- Paperback: 272 pages
- Publisher: Anchor; 1 edition (September 1, 1995)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0385480016
- ISBN-13: 978-0385480017
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 1,274 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,335 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.
"Superb writing advice... hilarious, helpful and provocative." -- New York Times Book Review.
"A warm, generous and hilarious guide through the writer's world and its treacherous swamps." -- Los Angeles Times.
"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." -- Seattle Times.
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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 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.
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.