Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life 1st Edition
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—The New York Times Book Review
“A warm, generous, and hilarious guide through the writer’s world and its treacherous swamps.”
—Los Angeles Times
“One of the funniest books on writing ever published.”
—The Christian Science Monitor
“A gift to all of us mortals who write or ever wanted to write. . . . Sidesplittingly funny, patiently wise and alternately cranky and kind—a reveille to get off our duffs and start writing now, while we still can.”
“Bird by Bird would be worth reading just for Lamott’s ele- gant, moving, and often-hilarious prose. But the advice she offers is just as fantastic as the style with which it’s delivered.”
“Anne Lamott understands better than anyone that writers need help. . . . She writes so well, in fact, that it’s hard to believe that she, too, has trouble with writing. That’s what’s so deeply comforting about this book.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“Deftly and honestly explores the mental challenges of being a writer. . . . Lamott’s advice is, simply put, invaluable.”
“Delight[s] with insight and descriptive acumen. This humorous, insightful, no-nonsense approach will remind novices why they are writing.”
“Offers unique inspiration. . . . An honest appraisal of what it takes to be a writer and why it matters so much.”
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And, I'd be interested to read about someone's unbalanced emotional state, sure, but not if it's projected onto me. I didn't identity with her descriptions about what I will feel as an author. It's not promoted as a book about her life as much as a book predicting what "you" will feel. It's prescriptive. It's targeted to the reader. It's saying this is what we will inevitably feel. And I think that is a dangerous practice. People tend to believe authority figures, and they experience what they believe they are expected to feel, via a kind of placebo effect. What our subconscious is told our subconscious can believe. What she details feeling is anything but pleasant or productive.
Also, since it's listed as being about how to write, untrained readers might actually believe this is all you have to do - write messy, write passionate, write diligent, and apparently don't ever plan out the plot according to some tried and true schemata, according to research about what readers enjoy. Even experimental writers need to learn the rules in order to break them meaningfully. I've talked to readers of this book who said it threw them off for a long wasted time of writing because they gleaned from it that all you had to do was write random words without consideration for putting the correct plot points in the proper location in the Act structure.
As well as being a manuscript editor, I've taught writing with universities for fourteen years. My fiction writing students are happy with my classes, and they make great improvement. I don't feel that's a bad thing. But this author boasts about how unhappy she makes her students by insisting to them that they will experience what she did, and she makes fun of them for not commenting and instead asking about getting an agent. That was somewhat a little funny if I looked at it from her POV, but it was the only moment I saw as remotely humorous. I read it as a desperately sad book overall.
There is some cautionary advice not to let the ego get too involved, to strengthen the self esteem rather than depending on book feedback to provide it. If she had provided some proven, specific psychological methods of doing that, and if she demonstrated that she had that balance, herself, and what that feels like, I believe it could have been more worthwhile.
Ms. Lamott touches upon all kinds of subjects that writers find intriguing, such as writer's block (and writer's jealousy), the benefits of writing groups and conferences, the ups and downs of publishing, and finding your voice. I loved her writing voice - it was honest and clear-headed and self-deprecating and touching. There's one very short story she includes that literally brought stinging tears to my eyes. I still to this day find such a feat to be a miraculous gift from a writer. I also loved this little instruction on writing and life: "There's no point in writing hopeless novels. We all know we're going to die; what's important is the kind of men and women we are in the face of this." Wise words, Ms. Lamott.
As writers, we tend to be navel-gazers, but the following tidbit really hit home with the selfishness of some of my writing: "Some of us tend to think that what we do and say and decide and write are cosmically important things. But they're not." After which she states, "If you don't know which way to go, keep it simple." Such good advice!
Finally, she advises that writing can bring you great pleasure in the midst of undeniable pain. And maybe, just maybe, you can write something that actually makes a difference: "Against all odds, you have put it down on paper, so that it won't be lost. And who knows? Maybe what you've written will help others, will be a small part of the solution. You don't even have to know how or in what way, but if you are writing the clearest, truest words you can find and doing the best you can to understand and communicate, this will shine on paper like its own little lighthouse." I think it's safe to say that now I want to be her best friend.
Top international reviews
Well, I am writing this review after a second back-to-back read.
It’s that good. It is one of the best books for authors by an author I have ever read, and I say that even though there are about a zillion books for authors by authors I still have to catch up on.
This book isn’t about getting your use of the apostrophe right, or about avoiding dangling participles. This book is about perfectionism, about school lunches, about dialogues and about broccoli.
It is about writing, not eating, and I highly recommend you read the book if you want to know (and learn from knowing) what school lunches and broccoli have to do with authorship.
This book is about dealing with the vulnerabilities of authors by an author who has dealt with the vulnerabilities of being an author and has prevailed, if that easy, humorous writing style is anything to go by.
And this book is a superb example of how to do storytelling right in a non-fiction book.
This book is a kind of bible on the other category of abilities an author needs, the kind of abilities of the mind and spirit you won't find described in grammar books and books on craftsmanship.
I have this feeling I will be reading it again. Seems broccoli is good for you.