I love the dictionary. Absolutely adore it. If I were ever stuck on a deserted island (am I the only Deb who has to stop and try to recall if that has already happened to her?), the dictionary is the one book I’d want to have with me. Why not? It’s got all the other books already in it. And have you ever actually read the dictionary? (Do we proofreaders know how to have fun, or what?) Holy Mother of Merriam Webster – the wild and wacky things that book has in it! Then, of course, there’s the dictionary’s even prettier step-sister, the thesaurus. She doesn’t work nearly as hard, but oh the things she can do for a writer!
But I guess it would be a stretch to say those two books changed my life. My writing? Yes. My life? No. For that I have to credit BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott. And nothing can explain my feelings better than I can – and did – in a letter I wrote to her recently. Yes, it was my shameless plea to get her to blurb my book, but that doesn’t mean every word of it isn’t true.
Dear Ms. Lamott –
As a reader, I have been moved to laughter and to tears as you shared your experiences of raising your son, dredding your hair, giving up drinking and discovering God. I have been awed by your brave honesty and learned that it’s okay to be funny even about the stuff that on the surface, isn’t funny. And as a writer, I learned from your example that it’s always best to be exactly who you are (which for me, seems to be some weird amalgam of Gandhi, Che Guevara and Erma Bombeck).
I knew I had a story to tell. Y’know: girl meets guy, girl falls in love with guy, girl goes off to the Peace Corps to prove she’s worthy of guy, girl has nervous breakdown and discovers repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse, girl and guy move to war-torn corner of Africa and have to contend with bouts of malaria and hostage-taking, outbreaks of civil war and then there’s the whole having a baby in the African bush thing. Oh and it’s funny. How can anyone write a book like that, I asked myself? Well, Anne Lamott does. And because you did, I knew it was possible to be funny and heartbreaking and above all, honest.
Years ago, someone recommended BIRD BY BIRD and it quickly became my guide – to writing and to life. It’s the book that I’d recommend to everyone but wouldn’t lend to anyone. (Well, I finally did lend it to my friend, Jean, when she was struggling to get through leukemia and a bone marrow transplant. I think you’d approve.) And after twelve years of writing when my agent asked me for a major rewrite, I put my head down on my desk and cried like a baby. But when I was done with that, I remembered to just do it, bird by bird. And I did.
I haven’t got Anne’s blurb, but I still credit her book with changing my life. (And Anne, if you’re out there, I am still grateful to you for my book . . . and for the outcome of the recent election . . . and the miraculous closure of the hole in the ozone layer . . . and did I mention, there’s still time to blurb my book?)
p.s. join us at the Ball tomorrow and meet our very special guest author, Allison Winn Scotch!
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