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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
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.