- Paperback: 272 pages
- Publisher: Anchor; 1 edition (September 1, 1995)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0385480016
- ISBN-13: 978-0385480017
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (1,224 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,000 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life 1st Edition
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Think you've got a book inside of you? Anne Lamott isn't afraid to help you let it out. She'll help you find your passion and your voice, beginning from the first really crummy draft to the peculiar letdown of publication. Readers will be reminded of the energizing books of writer Natalie Goldberg and will be seduced by Lamott's witty take on the reality of a writer's life, which has little to do with literary parties and a lot to do with jealousy, writer's block and going for broke with each paragraph. Marvelously wise and best of all, great reading.
From Publishers Weekly
Lamott's ( Operating Instructions ) miscellany of guidance and reflection should appeal to writers struggling with demons large and slight. Among the pearls she offers is to start small, as their father once advised her 10-year-old brother, who was agonizing over a book report on birds: "Just take it bird by bird." Lamott's suggestion on the craft of fiction is down-to-earth: worry about the characters, not the plot. But she's even better on psychological questions. She has learned that writing is more rewarding than publication, but that even writing's rewards may not lead to contentment. As a former "Leona Helmsley of jealousy," she's come to will herself past pettiness and to fight writer's block by living "as if I am dying." She counsels writers to form support groups and wisely observes that, even if your audience is small, "to have written your version is an honorable thing."
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Audible Audio Edition edition.
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Top customer reviews
I wish I had read the Kindle version so I could highlight every chapter and re-read them later, but I got the physical book to add it to the small shelf of books I still keep in my office, and next to the copy of my most favorite book on the topic: On Writing by Stephen King. Bird by Bird is now the 2nd best and useful book I have read on writing.
If I weren't inspired to write before, I felt my body fill up with reasons that now draw me to writing. If I had voices of doubt, the ones that slip into your head at 4am and whisper, "Who are you to write? What do you have to say that others want to read?", which I did, I am now courageous enough to ignore them. They don't go away but I can say, screw you, I'm writing anyway.
I now can't not write and this feeling is one that I just can't put a price on. For that alone, I'm overjoyed. But there's more.
For starters, it's the way she tells you to write about your childhood. It's the simplicity of this advice, and the way she just calls you to do it. I loved her just for that. Write about your childhood even if it was terrible, even if it was dark and lonely, for it shaped you into who you are and who you are is a unique voice for the world to hear. Okay I added all of that but she says it more beautifully and the gist of it says that thou must write about thy childhood especially when you do not know where to start. Make it a good story, turn the bad characters into a description that if they were to read your book, they would not recognize themselves except for their actions - that's apparently how you save yourself from libel - and then just write.
I cried at various points in this book and the whole spiel about childhood was one of them, but the others were when she described why we write, and what brings us to the blank page, and how it's not about being published - and it really isn't, I've been published twice and my book has ranked among best-selling categories and sold thousands of copies and it was fun yes but writing is about so much more.
If you weren't enough before you published, she quotes someone, then you won't be enough after, and that will stay with me. We all write for our own reasons, and if you feel drawn to writing, if you feel a call to writing and you have been resisting it, stop. Ignoring this urge is like neglecting hunger or thirst just because you are too stubborn to accept the laws of nature. Go with the flow, drop your excuses and write what you feel called upon to write.
I also love the writing style of Bird by Bird. She does not break down writing into distinct categories and address each. She simply tells us stories and personal experience and her amazing nuggets of wisdom come through, just oozing out of the page. It is the stories that help you remember the bigger points she was making, and a very similar style as King's On Writing, which helps you learn not just about writing but about the writer's life and highs and lows and how writing integrates into their life, and the big picture.
Bird by Bird is sweet, refreshing, funny, and even if Lamott over-dramatizes the life of an author - or perhaps, mine is under-dramatic, who knows - I love her for it. I love that she was oh so vulnerable, and how she dished out tough love and great advice and in the end, simply encouraged us to write. Just write those stories down and do it for reasons that go well beyond publication, fortune, fame, or other dreams that you may have for your writing, because writing is its own sweet delicious fulfilling reward. Add this book to your list of must-read books, my writer friends, and let's put our stories out in the world if not for anyone but ourselves.
Lamott did hold my attention for the first third of bird by bird. She gets very personal about how she got started as a writer and talks about her thoughts on character, plot, and dialogue. However, things got muddy after that, and I often had a hard time finding much of value. The book is subtitled Some Instructions on Writing and Life, so I expected her to get personal. However, the entire work was so full of depressing and sarcastic ramblings that I failed to find many “instructions on writing,” and I didn’t find much on “and life” that was useful either.
I had to fight through the last two-thirds of the book. There was still the occasional humorous anecdote that caused me to laugh, but overall it wasn’t for me. A lot of people really liked bird by bird. According to Amazon, over 85% of readers gave it 4 or 5 stars. I guess I’m one of the weirdos in the minority here. I’m sure Anne Lamott is a great literary writer, but for me this book was full of the incessant ramblings of someone who thinks being sarcastic and angry, passes as being clever. I rate bird by bird three stars.
I’ve read this book many times over the years, and what I always remember most is her description of her relationship with her father, who was also a writer. More than anything Bird by Bird is a memoir, and the reason it has touched so many hearts and inspired so many careers, is because Anne Lamott wears her heart and her life story on her sleeve as she shares intimate and hard won life lessons on and off the page. She writes, “One of the things that happens when you give yourself permission to start writing is that you start thinking like a writer. You start seeing everything as material.” I love this line because it reminds me to give myself permission to be, to remember, to observe and to create. Like Anne Lamott, I grew up in the shadow of loving, charming and powerful writer. I learned the craft and life of a writer from my Mom, and it wasn’t until later in life that I realized that everyone didn’t grow up that way.
Reading through with a highlighter this time, I was struck by all the voices Anne Lamott brings to the page. Lammott’s voice is primarily humorous, frank and self deprecating. When she wants to evoke something profound, grave or aspirational, she tends to lean on the voices of her favorite writers throughout the cannon, which she either paraphrases or quotes directly. I really admire this technique, it’s such a great way to vary her advice, give her message more credence while keeping the book in her voice. I want to remember this. There’s a nice example of this early on when she’s talking about what inspires someone to write, she writes, “Interviewers ask famous writers why they write, and it was (if I remember correctly) the poet John Ashbery who answered, “Because I want to.” Flannery O’Connnor answered, “Because I’m good at it,” and when the occasional interviewer asks me, I quote them both.” By bringing Ashbery and O’Connor into the conversation, Lammot elevates her personal experience to a universal truth.
Another one of my favorite aspects of this guide / memoir is the realistic depiction of not only the writing but the publishing experience. She debunks every single romantic notion of writing – while carefully creating her own shrine to the experience. One of my favorite moments is when she breaks down any hope of a feeling of satisfaction for a writer. She perfectly sums up the endless aching and seeking inherent to the writing life. She writes:
How do you know when you’re done?
This is question my students always ask. I don’t quite know how to answer it. You just do. I think my students believe that when a published writer finishes something, she crosses the last t, pushes back from the desk, yawn, stretches, and smiles. I do not know anyone who has ever done this, not even once,”
This excerpt makes me laugh out loud every time I read it. I think because in my experience as a publicist / publisher I do know some authors who have done this, and those are the ones I fear most.
Honest, humorous and full of passion, this book separates the die-hards from the casual writers, it’s like a litmus test and hazing, and if you make it to the end you emerge a convert.