Writing advice from Anne Lamott

If you’re struggling to put pen to paper, consider this kick in the keister from a venerated novelist.

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Anne Lamott is known for her musings on grace and “Traveling Mercies,” but she has no time for procrastination.

In a recent conversation at TED’s headquarters, Lamott offered 14 tips for writers to overpower excuses with creative juices. Her first tip, to “set your sights small,” is an exhortation to stiff-arm the enormity of the blank page.

“You don’t have to write a whole book on birds,” she says. “Just pick one bird.”

Lamott then advises to “think of your writing as a pond.” The idea is to create an ecosystem for your narrative. She explains:

I picture a novel or a work of nonfiction as a lily pond. I buy poster-sized sheets of graph paper, and I’ll start at one end and draw a big circle. I put what I know into that lily pad, like who the characters are, what this is going to be about, and when and where this is happening. Then I’ll begin filling out a few of the lily pads that I’m going to land on.

The next tip: Don’t fear the copy reaper—that is, the delete button. Lamott says:

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