A writer writes stories, rather weaves words in the form of a story. A story good or bad is still a story that is special to the one who writes it. If he/she/they are lucky enough the readers like it too. A reader has it easy as they flip through pages yearning to know what happens next. The writer of the story is where the struggle lies because stories are the blood, sweat, and tears of a dreamer who sees the world in a very different light.
Those writers who are brave enough to show their most vulnerable part i.e their writing call themselves an author. That is just my made-up definition, let’s look at how they have been described. So, how is the word “author” deﬁned? Originally, the word meant anyone who was the originator of something(God!?!). Webster’s 1828 Dictionary deﬁned authorship as “One who produces, creates, or brings into being.” Over time, deﬁnitions of the word author have become much more sharply focused on written composition. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language online deﬁnes an author as: “The original writer of a literary work. One who practices writing as a profession” and adds “to assume responsibility for the content of a published text.”Fancy stuff.
Yet writing something original for publication and taking responsibility for it can be a daunting task. Many times the blogs/articles produced while still figuring out if writing is the thing for you (like me) could best be described as “stringing pearls” of wisdom that have been gleaned*(not using too obvious a word) from other sources.
Even the likes of J K Rowling and James Patterson spoke about the uncomfortable realities, both internal and external, that can at times make writing a struggle. Many writers and ﬁrst time authors worry that they are pretenders who will be unmasked at some point. Thank God, we are not alone.
Imposter Syndrome: Feeling Like a Fraud
Do you sometimes worry that your ignorance will be exposed? I do. Don’t worry, these feelings are so commonplace that it has had a name since the 1970s: the imposter syndrome/phenomenon. As if writing was not hard enough we now have to deal with our own insecurities.
I knew this word did not apply to me until of course, I started this blog. My head was the chaos I could not untangle in my own words; I was only a cutter and a paster, a borrower, a fake. I could understand why most writing enthusiasts struggle with important expectations for their writing i.e to “make a contribution” and “advance thinking in the ﬁeld.” Little wonder, that so many writers falter at showing their work.
Oh and not to forget that all your feelings are also available for public viewing somewhere on the internet.Because at some point early on, you forsook your privacy for your passion.Damn.
Adult education experts estimate that up to 40% of what tertiary students are learning will be obsolete a decade from now when they will be working in jobs that have yet to be created. Indeed, the top 10 most in-demand jobs today didn’t even exist 10 years ago. To say that we live in a changing world understates the speed of both the pace and the scope of ongoing change.
In this perspective, the education system is undergoing a major overhaul.
Illiterate of the 21st Century will not those who cannot read and write, but those cannot learn, unlearn and relearn – Alvin Toffler
How does our brain work in the encoding of long-term knowledge?
Unlike babies who do not have any prior knowledge (concepts, beliefs, ideas, values, theories,…), we learn new knowledge by reference to those we already know. We focus on the points of similarity between them to select the information that reaches the brain.
At this stage, it is necessary to know how to differentiate between short-term memory and long-term memory. The first is part of the memory system where limited bits or simple chunks of information that have attended to are held a brief amount of time (5–20 seconds) for processing then lost. So let’s say “use it or lose it! ». On the other hand, long-term memory is the part of the memory system where processed information is stored, managed, and retrieved for later use.
The first step to creating a memory is called “encoding”. It’s when you notice an event or come across a piece of information and your brain consciously perceives the sounds, images, physical feeling, or other sensory details involved.
It is, therefore, necessary to actively review the information we have noted or heard through training to enhance, reorganize, strengthen, and making them easier to retrieve: passive proofreading with highlighting is of no use here. It is preferable to use practical scenarios, quizzes, or even conversations with peers about the concepts discussed. The visualization of learning supports such as graphs and images also improves the anchoring during the rehearsal.
The more consolidated the memory subsequently becomes and the easier it will be retrieve later. Likewise if the learner is made aware of organizational relationships during memory formation, the easier it will likely be to retrieve the memories.
Of course, you have surely heard some people say that he was not good enough in mathematics, in studies in general. Yet Albert Einstein was the worst of the dunces in class, many dyslexics like Steve Jobs did not follow the university path at all, and yet they became true “geniuses”, or rather visionaries.
2. It’s all about the Mindset
We will not stumble upon reading Dr. Carol Dweck’s book “Mindset” to understand that:
Those called fixed-mindset are people who have limiting beliefs that prevent them from evolving in the acquisition of skills as long as they are outside their comfort zone. They feel unable to overcome certain problems and lack flexibility in managing their emotions.
On the other hand, the so-called growth-mindset is characterized by a certain amount of curiosity, ease, and perseverance in solving difficult problems. They have better stress management. It’s a sort of mental attitude about critical thinking and curiosity. It’s about the mindset of looking at the world in a playful and curious, creative way.
In terms of skills acquisition, from a psychological point of view, we will have to use certain strategies to motivate fixed-mindset people to leave their comfort zone, by restoring their confidence in their ability to succeed step by step and to put them in confidence during the learning process with:
relevant and encouraging feedback allowing them to work on their weak points. Success will depend on what the learner does with his or her feedback, giving the learner the opportunity to progress and challenge his or her own disabling beliefs.
“When people express opinions that differ from yours, take it as a chance to grow. Be curious, not defensive. The only way to disarm another human being is by listening”. Glennon Doyle Helton
a small win and sometimes reinforce their sense of self-efficacy, confidence in moving forward.
joint work to be done with peers at a slightly more sustained level to receive further feedback, feel a sense of belonging to a group and persevere, or even challenge with them while avoiding unnecessary pressure.
work to be carried out with increasingly increasing difficulties over time that they can achieve in such a way that they understand the meaning of the effort, purpose and in fine let them know that struggle is an integral part of the learning process. Each small step they achieve leads to a small win and sometimes reinforce their sense of self-efficacy, confidence in moving forward.
This so-called heuristic method makes it possible not to separate the least efficient from the most “intelligent”, providing opportunities for choice, control, a collaboration which are good strategies to increase the “academic” level if it is the education system. This is a far cry from the elitist method, but it is no less interesting.
Scientific research has also shown that, in terms of motivation, the stronger the feeling of belonging to a group, the higher the results of assessments. Students, learners who have negative stereotypes (historically marginalized groups including women who enter quantitative fields) associated with their identities (gender, race, cultures, beliefs, socio-economical level) worry about their teacher, instructor/coach, expect them. They can increase stress, anxiety, undermine student motivation which is a source of failure, of abandonment for the learner. This is why it is important to create a climate of trust. By promoting the idea that critical, constructive feedback is a sign of a teacher’s confidence in a learner’s potential to reach high standards and skills.
More than two centuries ago, Benjamin Franklin wrote, “You tell me, I forget. You teach me, I remember. You involve me, I learn”. It’s always so true!
“For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.“
Anne Lamott,Bird by Bird
I wouldn’t call this a Book summary but rather my notes on Anne Lamont’s “Bird by Bird” so please bear with me if this post appears to be too long. I couldn’t help but include the many gems that I want to be reminded of and which hopefully will also benefit you.
From my perspective as a person trying to make writing part of my daily life, I’d say Bird by Bird is more of a pep talk for writers. Sitting home alone writing can be more than a little crazy, so it’s nice to have some reassurance that the craziness is normal, along with some tools for getting to the next day or to the next page.
On writing shitty first drafts
“We all know we’re going to die; what’s important is the kind of men and women we are in the face of this. All you can give us is what life is about from your point of view.”
Writing reveals itself through writing. As you write, you uncover the hidden gems inside you that you didn’t even know were there. Words come to you, characters reveal themselves, and dialogue forms that shows who these people are. It pretty much always works this way: you have to write to figure out what you’re writing about. Ask people around you to help you with your writing. Call on them for their expertise. If you want to write about gardening or include a garden in your writing, but you don’t know the first thing about gardening, then ask someone who does. Enlist the help of others to make your words come alive.
On writer’s block and inducing creativity
For me, the most important tip Anne Lamott shared is to carve out some time every day to write, preferably at the same time. When you do this, you train your unconscious mind to kick in for you creatively. So instead of waiting for the muse to show up, you kindly invite her over every day at the same time.
Write first, Polish later.
Perfectionism can be your enemy when you get lost in the details. Anne urges us to make a mess and clean it up later. You’ll be more likely to discover interesting new directions and insights with your story and characters if you let loose. And hey, your first draft is just for you. So only please yourself as your first reader.
Thoughts on Character & Plot Development:
“Knowledge of your characters also emerges the way a Polaroid develops: it takes time for you to know them.” — Anne Lamott
When you want to map out your character’s world, traits and beliefs, write it down. What are their habits? What is their background? Are they very expressive/emotional? What do they believe in? What makes them tick? What relationships do they have with family and friends? What is their profession? What are their mannerisms? Whom would they have voted for? What do they look like? Etc. Sometimes you pour in facets of yourself or people you know. I do at least. Most characters are blends of me, friends and family. Sometimes even my perception of celebrities, politicians or just people I meet. Copy and paste habits, and looks.
“Writing is about learning to pay attention and to communicate what is going on.”
This lesson is related to avoid getting stuck or reaching a dead end. If you write about a subject you are interested in, something about which you care passionately, chances are you have a lot to say and you’re more likely to finish the story.
“You need to put yourself at their centre, you and what you believe to be true or right. The core, ethical concepts in which you most passionately believe are the language in which you are writing.”
Your reader will notice when you write about a subject matter you care about and he or she will likely be able to recognize pieces of his or her own life in what you have to say. So, be emotional in your writing, chances are you hit more nerves and tears
“Get to know your characters as well as you can, let there be something at stake, and then let the chips fall where they may.”
Here’s what Anne says in Bird by Bird: “Find out what each character cares most about in the world because then you will have discovered what’s at stake. Find a way to express this discovery in action, and then let your people set about finding or holding onto or defending whatever it is. But something must be at stake or you will have no tension and your readers will not tum the pages.”
The only thing I have to add to that is that you must make sure you invite the reader in. Why should they care about the journey of your characters?
“The development of relationship creates plot.”
Make sure your characters move forward, towards something. Traditionally there are three acts: A setup, a build-up, and the pay-off. This system exists for a reason. Sometimes you have your ending in mind at the start. Sometimes you find your plot while interacting with your muse every day and scribbling away your first draft. Some character needs to have changed when you reach the end. But whatever happens, we need to feel that it was inevitable, that even though we may be amazed, it feels absolutely right, that, of course, things would come to this, of course, they would shakedown in this way.
So this book is not only a book full of advice for writers but a book that encapsulates what it means to be a writer. Simple, clear, and truthful exploration of the writing life. I loved hearing her encouragement to aspiring writers, and I loved how she emphasized the importance of truth in writing. To become a better writer, you have to write more. Writing reveals the story because you have to write to figure out what you’re writing about. Don’t judge your initial work too harshly because every writer has terrible first drafts. The point I’m going to add here that really impacted me was Lamott message not to worry about what people think of you, but to worry about not finishing your writing.
You should be able to identify a character by what he or she says. It’s a given that each should sound different, look different, and have different backgrounds and mannerisms but this simple advice hit home because I thought, “If I didn’t write-he said/she said-after this quote, would they know it was from this character?”
A formula when writing a short story, which goes ABDCE, for Action, Background, Development, Climax, and Ending. You begin with action that is compelling enough to draw us in, make us want to know more. The background is where you let us see and know who these people are, how they’ve come to be together, what was going on before the opening of the story. Then you develop these people so that we learn what they care most about. The plot, the drama, the actions, the tension will grow out of that. You move them along until everything comes together in the climax, after which things are different for the main characters, different in some real way.
I loved the description of rewriting and tucking the octopus in bed. The legs that keep popping out from the bedsheets, and just when you think you have them tucked in, another pops out.
Now I am interested in reading E.M. Forster and John Gardner’s advice on the plot which Lamott mentions as great reads.
The advice on having someone read your first drafts was really good, it helps to know if you’re on the right path. Common sense indeed.
One of the life lessons I loved was about not wasting your time on people who don’t respond to you with kindness and respect or wasting your time with people who make you hold your breath. “You can’t fill up when you’re holding your breath, and writing is about filling up when you’re empty. Letting images, and ideas, and smells run like water.”
Write about yourself, and making yourself the main character and trying to throw everything you love in your first book, short story, whatever. At least I’m learning I’m not alone 🙂
Letters are an amazing idea as well. Writing a part of your history, a part of a character’s history in the form of a letter that the informality might just free you from the tyranny of perfectionism, and even address it to someone. I loved this idea and I can see how several of my favorite articles or essays could have been written using this method, at least as a first draft or to brainstorm.
The idea of carrying an index card and pen in your back pocket when you walk your dogs or travel is also a lifesaver.
Live life like it was your last day and re-filling your imagination can fill back up. “Any of the things you love to do will fill you with observations, flavors, visions, ideas, and memories.”
Think of what you want to say and if anything else has been written on the subject but tell your story as someone else.
I loved the quote by Toni Morrison that Lamott uses, “The function of freedom is to free someone else. We write the unexposed. If there is a door in a castle you’ve been told not to go through you must.”
You need to discover your true voice, and you can’t do that if you think your parents are reading over your shoulder, so write in isolation.
Think about who your writing for, dedicate it to your favourite author as a gift to give back to them for influencing you. I love the idea of writing a present for someone.
There were moments when I was moved and made to think about writing, so maybe one day I’ll read Bird by Bird again and see if I can revise this first impression. Amen!