Tuesday, 22 February 2011

How to write like Anne Lamott

A few weeks ago I heard Anne Lamott speak at Seattle University. I'm a huge fan of hers, especially Bird by Bird: Thoughts on Writing and Life and Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith.I could go further and say that I want to be her, sans the dreadlocks and history of addiction, but that wouldn't be completely accurate. Really, I just want to channel some of her writing prowess.

One of the main things I admire about Ms.Lamott, and attempt to emulate, is that she writes raw, gut-wrenching truths about deep things, but doesn't take herself too seriously. She's also hilarious, which I always admire in a "spiritual" writer.

Since I took furious notes during the talk I thought I'd share some of Anne Lamott's yummy nuggets (Sanvicens speak for digestible truths).  I hope you find them helpful!

Writing tips, straight from the horse's mouth: 
  • Write what you'd love to come upon reading.
  • Write from a place of truth so that anyone could read it and and say, "I know what you're talking about."
  • Life and writing are both about getting lost and then found. Your journey is what you have to offer. 
  • Most good stories are resurrection stories in some form. 
  • Good writing gives readers the gift of being seen, understood and no longer isolated.
  • No one wants you to be a writer and there is no good time to be a writer. If you're a writer, get over it, sit down and write. If you don't write now, you never will.
  • Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor.

Are you a fan of Anne Lamott? What yummy nuggets on writing and life have been most helpful for you?

(In case you're wondering, yes, my handbag in the photo is naturally distressed. My parents bought it for me for Christmas five years ago and I've used it every day since then. I get the question a lot so just thought I'd put it out there since the bag's in the spotlight.)

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Seeing the forest for the trees:: A writing retreat

You can tell by the message Joey left in the guest book that we'd spent a lot of time working on summaries during our weekend writing retreat. Joey summarizes well -- our barn conversion on Orcas Island was indeed a perfect oasis.
Joey and I are both well into manuscripts and were craving a block of time to devote to progressing on them. So on Friday we drove up to the San Juan islands and hunkered down.
Joey makes a mean fire, and she and the wood-burning stove ensured we were toasty warm (and at times borderline oppressed by the heat).
We got out of the barn a few times in between downpours to see the gorgeous surroundings. There's something about retreating to the woods that gives clarity to big projects. So often in writing you've got to do it in small chunks, and have to stop just when you get on a roll. It's glorious to have all that time to push in and really see where you're going.

Essentials for the weekend included fresh flowers, writing books and a variety of chocolates. And of course the infamous pomordoro timer. We timed ourselves and worked in 25 minute increments, then shared what we worked on. As someone who is easily bored, I swear by this technique. Everything is funner when you time yourself in my book.
I love writing on ferries for some reason. They've got great big work surfaces, nice views and, in Washington, Native American art.

I kind of see coffee shops as my urban retreat centers, but they don't take kindly to me showing up in pajamas and staying for 12 hours, no matter how productive I am.

 Have you ever been on a self-directed retreat? Where did you go? Where do you retreat to even for just a few hours?

Monday, 7 February 2011

I survived a train wreck : oversensitivity, fear and bravery

{Caution, text heavy post!}

This weekend marked the 11th anniversary of the train accident I survived while studying in Europe as a sophomore in college. (The arrow points to where we were sitting.) Last year I wrote a post that described what happened, so check it out for the backstory.

I was thinking how I wanted to mark the event again this year. Indeed, I am SO thankful for every morning I've been given since that awful night in Germany, but sometimes I forget how lucky I am. I need the anniversary to remind me that I survived a train wreck and that life is precious.

On Saturday, I went with several friends to hear Anne Lamott speak at a book festival in Seattle. It was, as you can imagine, amazing. I loved what she said about being sensitive, how when she was little she was dubbed "the oversensitive child" and adults and peers didn't really know what to do with her. She'd read the back cover of one of her parents' books, which said "By the time you've finished this paragraph, 250 children in India will have died of malnutrition" and she'd be devastated. "How can I even go on?"

I totally knew that feeling! Of feeling way too deeply, for mourning with people across the world I'd never meet, and way overthinking things.

By the nods and sounds of agreement it seemed like I was in the company of about 700 "oversensitive children". What do you expect at the "Search for Meaning Book Festival" though? It's like a mecca of sensitivity.

Ms. Lamott encouraged all of us oversensitive adult children that, though sensitivity may be a burden in seventh grade, in the long run it's a blessing beyond our wildest dreams to embrace.

So why am I bringing this up in a train wreck post? Because after the talk, when we were going to my car, my friend Claire called me brave. Which was very kind.

I thought, in many ways I am brave. I move across the world without a plan. I take lifestyle risks and am bold and outspoken. I have very high shame thresholds and don't mind sticking my neck out.

But...my lifestyle and social bravery is matched by huge issues of fear in other areas of my life, mostly revolving around freak accidents and transportation. All having to do with what happened eleven years ago.  And though it's usually manageable it can also be limiting.

At risk of being too vulnerable, I admit that fear makes me:
  •     cry and freak out whenever Dan wants to go surfing or snowboarding or drive on the freeway in LA
  •     avoid going to Spokane to visit our good friends because I don't want to drive through the pass
  •     avoid anything remotely physically dangerous, unless a thorough risk assessment is given
Of course I don't make a big deal about it to people, because I don't want to be seen as oversensitive. I don't want to still be dealing with crap from over a decade ago, however faint.

Empowered by Anne Lamott's encouragement that sensitivity (and in this case spiritual sensitivity) is a good thing, I want to throw this out there: Is it any wonder that a girl who's true identity is bravery deals with fear?

I'm not trying to boast, just being honest. Bravery really is a part of who I am, my calling if you will. I was created to be someone who doesn't go with the flow, who isn't confined to her comfort zone, who tells truth when it needs to be told.

I am someone, who until that train wreck, hardly felt fear at all, as testified by my pre-wreck driving style.

Is it a big surprise that in the first few months of moving to England I got mugged, making me fear walking around in urban Britain, the place I'd taken a huge step of faith to move to? I'm telling you folks, the enemy of life (whatever you may call it), goes for the jugular.

The enemy of life goes right for people's strengths, for their powerhouse.

Is it strange when girls gifted with hospitality develop eating disorders that cripple their ability to share meals with friends? Textbook strategy.

Is it odd when powerful people with messages that need to be heard are riddled with insecurity, turning them inward and shrinking them until powerless? Of course not. I'm not saying it's great, just that I'm not surprised.

There will always be resistance to what brings life and to what pushes you toward your purpose. If you feel that resistance, maybe you should be heartened. Maybe the enemy recognizes something in you that is powerful and that will bring life to many people.

I may be emotionally and spiritually sensitive, but my name is not Fear, it's Brave.

Thank you Claire for reminding me, on this anniversary of a weekend that introduced me to fear, that that is not who I am.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

When I met Rebekah for coffee last Friday she suggested I start a regular feature or two on my blog. So I thought I'd start with a Seattle-centric one: my seattle! Many of you know I love good, old-fashioned regional pride -- I try to celebrate whatever is local wherever I may be based. But I'm clearly biased to Seattle because not only is this where I'm from, but it's where, after taking a sampler platter of quite a few cities around the world, I've chosen to live.

I love the towering trees, the water, the mountains in the distance and, of course, the coffee. I also love how it's a big small city. There's a lot going on but it's never overwhelming.

Today Dan and I took Dan's family (visiting from New Zealand) around the city. Quite randomly, but fortunately, we stumbled upon Gas Works Park. I forgot how sweet this place is and I'm thankful that city planners had the foresight to preserve something that may have seemed hideous at the time it was closed down in the 1950s: a coal gasification plant. Who'd have thought?

I was so thankful the sun was out and the sky was blue for our visit -- textbook winter day.

Related Posts with Thumbnails