Anne Lamott’s thoughts on love, writing, and being judgy (Transcript)

ReThinking with Adam Grant
Anne Lamott’s thoughts on love, writing, and being judgy
April 16, 2024

[00:00:00] Adam Grant:
What is something you rethought while writing somehow? 

[00:01:57] Anne Lamott:
Well, because I have the classic writer's brain of having equal proportions of bad self-esteem and grandiosity, I kept thinking this is real. I wanna leave behind everything I know that's true for my son and grandson for when I'm gone. And, the other part of me was going, oh my god talk about beating a dead horse. Because as you said, these, my themes are run through all 20 of my books the same theme, so. 

[00:02:35] Adam Grant:
Hey everyone, it's Adam Grant. Welcome back to ReThinking, my podcast on the science of what makes us tick with the TED Audio Collective. I'm an organizational psychologist and I'm taking you inside the minds of fascinating people to explore new thoughts and new ways of thinking. 

My guest today is Anne Lamott. She's a beloved writer of 20 books spanning fiction and nonfiction, as well as one of the greatest books ever on writing: Bird by Bird. Anne has written eloquently about complex topics ranging from addiction to depression to motherhood. Her new book Somehow is about love, and she takes a deep dive into self-compassion. 

[00:03:16] Anne Lamott:
Oh, I love talking about this. Oh my God. It's like the T-shirt that says Work in Progress. Please be patient. 

[00:03:24] Adam Grant:
Speaking of patience, this conversation has been a long time coming. It gave me a chance to fulfill a commitment I made 12 years ago. More on that later. In the meantime, between her writing projects, Anna's been a Guggenheim fellow and a Sunday school teacher. 
I was excited to talk with her about the challenges of cultivating character strengths like kindness and humility, and how she pursues her own happiness. 

Hi Anne. 

[00:03:55] Anne Lamott:
Hi Adam. 

[00:03:56] Adam Grant:
What a treat it is to meet you. I've been devouring your writing for, I guess about as long as I could read, save a few years. 

[00:04:04] Anne Lamott:
Oh, thank you. 

[00:04:06] Adam Grant:
Let us start by asking a question I love to ask guests at the beginning. As, as a psychologist, I spend a lot of my time trying to rethink things I thought I knew, which is something I feel like you do constantly in your books and something you invite your readers to do. 

What is it that you want us to rethink with Somehow? 

[00:04:24] Anne Lamott:
Let me just say, there was a priest who helped Bill Wilson get AA started in the thirties and he was not an alcoholic, but he said to Bill, sometimes I think that heaven is just a new pair of glasses. So, that to me is how I, I rethink on every day as I'm aware that I'm seeing the glasses through which I can see everything that's a mess and that should be a lot better. And, I consciously put on the better pair of glasses where I can see really how lovely and sweet and kind of goofy most of it is. 

[00:04:56] Adam Grant:
I love the way you talk about what can be seen on a 10 minute walk. Can you talk to me a little bit about that? 

[00:05:02] Anne Lamott:
Well, that's my husband's line. 

His name's Neal Allen and he told me, really when we met seven and a half years ago, everything that is true and beautiful can be seen or ex, and experienced on a 10 minute walk if you're paying attention. What happens is we set out on our walks and what he calls the inner critic starts chattering at us at what we should be doing, what would be more productive for us to be doing, or what a mess that neighbor's yard is, but that if we're paying attention, we just notice beauty and love and, and funny things all around us. Our neighbor's ridiculous dog and nature changing before our very eyes and our own heartbeat. The percussion of our own lives, our breath, our heartbeat, our pulse, and if we start to notice it on a 10-minute walk, we see the divine, we see the neighbors, we see our own sometimes disappointing selves. We just see life. 

[00:06:01] Adam Grant:
You said my lifelong cross to bear has been secret derisive judgments, a pinball machine of sizing up everything in everyone. I'm working on it, but the healing is going slightly more slowly than one would hope. 
I don't perceive you as a judgmental person in the way that I read your writing, but obviously I don't have access to your thoughts or your daily conversations. Uh, tell me about the, the version of you that you're working through in that sentence. 

[00:06:28] Anne Lamott:
The great novelist Gabriel García Márquez said there's our public life, our personal life, and our secret life. 
And, in my secret life, I come face to face with a kind of coldness in me and a endless comparison and the endless judgment of whether somebody or something is worth my time and it's just painful to come face to face with it.

I'm really generous and I'm really patient with people and, and I'm all sorts of things that I'm sure you share Adam. Also, I can be really petty. There's some sort of meter that's running that's saying how much time to spend with this person or that person, who matters more, who can further the project of me, the me movie, who I can just wave off and, oh, like just this morning it was hurting me and I did what you do if you're, if you're blessed. 

I said it out loud to my husband and he said, “Oh yeah, same. You know? Because we were raised this way. The parents and the culture told us to do better and to do better than everybody else without making them dislike us for being so much better than they are.” So, it's a tight rope walk. But, the difference in being older and having this, these kind of cold aspects of me in my secret life is that I have tools to deal with them. 

For the first 50 or so years, I thought you should keep that secret. It's disgusting. And, if people know you too deeply, they'll run screaming for their cute little lives and what you discover when you're older is that if you share something like that with someone, the person inevitably just nods and goes, oh, me too. 

Same. You know, it's like I see this as a bullseye and inside is me and little Annie, my little one, and God. And, then in the first circle, outside the bullseye, there's my husband, my best friend, my son, and then two circles out, a, a number of friends, 10 friends, and then on the third, and what I write about is deep secretive stuff, but that's about four rings out from the bullseye. It's stuff I'm pretty sure you would get, you personally, Adam, if I shared it with you. You wouldn't judge me for it and it would be stuff that, without sharing it, I would judge myself for. So, the sharing is the medicine.

[00:08:52] Adam Grant:
I loved your line that expectations are resentment waiting to happen. 

[00:08:57] Anne Lamott:
Yeah, premeditated resentments. Yeah. 

[00:09:00] Adam Grant:
It's striking to me that a lot of people learn that at some point in their lives, and then their solution is either to lower their expectations, which does not seem to me to be a way to bring out the best in others or to try to erase their expectations altogether, which with all due respect to Buddhism is not something that most humans can pull off. 

How do you still hold people to reasonably high standards, but avoid resenting them when they fall short of those standards? 

[00:09:28] Anne Lamott:
I got sober in 1986, and so I've been around a lot of very wise elders who are sober also, and they taught me that the willingness comes from the pain. You know, I'm not willing to change or to look at stuff in me unless it's driving me crazy, mentally hurting me, or in some other way, existentially hurting me. But, I guess I disagree with you that lowering my expectations for someone doesn't, um, enable or encourage them to, to, to do a, a, a worse job at being in the world or responding to me or to humankind.

Over and over again when I expect my son or my grandson or my husband to do things the way that I think would be ideal or to make choices for their own life that I think are obvious to me, I drive everybody crazy. And, so in lowering my expectations, it's also goes hand in hand with releasing people to their own hero's journey and releasing them to their own decisions and mistakes. I, I let people make more mistakes now. I, I try to protect myself from there, from the consequences of their mistakes, but I let them make 'em because the willingness to change for them is gonna come from the pain too of, of doing this same stupid stuff over and over again. 

My son's 35 and left to my own devices, I would sort of run alongside him with a juice box and chapstick and an owner's manual, you know, and tell him what I'm positive would be a, a good decision for him to make. And, that's abuse. That's just wrong. It's disrespectful. And, so what you're saying is true and at the same time I need to release people and let them see what makes sense for them, what they're able to live with.

[00:11:21] Adam Grant:
I taught negotiations for a number of years, um, largely trying to get people whose instinct was to steamroll others to try to take the time to understand others' interests. And, then conversely, people who tended to self-sacrifice to figure out how to set boundaries and, and actually advocate for themselves. 

And, in both cases, the, the research that really, I guess I found helpful, personally, but also a lot of my students did, was the idea that instead of just lowering our expectations, we should differentiate between expectations and aspirations. And, that when we walked to the bargaining table with someone, you know, not just in a professional negotiation, but also at home with a spouse or a child, that what we could do is, is say, I have very high aspirations, uh, which are my ideals and hopes for how this interaction's gonna go.

I also have modest expectations and I know what the minimum acceptable outcome would be, and I, I found that distinction useful to say if my aspirations are high and my expectations are modest, I can hold people to high standards while also not being too disappointed in them when they fall short of those standards because there's a zone of acceptable behavior that falls between aspirations and expectations.

Curious to get your reaction to that. 

[00:12:37] Anne Lamott:
Yeah. Well, I think that makes sense. For me, personally, I was raised to do very, very well. 
I was raised by intellectuals and high achievers and I knew that if I wanted a sense of value, I needed to achieve at a very high level, which I was able to do. And, it was really crippling because what got marbled into that was the perfectionism. In Bird By Bird, there's a whole chapter on perfectionism because I think it's the voice of the enemy. 

It's a voice of the oppressor and it will keep you crazy your whole life. So, modest expectations for me was a very learned behavior. It didn't come with the territory. I really think that Earth is forgiveness school and the hardest thing we do here is to forgive ourselves and to tackle for me the perfectionism and to forgive myself for being so human, making so many mistakes, and having fallen short and dropped so many stitches is the hardest and most valuable work I've done during my brief stay here. 

[00:13:48] Adam Grant:
One of the things that, that your work has really pushed me to, to question a lot is what it means to be kind and generous. My, my first book was a case for being a giver rather than a taker, and then after the book came out, I saw your TED talk where you said that help is the sunny side of control. 

And, that just stopped me in my tracks because I, I think I've believed, as long as I can remember that if we could get more people to be givers, to think about helping others wherever they can, uh, the world would be a better place. And, yet here you are saying stop helping so much. Don't get your help in goodness all over everybody. 

I felt listening to that, like you were talking to me and I started wondering what and who might I be controlling in a friendly way through my efforts to help other people? So, I'd love to hear the backstory. What led you to the realization that help could be the sunny side of control and, and how do you manage that in your own daily life?

[00:14:50] Anne Lamott:
My mother was a black belt codependent and her battle cry, because she had terrible self-esteem, was to pump herself up by being a professional do-gooder and it was really all about her need to have a sense of value by being a valued other people. And, it was really toxic. It was toxic for her. It destroyed her life and it really, really hurt her three kids. 

I'm like you. I, I'm a helper in the world. I really help a lot of people as a intention to be a part of the solution and not part of the problem. Our most precious offering, I think is to make time and listen. My husband says that life tilts to the good and that we tilt to the good and that goodness along with like curiosity and whatever are qualities that we love and appreciate and try to further. 

But, there's this kind of help, and I can see it every day in how I secretly respond to my son and grandson and husband and best friend, which is that I think I have good ideas for them. And, I wanna quote, unquote help, but that's really what I wanna do is manipulate them into coming to see what an excellent idea I'm having for them, or to make it easier for them through money or the loan of my car or whatever, to do what I am just so sure would be an upgrade for them. 

And, that is control. That is trying to control other people, and that is toxic, and it hurts. It hurts them, and it hurts me. Do you see the difference? 

[00:16:32] Adam Grant:
Definitely. It's, I think you're, you're speaking to a distinction that when psychologists study it, they often talk about the difference between autonomy oriented and dependency oriented, helping. 

[00:16:40] Anne Lamott:
That sounds right. 

[00:16:41] Adam Grant:
I'm here to, to try to support you in, in what you think is best for you versus I want you to need me. 
How do you find yourself distinguishing in between the two? Because I, I feel like sometimes there's a gray area and it's a bit of a tightrope walk. Sometimes as parents, it's easy to believe that we know what's best for our kids better than they do.

[00:17:01] Anne Lamott:
Mm-Hmm. My sons have grown up. He has got 13 years clean and sober. He has a beautiful life. We're very close and he needs to separate out and be his own person. We raise our children to leave us and we can stay close to them in our heart, but they're not under our command anymore. He has an emotional anchor. 

I have an emotional anchor. All God's children's got an emotional acre and as an adult you really get to fashion your own acre. You get to either grow vegetables, you could grow alphabetized flowers. If you have a little OCD, you could have rested car parts. In my case, I probably have almost entirely bookshelves and a small refrigerator, and you get to do that. 

And, for me to barge through Sam's gate and try to get him to plant or arrange what my vision for his life is, it's just wrong. It's just morally wrong. The way I tell the difference is that one of us gets really annoyed and I just have to remember the willingness comes from the pain. And, what I have to do is stop. 

I mean, that's the secret of all spiritual growth, is to kind of grip yourself by the wrist. And, I say, Annie, stop. Release him. Release him. Release him. And, then I do what I do to get back into my own center. I do my breathing exercises. I do some meditation. I go for a walk. I make sure I, I've eaten. In recovery, they say hungry, angry, lonely, tired, which spells halt. 

So, I halt and I check in with myself and I just release him. And, because I'm a praying person, I ask for prayers. So, I write his name down and tuck it into a god box. And, I just release him to the care of his own higher power, which is not me. I am a retired higher power. If somebody asks my advice, I'm, I can give it. 
If they don't ask for my advice, and I give it, it, it's insulting, you know, and it's, it's off. I'm off. 

[00:19:07] Adam Grant:
So, it sounds, it sounds like you've, you've evolved when it comes to preventing the helping hand from striking again. 

[00:19:14] Anne Lamott:
Yeah. And, I do live by that line. Help me not spew my goodness all over everybody. It's not helpful. 

[00:19:23] Adam Grant:
Uh, it seems like in a way you were writing to yourself then when you wrote about lighthouses. You wrote that lighthouses don't go running all over an island looking for boats to save. They just stand there shining. 

[00:19:34] Anne Lamott:
I have lost so much of the loving awareness that I am deep down and my attention to all that is beautiful and sweet and worth noticing by racing around with these endless to-do lists and people to go save and fix and rescue. 

And, what I do is, what I just described is I try to get centered. I try to live from what Ram Dass called loving awareness as the definition of our soul. And, I try to live there and give off love and create love and create welcome without the madness of racing around. Whenever I give a talk, I urge people to take two things off their to-do list for that day. 

And, so to stop doing that instead to receive and accept and kind of beam out the love that we are, by definition as human beings, hearts and souls and spirits, it's like a magnetic energy that you can put out into the world. I know you've had this experience. You see somebody and they, you just grok them because they're giving it off. They're, they're, they've got a little light shining. Sometimes, they're very old. Of course, all babies shine brightly. But, you see somebody and their light just seems to be different in their face, and it's not makeup and it's not over caffeination, you know, they've got delight within them of self-love, a little bit of wisdom, a little bit of equanimity, a little serenity, a little bit of peaceful coexistence with people who can be so annoying, so difficult. 

And, when you see somebody, you wanna just go stand by them, you know, and get a little of their light on you. 

[00:21:47] Adam Grant:
I feel like now might be a good time for us to shift gears to the lightning round. So, first question is, what is the worst advice you've ever gotten 

[00:21:56] Anne Lamott:
To try harder and do better.

[00:21:59] Adam Grant:
I don't know. I feel like that's, that's served your readers well. It just hasn't been fun for you. 

[00:22:07] Anne Lamott:
My priest friend Terry Richie says the point is not to try harder, it's to resist less. 

[00:22:11] Adam Grant:
I like that. Okay. What is the worst writing advice that you see given regularly? 

[00:22:18] Anne Lamott:
To know what you're doing in the very beginning of having started something new. No one knows what they're doing. You find out what you're doing by doing it, by writing a really, really terrible first draft. 

[00:22:29] Adam Grant:
Well, you've liberated me and many others to produce many such first drafts in service of a decent second draft or ninth draft or 23rd draft. Thank you for that. What is the question you have for me as a psychologist? 

[00:22:44] Anne Lamott:
Where do you even start when you find yourself kind of clenched in, in a very, very stuck place with something that's extremely important to you? 

[00:22:56] Adam Grant:
Oh, that, that feels like the story of my work life. Yeah. Where, where do I go? 

[00:23:00] Anne Lamott:
Okay, but it's lightning round, so you have to answer in one sentence. 

[00:23:04] Adam Grant:
Holding me accountable. Shakespeare would say, I've been hoisted with my own pitard here, haven't I? 

[00:23:10] Anne Lamott:

[00:23:11] Adam Grant:
This, this lightning round is extremely cruel. Who would do that to another human being? 

[00:23:14] Anne Lamott:
I don't know. 

[00:23:15] Adam Grant:
What do I do when I'm stuck? I remind myself that very few creative ideas come from forced to effort. 

[00:23:22] Anne Lamott:
Mm-Hmm, that's right. 

[00:23:23] Adam Grant:
And, then I do something else. 

[00:23:26] Anne Lamott:
Mm-Hmm. Right. Maybe you remember to breathe. You know, the secret is always to go left foot, right foot, left foot, breathe. Because when we're clenched and uptight about something, we're not breathing very effectively, very nourishingly. 

[00:23:45] Adam Grant:
In the classes I teach, one of my favorite exercises is called the reciprocity ring, which is created by Cheryl and Wayne Baker, and the exercise is simple but profound. What you do is you invite everybody in the room to make a request for something they want or need, but can't get on their own. And, then you invite the whole room to try to use their knowledge and their networks to attempt to fulfill the request. 

And, it's a beautiful illustration of number one, how you just cannot anticipate what the people around you want and need. Number two, how much you underestimate the sheer capacity of a whole room full of people to help fulfill other people's dreams. And, number three, how generosity often begins, not with an offer, but with an ask. 

And, in 2012 I ran one of these exercises. There was at the time, a master's student, uh, now a psychology doctorate owner named re Reb Rebele, who wrote a simple request, which was, can anyone help me meet Anne Lamott? 

[00:24:48] Anne Lamott:

[00:24:49] Adam Grant:
It was the most unusual request in the room because, you know, most people had a very specific problem they wanted solved or a goal they were trying to achieve, and Reb had stood out in many ways already for having, you know, deep questions that no one could answer, which was in equal parts inspiring and annoying, also, for just being unbelievably generous and, and living the, the principles of, of giving that I was trying to teach. And, I got a follow up email from Reb saying “Why Anne Lamott, she's the most influential writer I've ever read. And, more importantly, her collective work is the single resource that's been most helpful to me in my work to help others. And, I hope to someday properly thank her in person.” So, nearly a dozen years later, Reb meet Anne.

[00:25:34] Reb Rebele:
Hi, Anne. 

[00:25:35] Anne Lamott:
Hi, sweetheart. I'm so glad to see you.

[00:25:38] Reb Rebele:
Likewise. It's an absolute pleasure and an honor. 

[00:25:41] Anne Lamott:
Mm. Was there something you specifically wanted to ask?

[00:25:45] Reb Rebele:
Yeah, well, certainly I wanted to say thank you. So, let me say that upfront 'cause yeah, as, as Adam said, you've been a huge, huge influence. I've been reading you for, you know, a couple of decades now, uh, and I've been reading you write about your own past and writing about how other people can mine their pasts for creative material.

And, I'm just curious, how has your experience with an approach to writing memoir changed over the years and, sort of, what's similar and what's different about writing about your life and writing to make sense of life when you're in your twenties or your thirties versus your forties or your fifties. 

[00:26:24] Anne Lamott:
You know, Flannery O'Connor said that if you survive childhood, you have enough to write for the rest of your life. 
And, I, I, I know that to be true, but you know, when you get old you start remembering stuff that you've forgotten, that you tucked away in the attic and it comes out because something rolfs you, a scent, a smell, a um, a certain piece of music. And, so there's always more material that can just be piercing that you hadn't thought about in 30 years, 40 years. 

And, so, Henry James said that the writer is someone on whom nothing is lost, and, and I live by that. I always have paper index cards in my back pocket and a pen. And, when it comes to me, these snippets of memory, I scribble 'em down. When I was a younger writer, like in my twenties and thirties, I had such a fixation on people liking me and admiring me, and because of the movement of grace in my life and old age, that has really changed and I don't care now if you think my memories and the way that I capture them and what I make of life is ironic or literary enough for you.

And, now I write, I think in a way that is more vulnerable and I write way more towards compassion. You wanna do the deeper and deeper dive into what has been true for you, who you really are beyond the persona, beyond the, the way that you curate your memories. 

You know? You wanna go one archeological level below that, and that has turned out to be what I love to read. And, if I were gonna give you any guidance at all after what Adam and I talked about, about not giving advice is what I tell all my writing students, which is write what you'd love to come upon, you know? 

And, if you'd love to come upon deeply vulnerable, just on the verge of cringe honesty and memoir or, or in a novel or in an autobiography or whatever, see what your own version of that looks like because it's what I love. It's what I love. And, so that's one of the reasons I write the, the stuff I do. 

[00:28:37] Reb Rebele:
I don't think anybody could read your writing and accuse you of having cared less over the years, but it's sort of really, I think, quite poignant that you're sort of saying that it's about caring less about, you know, what one audience thinks and perhaps caring more about the things that matter most to you.
One other just quick question is, as somebody who's been both a writer and a writing teacher, I wonder what's similar and what's different about the satisfaction that comes from producing a creative work yourself versus helping another person get their creative work to the place where they wanted it to be. 

[00:29:09] Anne Lamott:
Well, that's a beautiful question. I can answer it I think best by sharing I got sober when I was 32, which is almost 38 years ago, and all I wanted was to get well and to not die. And, I wanted to start living in a way that was more esteemable, that was gentler, that was more giving. And, then after a little time, probably a few years, I started realizing that the gift was in other people healing.

And, I think it's the same with teaching, writing and being a writer. Because what I love is to watch other writers get really good and I think that comes with being older is that the, the gift is watching other people bloom. But, I can't have it if I'm not tending to my own garden and doing the work that has been on, on my heart and in my, my spirit and my soul to communicate as a writer. 

Does that make sense? You know, it, it's both things. It's my own garden and then sharing what I've been so freely given. 

[00:30:16] Reb Rebele:
Yeah. That's great. Well, I'm gonna turn it back over to Adam, but, um, thank you so much, Anne. It's, it's really been a delight.

[00:30:23] Anne Lamott:
I'm so glad to get to meet you and spend a little while with you. 
So, Reb, you take gentle care, okay? 

[00:30:29] Reb Rebele:
Oh, thank you, Anne. You too. 

[00:30:31] Adam Grant:
I wanted to pick up on another age dynamic that you have spoken to. So, I think you were, you were quoting, is it Veronica Goines, your pastor?

[00:30:42] Anne Lamott:
Oh, yeah. Uhhuh. 

[00:30:43] Adam Grant:
Who says that peace is joy at rest, and joy is peace on its feet. 

[00:30:48] Anne Lamott:
Mm-Hmm. That was her mother who was a Baptist preacher. 

[00:30:52] Adam Grant:
This tracks with, with something that research by Cassie Mogilner and colleagues has documented, which is young people tend to define happiness mostly as joy. They think about excitement as their ideal state. But, as people get older, they increasingly think about happiness more as peace or calm. Why do you think that is? 

[00:31:11] Anne Lamott:
I think partly there's a grace in exhaustion. I think that's where grace often rears its head is when we've run out of any more good ideas. And, when I was younger it really was like a, a pinball machine of, of new ideas and new approaches, but it all had to do with this sort of forward thrust, right, of moving myself forward along the path. 

And, I think partly you get tired, but partly you also realize at some point that all of those things that you quote unquote achieved were sort of fixes or hits and that they wear off. Peace doesn't wear off and that joy, which is, oh, I love that state, when I'm in joy, I'm, I'm not gonna say a bad word about it, but that it is, kind of, temporal. 

It's going to pass and then, and the peace is gonna pass too. But, when you're in peace and you're not spiking and you're not thinking of what you could be doing or should be doing, and you're just in awareness and, and everything's kind of all right with the world, to me that's what heaven is like. 

[00:32:13] Adam Grant:
You think that joy is more fleeting than peace. 

[00:32:16] Anne Lamott:
Definitely, definitely. But, there's also the joy of the young, and I have a quieter joy now. We have a nine month old kitten, and I can tell you it is not peaceful very often, but it makes us laugh and it just is such a delight and it brings such a sweetness into the world, and that's a kind of joy. That is different than when I was 40 or 45 and got in the car, was someplace to go and somebody to dazzle and somebody to interact with in a way that was gonna get me high, right? 

So, I don't go for high so much. I go for sweet much more often. And, sweet and peace are, are really similar. 

[00:32:55] Adam Grant:
I wanted to talk a little bit more about shitty first drafts.

[00:32:59] Anne Lamott:

[00:32:59] Adam Grant:
One of the things that, that I found as a writer is once you've published a book or two, it's a lot easier to tolerate a shitty first draft because you know that there, there might be something promising on the other side of it. I, I've watched so many first time writers not believe that and doubt that the shitty first draft is gonna turn into anything worthwhile. How do you recommend navigating that? 

[00:33:24] Anne Lamott:
I recommend that you have other people to read your work for you. I love writing groups. I had a, the first time I taught writing at this bookstore where I teach every year a group formed of four or five people, vast, sometimes four, sometimes five. And, they were all really good writers and they were all very unprofessional. 

And, they just agreed to meet every second Thursday and have handed each other the pages earlier in the week so that they could all critique 'em together and see how they could bring the work up, you know, burnish it, so bring it up to the highest standard it could be. And, you could have one other person who is that for you.

You could find something at the local JC where you have to be accountable. You have to show up with 10 new pages every two weeks. That's the price of admission. If it's just you and your inner critic reading your pages, you're gonna give up. You're gonna think this sucks, or you're gonna think, this is almost certainly gonna be the next Oprah book, although I'm only on page 35. 

But, if you have someone else who has faith in you, who loves your work, and loves what you're up to when you don't, it's lifesaving. I've lost confidence in all 20 books that I've written at some point, and sometimes for a, a stretch of time. I lost confidence in my second novel, which was called Rosie, in which my editor at the time wrote me a letter and said, this is the hardest letter I've ever had to write. 

And, that is that you need to put this in the drawer and get on with your next book. I didn't personally believe it and I loved the characters and I made a commitment to the characters, not to the book. And, I ended, I ended up writing the book, which a lot of people have liked and which I'm glad I wrote. 

So, that's kind of paradoxical that you do need other people to look at your work with eyes of respect, who get you when you don't get you anymore. And, at the same time, you need get to ask yourself, is this something that I just am so sure about that I, I'm not ready to give up on right now? 

[00:35:27] Adam Grant:
You've written sometimes when you make a mistake or you produce something terrible, you feel like you've pulled out the wrong block at Jenga and everything just crashes to the ground, which is…

[00:35:38] Anne Lamott:
It all crashes down. Yep.

[00:35:40] Adam Grant:
I was connecting this when, when I read it and somehow back to Bird by Bird and linking it to the observation you've made that messes are the artist's true friend. I, I wonder how you think about sort of the, the process of making a mess as necessary to creating a work of art. 

[00:35:59] Anne Lamott:
Well, I think making a mess is central to having a decent life here. And, for me, everything that has born fruit has been about making messes of relationships and, and finding the way through that, finding the, the thing inside ourselves that keeps over and over again sabotaging us or whatever. And, with writing in Bird by Bird, I wrote a lot about index cards. 

I take notes when I'm on a trail hiking. I take notes when I'm in the express line at Whole Foods. And, then my students always say, well then what do you do with them? If you were in my office right now, you'd see some piles of note paper. Uh, I always urge my students to print, to over print out, you know, to not do it all on the computer. 

To read their fir, their shitty first draft on paper. And, so I walk into this office from which I'm speaking to you and I see p-piles of paper, I see index cards, and I, I think it looks like a fertile field to me. My husband strung up a laundry line from one end of my office, which, which is tiny to the other, and then I have clothes pins on it and I have pieces of paper clipped to the clothes pins 'cause I want them right in my face. Right?

[00:37:12] Adam Grant:
You were talking earlier about how you've over time become less concerned about what people think of you, but it's clear you still care what the reader thinks and feels about your writing. 

[00:37:27] Anne Lamott:
Of course I do. 

[00:37:29] Adam Grant:
Well, tell me more.

[00:37:31] Anne Lamott:
A, I have to make a living and I also, the reason I'm a writer, it's like the Maya Angelou why does a cage, caged bird sing? Because it has a voice, it has a song, and so I have this song, and by it takes me forever to craft it into being a story or a memoir or a collection of, of meditations on, in this case, love. And, when I hand it out to you, just even to you, Adam, it's really my heart and soul in the palm of my hand, and I'm hoping that you're going to like it and want it, and that's just human nature. 

[00:38:07] Adam Grant:
I, is it fair to say then that you want your work to matter to other people, but you've learned to get better at, at decoupling your self-worth from your work or people's reactions to your work? 

[00:38:20] Anne Lamott:
Yeah, and it also goes back to where we started an hour ago, which was that we both wanna help. We both wanna be part of the solution of, of offering medicine, of offering a little bit of warmth to a very cold, sometimes very hard world. And, the way both of us do that is by writing and teaching, right? And, we're offering help as it has been given to us to, to craft into art, which sounds lofty, but, but we're writers.

We're creating art through words and, and then we're sharing it as teachers and helping other people be artists too. And, we both believe that offering this will help the world be a better place.

[00:39:05] Adam Grant:
Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and, and your vulnerability. It's really powerful to, to hear you model the very things you write about and I think this is one of the only times where I've met someone after reading so much of their writing and thought you are exactly who you present yourself as.

[00:39:26] Anne Lamott:
I guess that's good. Oh, thank you. 

[00:39:34] Adam Grant:
Reb what, what struck you? 

[00:39:36] Reb Rebele:
I think one of the things that most jumped out at me was the line about metabolizing the external approval, right? Yes, to acknowledge that it fills you up. Right? But, then we metabolize it so quickly and so then you have sort of have to go for more, as she says, give it to yourself. 
I think that was a really standout line for me.

[00:39:56] Adam Grant:
It is a quick fix. You end up on a high and then you go through withdrawal afterward when, when the high is gone. I, I feel like that's one challenge. The other big challenge is when you become dependent on other people's praise and approval, you start to crave more and more of it in order to get the same fix.

[00:40:13] Reb Rebele:
I think also the way she talked about that complimentary benefit from working on your own writing versus helping other people with theirs. Right? And, it's something obviously that you do, right? You're, you're not just writing, you're helping lots of other people with their writing, I think is the only way to continue to push those skills, right? 

[00:40:31] Adam Grant:
You want feedback from someone who values something that you tend to under, under invest in or underemphasize. 

[00:40:37] Reb Rebele:

[00:40:44] Adam Grant:
ReThinking is hosted by me, Adam Grant. This show is part of the TED Audio Collective, and this episode was produced and mixed by Cosmic Standard.

Our producers are Hannah Kingsley-Ma and Aja Simpson. Our editor is Alejandra Salazar. Our fact checker is Paul Durbin. Original music by Hansdale Hsu and Allison Leyton-Brown.

Our team includes Eliza Smith, Jacob Winik, Samiah Adams, Michelle Quint, Banban Cheng, Julia Dickerson, and Whitney Pennington Rodgers.

I am sorry. Did you just call a shitty first draft a terrible first draft? 

[00:41:22] Anne Lamott:
I did. I didn't know what the protocols were here.

[00:41:25] Adam Grant:
I mean, you, you coined this term that we all use constantly as writers and as researchers, so use, use it properly, please. 

[00:41:34] Anne Lamott:
Okay. Well, when I taught my grandsons kindergarten at first and second grade writing conferences, I always use poopy first drafts. 
But, the point is, everybody, every writer, anybody listening, has ever loved, has written really shitty first drafts.