I’ll admit it. I’m a sucker for a good quote.
I’m not referring to glib cliches like “Live, laugh, love” or taglines such as “Sweat is just fat crying.” (Ew!) You can keep those t-shirts.
Skilled writers curate powerful verbs, adjectives and nouns. They shuffle, chop, revamp and refine until the sentence magically teleports an image from their brains into yours like a hologram. In the end, you forget you’re even reading.
One of these gurus is Anne Lamott. (If you haven’t read “Bird by Bird,” don’t walk; fly to Amazon.com and order your copy.) Anne’s thoughts are an effortless yet razor-sharp combination of humor and poignancy.
Writers’ minds are prone to wander. (What? Sorry, I was checking Facebook.) In Bird by Bird, her guide to writing, Anne encourages young authors to cultivate patience during the writing process. We need to gently train our minds to return to the task, a point she emphasizes in this sentence:
“Try looking at your mind as a wayward puppy that you are trying to paper train. You don’t drop-kick a puppy into the neighbor’s yard every time it piddles on the floor. You just keep bringing it back to the newspaper.”
Puppy. Sure, I can see myself as a puppy. Eager, cheerful, adventurous. And puppies are…wait, drop-kicked?! Heaven forbid we mistreat our four-legged friends!
That mild shocker drives her point home. Her metaphor crafts a mental picture of an emotionally laden yet familiar experience. Forget “use the bathroom” or “have an accident.” Nope, Anne chooses short, punchy verbs that you probably won’t find in a formal textbook. Piddle. And you know what? I got it.