Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is my favorite book about writing.
Word by Word by Anne Lamott is my favorite audio tape about writing.
So why aren't I happy with Anne Lamott? Because of something she said at the beginning of Tape One, Side One. She said: “Publication has nothing to offer you... It will work like a big plate of cocaine, where if you get the good news, it will take your mind off things for a while. And then very quickly you will need more good news and better good news.”
Lamott argues, “The writing itself can provide the solace, the illumination, the direction, the self-awareness... and it can open your heart. And there's nothing more important than that.” She dismisses publication as like “like being on the rat exercise wheel. You can’t sell enough and you won't sell enough...”
I so strongly disagree. Publishing—not just writing; publishing—has made a huge difference to my life. And I'm not talking my financial life—though it’s made a big difference there, too. I’ve been considerably poorer as a writer than when I had gainful employment.
No, the big difference is right in the heart of Anne Lamott country; it’s spiritual. Being a writer—a published writer—has allowed me a spiritual life so rich that it would be otherwise almost unattainable.
For instance... I wake up to the sun, not the jangling of an alarm clock. That’s a major spiritual gain in the first 30 seconds of the day. I don't race out of the house to catch a bus or train. So I've eliminated that daily frenzy. Because my work is anything but routinized, I've abolished boredom. Today I write about Lake Champlain in autumn; tomorrow I write about hate crimes in
And, because I'm a published writer, I get paid for the whole enchilada.
It’s the pay that lets me live this kind of life. The pay comes from publication. Not from keeping a journal, not from nature poems, not from writing as therapy— it comes from publishing my words. So publication is responsible for improving my spiritual life.
In her otherwise wonderful tape, Anne Lamott complains that while she tries to teach students the secrets of great writing, what they really want to know is where to put their name on the page when they send out a manuscript.
I don't have that problem. I also try to teach my students the secrets of great writing, but long before I get to the fancy stuff, I show them where to put their name on the page.
It’s a little detail that can help in the hard business of getting published. And if they’re to enjoy that rich spiritual life that Anne Lamott and I share... they’re gonna have to get published.
You can get Anne Lamott’s audio tape, Word by Word, in libraries, bookstores or by calling the publisher at
And, by the way, your name goes on the upper right side of the page. Don’t forget to double space and leave one-inch margins all around.
Posted by Jules Older, author of Cow, Pig, and Ice Cream.