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Should You Run Over Your Grandmother for the Sake of a Novel?

Faulkner would sacrifice his grandmother for his fiction—Anne Lamott, however, would not. For writers who, like most of us, have the goods on their family and friends, "honest can be devastating"—which is why Lamott avoids scandalous memoirs or romans à clef. Still, the "Imperfect Birds" novelist is the first to admit that she's led an imperfect life, and that life finds indirect ways of sneaking into her books. Battles with alcohol, adolescence, and faith have all been grist for her creative mill, as they are for her Big Think interview.

Funny and unsentimental, Lamott recalls being a wild child until her early thirties, seeking inspiration in "drugs, alcohol, and poetry" but finding the addict's life wasn't conducive to the "ponderous" work of writing. (Working as a writer is a little like "being a shoemaker," she says.) Eventually she sobered up with the help of friends and faith, as well as large amounts of meditation, black coffee, and Safeway cakes.

Her resulting career has earned her a reputation as "The People's Author," a label she says she's unfamiliar with but welcomes. At the same time, she confesses that she gets as sucked into the politics and petty snobbery of writing as the next author, wondering late at night whether Susan Sontag would be her friend if she were still alive. At the end of the interview, the author of the classic creative writing guide "Bird by Bird" shares a few tips and exercises for young writers, stressing the importance of editing out "lies" in the final draft.
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