Dec 2, 2008

Just the Typist

by Valerie Ipson

It’s always a treat to read a book on writing that is so well-written. This is the case with Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. The title comes from an incident where her brother had to write a big paper on birds. While he had been given the assignment three months earlier, he put it off and then, suddenly, it was due the next day and he had not even begun. He was overwhelmed at the task before him. His father sat down beside him, placed an arm around his shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.” Lamott applies this to writing a novel or any piece of work—it can be so over- whelming—the only way to tackle it is a piece at a time. She discusses those different pieces in her book, and minus the non-Mormon usage of a couple of words here and there, she crafts a book that will inspire.

She writes of characters driving the plot and we are just the typists who get it all down on paper. Good typists listen she reminds us: “Your plot will fall into place as, one day at a time, you listen to your characters carefully, and watch them move around doing and saying things and bumping into each other. You’ll see them influence each other’s lives, you’ll see what they are capable of up and doing, and you’ll see them come to various ends.” She quotes another author, Carolyn Chute, who was discussing rewriting, “Over and over, I feel as if all my characters know who they are and what happens to them… and what they are capable of doing, but they need me to write it down for them because their handwriting is so bad.”

I’m beginning to feel that way about the main character in the novel I am writing. I think she will be angry with me if I don’t get her story written. I can sense she is saying, “I’m not telling you this for your own enjoyment, write it down.”

I don’t know why she chose me to tell her story, but I figure I have enough to worry about from the real characters in my life, that I don’t need imaginary ones irritated with me! And so I type…


  1. Delightful post, Valerie!
    I have not spent enough time trying to write fiction to have experienced that...yet at the same time I have felt the drive to write down the things I learn from my experiences. I love your phrase, "but I figure I have enough to worry about from the real characters in my life," that's a truth I can completely relate to! Go Valerie!

  2. Very intriguing advice Valerie. Maybe my partner and I should let our characters dictate our plot...after all in a sense it is their story.

  3. Thanks for the "delightful" posts!

  4. BIG OOPS! I meant to say "Thanks for the delightful COMMENTS, not posts! Sheesh!

  5. I love that book, "Bird by Bird." It's great to find a fellow admirer.

  6. Valerie, I've heard many others make a similar comment, and am willing to believe it. My first try at a novel I was telling my characters what to say. Maybe that's why it wasn't accepted. Now I'm writing my own life history, so naturally I'm doing the telling. However, I'm beginning to find others I also include want to tell me what to, and not to, tell.

    I'd like to read "Bird by Bird." Sounds inspirational, and motivational -- a universal need.


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