On Being a "Tough" Writer

"The difference between a writer who toughs it out and one who doesn’t is that you push through the parts where you know that you’ve just written seven pages when all you’re looking for is one paragraph."
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TRANSCRIPT

Question: When did you first learn to write seriously? 

Anne Lamott: My father was a writer, so I grew up writing and reading and I was really encouraged by him.  I had some sort of gift and when it came time to try to find a publisher I had a little bit of an “in” because I had his agent I could turn to, to at least read my initial offerings when I was about 20.  But the only problem was that they were just awful, they were just terrible stories and my agent, who ended up being my agent, was very, very sweet about it, but it took about four years until I actually had something worth trying to sell.

Question: What is your working method like?

Anne Lamott: For the last 35 years, since I was full-time, since about the age of 20—even though 15 of those years I was also doing other jobs to support my writing, like cleaning house and teaching tennis, and what not—my father really taught me that you really develop the habit of writing and you sit down at the same time every day, you don’t wait for inspiration.  You sit down, it helps your subconscious understand that it’s time to start writing and to relax down into that well of dream material and memory and imagination.  So, I sit down at the exact same time every day.  And I let myself write really awful first drafts of things.  I take very short assignments; I will capture for myself in a few words what I’m going to be trying to do that morning, or in that hour.  Maybe I’m going to write a description of the lake out in Inverness in West Marin, where I live.  And so I try to keep things really small and manageable.  I have a one-inch picture frame on my desk so I can remember that that’s all I’m going to be able to see in the course of an hour or two, and then I just let myself start and it goes really badly most mornings; as it does for most writers. 

And the difference between a writer who toughs it out and one who doesn’t is that you push through the parts where you know that you’ve just written seven pages when all you’re looking for is one paragraph.

Recorded April 6, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen