Last week I attended the Festival of Faith and Writing where I met up with old and new friends, connected with writing colleagues, and listened to talks by fantastic authors such as Richard Foster and Anne Lamott.
Lamott was especially dazzling, essentially tearing up her notes and taking us on a meandering but brilliant talk about writing, Jesus, and just everything else in life. Little rabbit trails in her talks kept showing up again and again with added nuance that brought them back to her other points or reached a point of resolution.
Most striking to me, Lamott has the manner of a highly self-aware person who has mastered the art of sobriety: one step at a time, one day at a time. Time seems to slow down during her talks. Her simplicity and straightforward honesty is refreshing, but I can’t help wondering if these admirable traits began as mere survival tools.
What if the tools that lead to sobriety are also the tools that can help us become better writers, better followers of Jesus, and better people?
I wanted to share some of my notes from Lamott’s talk, but I also wanted to reflect on them a bit. I’ve added a few thoughts in between each quote.
“The hour before the world gets to you is precious and sacred time.”
– Anne Lamott
The nights were lively, the naps were short, and my need for coffee was the only constant. During Ethan’s first year, I didn’t start writing at 5 am because I wanted to be even more sleep-deprived. I started writing early because it was my only option.
I had to write. That was the non-negotiable. The ideas kept rising from the foggy abyss of my weary mind. I needed to write, and if you want to be a writer, the first rule is that you make writing a top priority and fit everything else in your day around it.
“If you can’t find an hour to write, even Jesus can’t help you.”
– Anne Lamott
Much to my surprise, the first year of Ethan’s life was also one of my most productive as a writer. In a sense, it had to be. I landed three different book contracts in the months before he was born for two co-authored books and a book that I’d been working on for years.
I wasn’t starting any of these books completely from scratch, but writing, editing, and marketing these books in roughly a year’s time has pushed me right to my limits quite often.
While having a baby took a huge bite out of my writing time, adding exhaustion and regular distractions, having a baby also forced me to do the kinds of things that made me a better writer: taking walks and getting up early.
“Get up early and work early. Hike every day. Give people water and return phone calls.”
“‘Anyone would understand…’ is the voice of the devil.”
“You don’t need an office. You need structure and discipline.”
– Anne Lamott
My office became the front porch. Ethan was my sidekick in either a baby swing or an ergo carrier. As he grew more able-bodied, I could stick him in a jumper with lights, music, and spinning animals for 20 minutes.
I woke up early, took long walks while he napped, and chipped away at my writing whenever I could string a few minutes together. It was tough, exhausting, and a dream come true to spend so much time with my sweet, beautiful son.
Despite the wonder of those days, I still had anxiety about my vulnerable income that could dip and rise with a simple email.
“It’s inconvenient for the world if you hold onto your creative work.”
– Anne Lamott
It’s striking to see how some Christians dump on stay at home and work from home dads who aren’t the “primary bread winners.” Their comments are demeaning for both wives who work and husbands who either stay home or share the workload.
I spent my teen years and early twenties under the microscopes of people who REPEATEDLY asked things like:
“English? Bible? What can you do with that?”
“How will you raise a family?”
“Did your parents pay for college so you could do THAT?”
When a Christian marriage “expert” suggested that my sense of holy calling as a writer was merely a selfish pursuit of my own dream at the expense of my family’s security, I reacted with a lot of rage. Letting go of that judgment took time. Forgiving him took even longer.
On the days I skip my morning prayers, I may still refer to him as “that asshole…”
We’re all a work in progress, right?
Creative work is not convenient for people who don’t have the same calling. If you don’t go to bed with sentences and paragraphs dancing and tramping about in your mind, you won’t understand why the father of a newborn would start waking up at 5 am to write.
In addition, it’s always unsettling for those playing it safe to see someone taking risks, pursuing a calling, or even failing. Sometimes it feels better to shame or judge the risk takers in order to validate the choice to play it safe.
I really get that. I have my moments some days. I need more faith to trust that God can provide where I think he’s leading me. Stepping into my calling as a writer has brought up one question after another about my mission in life and what that looks like on a day to day basis, including the big question: how will I get paid?
Those big picture questions can be overwhelming and oppressive. I need to think them through, but I also need to take one step at a time, one day at a time.
We sort our lives out my prayer at a time, one word at a time, and one moment at a time. I want to arrive at the place where I finally have security, clear direction for EVERYTHING, and a pile of amazing book ideas—book ideas that people will buy in droves as soon as they’re released.
I don’t know how things work for anyone else, but Anne Lamott’s words ring true for me. We’re all recovering from something. We can all fall prey to some sort of addiction. There may be spiritual deliverance for us that will help, but there’s replacing the daily faithfulness of discipline for writing and prayer.
We make time and space to write and pray, scratching out one word after another. We trust that God is present. We trust that the final results are not up to us, swallowing our pride and taking another step forward in faith.
4 thoughts on “Anne Lamott on Writing One Early Morning at a Time”
I absolutely love this, Ed!
As a writer, I use the “just waiting on the muse to show up” as an excuse for not writing, but when it really should be–just show up and do the work! Loved talking to you briefly this past weekend.
Thanks Sarah! Good to see you as well. I think I was joking about how we were interrupted every time we tried to talk, and then someone interrupted me… again. Ha! I hope your husband wasn’t too overwhelmed by the chatty bloggers!
This is lovely. I enjoyed much of the same content of Lamott’s talks–although I had to slip out of both the plenary and the Q&A a little early because I had my nine-week-old with me. What a perfect picture of this very idea: slipping out of the two sessions I most wanted to attend because the baby was fussy? There are some things you don’t get to do when you have kids and your life, like all lives, is complicated. But there are also things you MUST do. I may have a four-year-old and a two-month-old, but I must write. Even if it means getting up extra early, or staying up extra late, or going to the garage (my “office”) and letting the baby be fussy for his dad while I force myself to stay out of earshot, I *must* write.
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