Writing a Present

In this chapter, Lamott discusses writing with some motivating force other than being published. In her personal career, she has found that writing for someone else has been helpful as well as rewarding. She has written two books and a radio essay specifically with another person in mind. She discourages writers from being distracted by the idea of publication, especially because publication—or success—is not guaranteed. However, finishing a work for someone else is a guarantee for self-satisfaction.

For example, Lamott found out that a close friend was diagnosed with a terminal illness. She began a book using diary entries about raising her son, which included many memories of this friend as well. Her goal in writing this was to create a love letter of sorts; so that her friend would die knowing that she continued to exist not only in their hearts, but on paper. This notion of writing for a specific audience and writing with the intent to produce a specific effect is a prevalent concept in Peter Elbow’s essay “A Method for Teaching Writing.” He writes, “In recent years teachers of writing have begun to learn how immensely it helps a student’s writing if he imagines a specific audience. Better yet if he has one. This can be seen as support for my hypothesis: the student’s best language skills are brought out and developed when writing is considered as words on paper designed to produce a specific effect in a specific reader.” (Elbow 119) Whether the writing is done in a classroom or an office, it is significantly more skillful when the author writes with a specific audience in mind.

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