An eNewsletter Dedicated to Helping Businesspeople Write Smarter and Faster in Plain Language
How Do You Write? One Step, er Bird, at a Time
Ann Lamott is the author of the bestselling, Bird by Bird, a book about how to write. While its focus is creative writing, many of the lessons and tips apply to business, technical, and all other types of writing. Here is an excerpt from a review about Lamott’s book:
What makes Lamott so compelling is that all of her advice comes not from the ivory tower of the pantheon but from an honest place of exquisite vulnerability and hard-earned life-wisdom. In her book, she recounts her formative years and where she headed once she encountered that inevitable fork in the road where we can choose between being shut in and shut down by our traumatic experiences, or using them as fertile clay for character-building:
“In seventh and eighth grades I still weighed about forty pounds. I was twelve years old and had been getting teased about my strange looks for most of my life. This is a difficult country to look too different in — the United States of Advertising, as Paul Krassner puts it — and if you are too skinny or too tall or dark or weird or short or frizzy or homely or poor or nearsighted, you get crucified. I did.”
So she found refuge in books, searching for “some sort of creative or spiritual or aesthetic way of seeing the world and organizing it in [her] head.” To find that, she became a writer and began fantasizing about getting published, about “the thrill of seeing oneself in print,” as the highest form of existential validation.
Start Writing Something, Then Take It Step by Step
At the heart of writing, Lamott argues, lies a capacity for quiet grit and a willingness to decondition the all too human tendency to get so overwhelmed by the enormity of the journey that we’re too paralyzed to take the first step. She recounts this wonderful anecdote, after which her book is titled:
“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’”
No Place for Perfection in Creative or Business Writing
In her bird-by-bird approach to writing, there is no room for perfectionism. Lamott cautions:
“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow (inadvertently, I’m sure) forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here — and, by extension, what we’re supposed to be writing.”
- In 2017, Hormel sold its 8 billionth can of Spam.
- The name Spam became synonymous with junk mail.
- Spam-filled cans are heated in a six-story-tall cooker that holds 66,000 cans at a time.
- Hawaii leads all states in Spam consumption; each person eats an average of 3 pounds per year.
- In 1995, Hormel sued the makers of a children’s movie over the use of an evil piglike character named Spa’am. Hormel lost.
- Spam was created in 1937 but didn’t become popular until World War II when it was shipped to countries around the world as part of the Lend-Lease Program, and put in soldiers’ combat K-rations.
- The word Spam stands for: Shoulders of Pork and Ham, Something Posing as Meat, Spiced Ham, Specifically Processed Artificial Meat.
(Fun Facts Answer: Scroll to the bottom.)
Word of the Month
mitigate | MIT-uh-gayt | verb
• to make less harsh or severe; alleviate; mollify
“Keith tried to mitigate the crisis brewing between the HR Department and his sales team.”
Wacky & Wise Websites
Click here to discover the origins of 15 spooky Halloween traditions.
Click here to read about the 400 vegan dishes Walt Disney World and Disneyland will start introducing this month.
American Express, Amgen, Cisco Systems, Department of the Navy, Fluor Corporation, General Electric, Motorola, The New York Public Library, Procter & Gamble, SEAL Team Six, State of Utah, Supreme Court of Virginia, United Way, U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, U.S. Food & Drug Administration
Writing Tips & More
Now that you’ve read the newsletter, go to the menu bar at the top of this page and check out the rest of our website. Click on Blog to see more writing tips, fun writing facts, and Words of the Week.
Subscribe to Writing Tips now!
SATisfy Your Curiosity
SAT Exam practice question: Fill in the blank with the word that completes the meaning of the sentence.
Although the scientist claimed to have made a major breakthrough in his research, the evidence he offered as proof of his assertion was ____ at best.
(SAT Answer: Scroll to the bottom.)
The word computer was originally applied to people, not machines. Computer is derived from the verb to compute + -er, a standard suffix that denotes a person that does the task of the attached verb. The verb to compute comes from the Latin computare, meaning to calculate. So a computer is someone who calculates. The verb form of the word appears in English by the late 1500s, and the noun form of the word appears in English in 1613 in Richard Braithwaite’s book, Yong Mans Gleanings: “I haue read the truest computer of Times, and the best Arithmetician that euer breathed, and he reduceth thy dayes into a short number.” Back then, many of these human computers were women because calculation was considered mundane, repetitive work that was beneath the dignity of men to perform. However, such calculations were often highly complex and required a high degree of mathematical skill. Computer was being applied to machines by the mid 1800s, but the use of computer to refer to a programmable, electronic, calculating machine didn’t happen until shortly after World War II. The exact date is uncertain. During the war, the U.S. and Britain used calculating machines to crack Axis codes, and they described these machines as computers.
Answer: 3. paltry. The word means meager and fits within the context of this sentence because it contradicts the scientist’s claim of achieving a “major breakthrough.”
Fun Facts Answer
Hormel says that Spam stands for Spiced Ham.