Anne Lamott is a novelist and non-fiction author with 17 books and numerous essays to her credit. She writes about deeply personal topics, like her struggle with alcoholism three decades ago, single motherhood, and depression. She also writes frequently about her Christian faith.
Many readers know her for her bestselling books like Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, and Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. Her most recent book, Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy, was released in April 2017.
Inspired by an existential question about life and death posed by her seven-year-old grandson one night, Lamott sat down a few days before her 61st birthday, and decided to compile a list of everything she knew for sure. "There's so little truth in the popular culture, and it's good to be sure of a few things."
Lamott recently took to the TED stage where she shared some of the things she wrote down in a talk, "12 truths I learned from life and writing." While her list covers some of the deeper truths she's learned about life, one topic she also touches upon in her list is one she knows well: writing. Lamott shares some advice for writers that are struggling to find the right topic to write about, or who are having a hard time just getting started.
"If you don't know where to start, remember that every single thing that happened to you is yours, and you get to tell it."
"You're going to feel like hell if you wake up someday and you never wrote the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves of your heart: your stories, memories, visions and songs -- your truth, your version of things -- in your own voice. That's really all you have to offer us, and that's also why you were born."
We could summarize this brilliant and inspiring advice in one sentence:
"Tell your story."
Why this is great advice.
Lamott's advice resonated with me because I've discovered that when I tell stories about my life, even if it's a brief personal anecdote to open-up an essay that has nothing to do with me, I find the process of writing that much easier. I write more quickly and productively, and my writing elicits a much stronger (and usually positive) reaction from my readers.
Writing can be hard sometimes, but it shouldn't always feel like a chore. The quickest way to conquer the blank page (or screen) is to dip into your past and recall the stories that shaped who you are today.
Nobody knows your stories, and the lessons you've learned from them, better than yourself. Mining the stories buried in your recent and distant past and sharing them in your writing shouldn't require hours, days, or weeks of researching "expert sources." When you tell your story, the best expert source you can find is you.
Worried that what you write is, well, less than perfect? Lamott has the perfect advice for you:
"Every writer you know writes really terrible first drafts, but they keep their butt in the chair. That's the secret of life. That's probably the main difference between you and them. They just do it. They do it by prearrangement with themselves. They do it as a debt of honor. They tell stories that come through them one day at a time, little by little."