Anne Lamott is a professional writer - I am not.
Rather, I make my living as a professional therapist (people see me to help them with mental health matters, such as managing anxiety, nervousness, depression, interpersonal challenges with family, colleagues, friends, and lovers). However, to complete my PhD in clinical psychology, I had to design a research study, and write extensively on the findings.
Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, was profoundly helpful in supporting me through the drudgery of writing a dissertation. The process of writing about my work was initially overwhelming, and I did anything to avoid it. Specifically, I gardened and read numerous books on ‘how to’ write.
During one of my distracting activities at the neighborhood “Borders Books” in LA, I picked up Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird”, and read the chapter titled, ‘Shitty First Drafts’. In this chapter, Lamott described her crippling self-doubt and criticism in a hilarious manner. She presented clear detail on the routine and behaviors she had to do to begin writing.
For example, before writing, Lamott had to eat - a lot. She described having to ‘chow down’, then, she’d become hyper-focused on her dental hygiene. Lamott repeated these behaviors multiple times before sitting down to write. Also, she imagined and described a host of critics rolling their eyes, like adolescent cartoon characters as they read her work. Lamott’s inspirational tone throughout was apparent as she doggedly moved forward, toward her goal.
While I read Lamott’s Bird by Bird book, I 'reframed' (cognitive behavior (CBT) term) my own distractions and avoidance behaviors as a ‘process’, which gave me motivation. Together, with a bit of ‘positive reinforcement’ techniques, I began moving forward. I told myself, “Yes- you may remove those aphids and plant that kangaroo paw plant after writing 3-4 pages”.
(Lamont was one, of a chorus of people, who supported me in finishing my dissertation. Thank you, Anne!)
Currently, I also work as a part-time, university instructor. I share that same Lamott essay with my students. The students are assigned to write a reflective essay report. Three weeks before the report is due, student volunteers take a paragraph and read it out loud in front of class. We do this experiential activity to help alleviate tension and anxiety and increase motivation.
As students read Lamott out-loud, and get into the performance like an actor – laughter fills the room and tension decreases. Also, there is a bit of excitement that builds about the writing process. Lamott’s writing style is self-effacing, witty and hopeful as she addresses her experiences, and the shared experience, we all hold, when we have to do something hard, creative and performative.
Also, in her new book, Almost Everything, Lamont is candid and comical as she discusses her mental health experiences. She does this in a manner which normalizes her experiences. I am hopeful that her work will continue to decrease the negative stigma which some have about mental health.
It is evident that Lamott is a prolific writer, inspiring others through her work – she gets stuff done! Hope to see you at Powell’s!