In my writing class we often read from Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird (“Some instructions on writing and life”) and as preparation to begin writing our own memoirs for our midterm paper, we read a chapter called “Shitty First Drafts.”
While the whole chapter was rather illuminating–especially to those of us who strive for perfection on the first try (cough cough, me) and need help sitting down and writing–I found one passage in particular to be rather meaningful.
Lamott was detailing how she had seen a hypnotist (sort of as a therapist) to try and quiet some of the constant voices that keep her from sitting down and writing. She says:
“At first I though he was feeling around on the floor for the silent alarm button, but then he gave me the following exercise, which I still use to this day.
Close your eyes and get quiet for a minute, until the chatter starts up. Then isolate one of the voices and imagine the person speaking as a mouse. Pick it up by the tail and drop it into a mason jar. Then isolate another voice, pick it up by the tail, drop it in the jar. And so on. Drop in any high-maintenance parental units, drop in any contractors, lawyers, colleagues, children, anyone who is whining in your head. Then put the lid on, and watch all these mouse people clawing at the glass, jabbering away, trying to make you feel like shit because you won’t do what they want–won’t give them more money, won’t be more successful, won’t see them more often. Then imagine that there is a volume-control button on the bottle. Turn it all the way up for a minute, and listen to the stream of angry, neglected, guilt-mongering voices. Then turn it all the way down and watch the frantic mice lunge at the glass, trying to get to you. Leave it down, and get back to your shitty first draft.”
Then Lamott adds, humorously:
“A writer friend of mine suggests opening the jar and shooting them all in the head. But I think he’s a little angry, and I’m sure nothing like this would ever occur to you.”
(Of course nothing like that has ever occurred to me.)
I felt quite enlightened after reading this passage. Somehow, Lamott transitioned from giving advice on how to sit down and write your first draft, to continuing to live even when one feels overwhelmed. It was incredible to me how she pinpointed exact feelings that I, and I think that many, feel almost daily. We constantly have voices telling us to do things and occasionally, in order for peace, we need to just turn the volume down.
I highly recommend Bird By Bird to anyone who pursues writing, and to people who don’t pursue writing, because, as you can see, it can be insightful to just about anyone.