Home » Words, Not Ideas: How to Write a Book by Mattie Bamman (Transcript)

Words, Not Ideas: How to Write a Book by Mattie Bamman (Transcript)

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Mattie Bamman at TEDxSpokane

Full transcript of writer and editor Mattie Bamman’s TEDx Talk: Words, Not Ideas: How to Write a Book @ TEDxSpokane conference.

Listen to the MP3 Audio: Words, Not Ideas_ How to Write a Book by Mattie Bamman @ TEDxSpokane

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Mattie Bamman – Writer/Editor

I grew up in an isolated fishing village on the coast of Maine. And as a kid, I used to help my neighbor with yard work.

My neighbor was Theodore Enslin, a poet. One day, I was stacking some firewood and Ted said, “Judging by the way you stack firewood, you’d make a good poet.” Ted didn’t know it, but I had written a few poems at the time, I was around 11 or 12.

And so I took his words straight to heart, they were very encouraging. There was just one problem. I had no idea what he was talking about. Theodore Enslin was a prolific poet.

Poetry Foundation estimates that he wrote around 60 books of poems, but I’m pretty sure it was closer to 100. He knew people that I consider legends: Allen Ginsberg, William Carlos Williams, Martin Luther King Jr.

Importantly, he also studied beneath the French composer and teacher, Nadia Boulanger. She taught the likes of Philip Glass and Aaron Copland.

“Judging by the way you stack firewood, you’d make a good poet.” Sounds like a Buddhist koan, doesn’t it? And to some extent, that’s what has become for me.

I did pursue a career in writing; I write poetry, I’m the Editor of Eater Portland, I write culinary travel articles for Northwest Travel Magazine. I’ve contributed to 11 books on culinary travel, and I’m a developmental editor, which is a fancy way of saying, “I help people write books.”

This one thing I’ve learned is that writing is harder than I ever thought. I’m not alone. Anyone who’s tried to write a book has experienced the same thing. That includes great authors who we love: George Orwell, for instance, once said that, “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle.” He says some other stuff.

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More to the point, Philip Roth said, “The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress.”

So what makes some people write great books, and other people fail to finish a book at all?

As a developmental editor, I get to work with a lot of inspiring people. I work most with psychologists, people have brilliant ideas. Unfortunately, a brilliant idea does not equate to a brilliant book. In fact, ideas get in the way of writing. This is one of the hardest things to learn when you’re starting out as a writer, because we all start out as readers.

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