Anne Lamott on Taming Your Inner Critic, Finding Grace, and Prayer (#522)

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“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor.”

— Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott (@AnneLamott) uses honesty, empathy, and humor to write about our world. In her beloved and bestselling books, like Operating Instructions (an account of her son’s first year), Bird by Bird (her classic book on writing), and Help, Thanks, Wow (a celebration of prayer), Lamott delves into what makes us human. She explores the wide experience of life that unites us: birth and death, parenthood and family, faith and doubt, love and loss, forgiveness and hope.

In each of her 19 books, which have sold millions of copies worldwide, Lamott brings her distinctive mix of bracing candor, clarifying insight, and refreshing humor to convert serious subjects like addiction, motherhood, loss, and faith into human truths we can all share. She is the author of several essay collections on faith, including Traveling Mercies, Grace (Eventually), and Plan B, as well as several novels, including Imperfect Birds, Blue Shoe, and Rosie.

Lamott has been honored with a Guggenheim Fellowship and has taught at UC Davis and writing conferences across the country. She is an inductee of the California Hall of Fame and the subject of Academy Award-winning filmmaker Freida Mock’s documentary Bird by Bird with Annie (1999).

Her most recent book is Dusk, Night, Dawn: On Revival and Courage.

Please enjoy!

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform.

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You can find the transcript of this episode here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

#522: Anne Lamott on Taming Your Inner Critic, Finding Grace, and Prayer
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What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

SCROLL BELOW FOR LINKS AND SHOW NOTES…

Want to hear an episode with someone else who might not have written their first book had it not been for the guidance of Anne’s Bird by Bird? Listen to my conversation with Ramit Sethi in which we discuss savvy negotiation, renting versus owning property, sensible financial decisions that seem frivolous at first glance, game-changing conveniences and lifestyle upgrades, the pros and cons of the prenuptial agreement, reducing decision fatigue, and much more!

#371: Ramit Sethi — Automating Finances, Negotiating Prenups, Disagreeing with Tim, and More
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SELECTED LINKS FROM THE EPISODE

  • Connect with Anne Lamott:

Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

SHOW NOTES

  • If it weren’t for Bird by Bird, Anne’s book on writing, I may have never written my first book — and I know others who say the same. What is it about Bird by Bird that has affected so many people so deeply? [06:41]
  • Where did the title of Bird by Bird originate? [10:10]
  • How Anne’s husband, fellow writer Neal Allen, works to help people tame (but not discard) their inner critic. [12:44]
  • Who controls the dial when you’re tuned in to KFKD radio? [13:59]
  • For my fiction-writing aspirations, Anne recommends a butt-in-chair approach and explains how her childhood with a writing father in the house instilled this discipline in her — but not without a heavily dysfunctional toll she’s spent her life learning to take back. [15:06]
  • What does being “spiritually fit” mean to Anne? [22:25]
  • Was there a particular catalyzing event that brought radical self-care into focus as an imperative for Anne? [28:05]
  • The dark night that turned Anne’s son Sam’s life around. [35:50]
  • An episode of Sam’s podcast I recently enjoyed immensely and recommend. [41:32]
  • When grace found Anne during her three-day blackout, and what it felt like. [42:35]
  • Coming to terms with childhood “oversensitivity” and Tom Weston’s five rules for being a grown-up that changed Anne’s life. [47:41]
  • From her own work, are there any lines, concepts, or passages that jump out for Anne as being definitive of her life philosophy? How would she follow her own advice in this instance? [51:01]
  • Anne sets the record straight with a Tom Weston quote that often gets misattributed to her. [56:34]
  • What has been helpful in treating Anne’s anxiety disorder? [57:20]
  • Where did Anne pick up her habit of writing in silence, and what other rules and rewards does she attach to her process? [1:02:29]
  • How recalling just one vivid, life-changing instance from my college days might be used as a writing exercise, and Anne’s new “pod” trick. [1:06:19]
  • What to remind yourself if you’re tempted to spare the feelings of others who feature in your autobiographical scrawlings. [1:11:13]
  • If you’re a writer struggling to find your story’s direction, these are the questions Anne recommends asking the characters who inhabit that story in order to keep the words flowing. [1:13:22]
  • What was it like for Anne to have a documentary made about her (by an Academy Award-winning director, no less), and why did she agree to do it in spite of her discomfort over being captured on film? [1:19:24]
  • Anne explains the meaning and unlikely origin of what she considers to be the greatest prayer, and what its gift really is. [1:24:24]
  • Does Anne pray as needed, or per a set routine? What is the purpose of these prayers? [1:30:24]
  • Who is “Horrible” Bonnie, how did she enter Anne’s life, what wisdom has she imparted to Anne, and what earned her such a memorable moniker? [1:34:49]
  • How did Anne arrive at Dusk, Night, Dawn: On Revival and Courage as the title of her new book? [1:41:12]
  • A writing prayer. [1:45:07]
  • We share our all-time favorite movies. [1:46:59]
  • Parting thoughts and a final, quick story about grace and goodness. [1:53:48]

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15 Replies to “Anne Lamott on Taming Your Inner Critic, Finding Grace, and Prayer (#522)”

  1. Tim, this interview may have saved my life. “Growing up with alcoholics teaches you to ignore what you can see, to doubt your own story,” and the prayer for writers were magical gifts to my ailing soul. I had to choke back the tears so I could continue to drive safely. Thank you.

  2. oh, PS, should have mentioned this in the last comment, but THANK YOU for this and all of your interviews, and also, found the Anne Lamott transcript by clicking on “all transcripts” so nevermind. 🙂

  3. Wonderful episode. I just wanted to thank you both for sharing this conversation. It resonated many levels for me.

  4. I can’t recall how many times Bird by Bird has saved me from going down the deep end in my writing work. After listening to this episode, and the wonderful candor that Anne brings to the table, I’m sure I’ll get even more out of that book the next time I reach for it. Thanks to you both!

  5. I finished this episode and the thought came to me (to my surprise), “holy fuck, I loved this!” 😂 Not the most eloquent phrasing, but it’s true — Anne’s unabashed and warm-hearted nature had me glowing, and the stories and wisdom she dropped really resonate with where I’m at on my own journey. Surprising how much of it does — I guess I heard it at the right time. Maybe I can start trusting in this grace thing, or as she shared: “God’s got it”.

    I wouldn’t have shared this, we’re it not for Anne’s vulnerability around her self-doubt, and the other musings of KFKD radio. I too struggle with them, and it keeps me from sharing. Just wanted to share my reaction in the hopes it encourages someone. I’m sure there are many others, like me, who had similar reactions (if a little less explicit!) and don’t think, or have time, to share them. Maybe something we can all remember 🍃

  6. i’m less than half way through this podcast and glued to it. She is fucking awesome and her word smithing and phrasing is both hysterical and truly poetic. One of my favorites of yours and that is a high praise. Many thanks

  7. Hey Tim!!!
    I recently started reading your book, The 4-Hour Workweek, and it has been paradigm shifting. I have always known that I am not meant for the 80 hour workweek and reading your book has given me the confidence I needed to do something out of the ordinary.

    P.S: This is also an attempt to reach out to a famous and uber-cool person (the activity you asked your students from Princeton to do) and I hope you get in touch with me even if it is just for one email (You can extract my email-id from this comment).

    (I am really hoping this comment is not answered by your Social Media team/PR team/Assistant.)

    Thank you,
    Harshada Joshi.

  8. Thank you for offering the interview with Anne Lamott. My favorite phrase is: “laughter is carbonated holiness.”
    Her humanity is what endears us to her writing. I still refer to and read “Bird by Bird”.

  9. One of my all time favorite interviews – it covered the whole gamut of emotions and Anne’s vulnerability, generosity and humor were contagious.
    FEAR = future events already ruined is an acronym that really resonated with me.

  10. Interesting one. You should interview the blockchain guru and CEO of Humbl Brian Foote. He is doing amazing things with their new App that will transform and lower the costs of transactions on a global scale.

  11. The more I hear (some) authors speak of inner critics or inner voices that are perfectionists, the more I presume that schizophrenia is present. it seems like they have a battle going on in their brain. Do these authors really have such trouble writing? I have written for most of my life, and I never hear any critic or voice inside my head. My mind creates stories, along with new ideas, which I then edit and write down. A few drafts later, and voila! Writing is easy in my experience.

  12. The show with Anne Lamott is fabulous! I’ve listened to it twice and posted a quote of hers – “Laughter is carbonated holiness.” Tim, I especially loved how YOU were with her in this interview. It was delightful and haunting in equal measure.