your getting something published, but there is in learning to be a giver."

Thanks, Anne. This week, I will remind myself to look for the reward in the writing, that I should be glad I'm not going to end up in a Greek tragedy (ha!), and that I am a giver, which is not such a bad thing in this pretty messed up world.

Oh, and I will also continue to eat the Halloween candy I bought far too early. When will I learn???


  1. YOU always inspire me, Lisa. Thank you. I think you're a superstar. Too bad I let someone borrow my copy of Bird by Bird and never got it back!

    1. Hi Caroline! Thanks for stopping by! There's a new writing book out that's on my Christmas list. I've heard quite a few authors singing its praises. It's called STILL WRITING by Dani Shapiro. If you've been a good girl this year, maybe Santa will leave it in your stocking. :)