On Not Taking Writing Advice

by - February 21, 2014

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I read  Anne Lamott's Bird By Bird and learned how to listen to the accursed radio station of static random thoughts running through the writer's head while she's trying to write. Lamott describes the process so effectively, she taught me how to do it, rather than how not to.

Mary Demuth swears by the BOC (Butt On Chair) method of writing, regardless of whether the writing muse shows up or not. I rarely do this.

Stephen King's On Writing suggests setting a daily time requirement or a daily word count. He also says to have a book with you at all times and read while you're waiting in the checkout lane. I fail at this too.

Julia Cameron swears by morning pages. I love the idea. Really, I do, but I've yet to try it. She says to use pen and paper, except I can't make a pen crank out 90 words a minute, nor erase as seamlessly as a backspace key. Even important greeting card sentiments from me are composed on the computer, then copied in my penmanship on the card itself. Pathetic, I know.

So I fell in love with Annie Dillard in chapter two of The Writing Life. She’s having as much trouble taking her own writing advice as I do.

She says to find a simple writing space that’s solely devoted to writing and free of distraction. But the entire chapter is a description in minute detail of every beautiful thing going on around her, both inside and outside her writing room. 

"If I craned my head, I could see a grassy playing field below. One afternoon I peered around at the field and saw a softball game. Since I happened to have my fielder's glove with me in my study, I thought it would be the generous thing to join the game. ... They could not all play ball ... . It was slightly better than no softball, so I played with them every day..."

I love her, and maybe there's hope for me.

I used to write at our desktop in the piano room after the kids finished their homeschooling or were in bed. I've migrated to a laptop at the kitchen counter with a barstool. It has become my makeshift desk. It’s continually littered with bills, school permission slips, and a stack of various books. My Christmas cards are still in that stack. My bible, latest publication deadline, and more than one To Do list is never far away.

I have plunked my writing life in the eye of my storm. And despite the unheeded writing advice and the writing space carved out of the epicenter of my life, I manage to actually get some writing done.

So there's hope for me.

One day, Dillard stopped the madness. She shut the blinds in her writing nook. She drew a crude picture of the scene outside so as not to lose touch with the world completely.

Dillard finishes the earlier passage with this: "If I had possessed the skill, I would have painted, directly on the slats of the lowered blind, in meticulous colors, a trompe l'oeil mural view of all that the blinds hid. Instead, I wrote it."

She recycled her distractions as inspiration. 

Finally, writing advice I can implement.


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  1. Once again. Still makes me want to read the book. Think I ought to read all the other piles first.

  2. "She recycled her distractions as inspiration." Yes, that is why I loved chapter 2 so much. Often times I find the "distractions" outside my window are what inspire me the most. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on chapter 2. ~Mary

  3. Dawn, I, too have to first compose the wording for my greeting cards on the computer. If it didn't seem so impersonal I would even print them out to send in the card. Simply because my handwriting is so bad.

    Chapter 1 was hard for me to read through but I understood Annie struggle so much in the 2nd chapter it was an easier read.

  4. Dawn - I can tell you have a gift for constructing a solid story. Researching, gathering and organizing to get your story told. I fear I lack that discipline. I find myself so distracted, the distractions themselves become the focus of my thoughts and writing a complete chapter on a single subject matter....well I can't imagine that.. much like you find subject matter in the distractions, I am distracted from the subject matter of which I lack none. Oh the contrary writing nooks of writers....so enjoyed your story.


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