Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

bird-by-bird Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
by Anne Lamott

This little non-fiction jewel is about writing, so it’s not likely to appeal to many people who aren’t interested in writing, although there is plenty of wisdom about life, as well.  Anne Lamott has lived a pretty colorful life and has a lot of wisdom to share, sprinkled generously with humor.

In Bird by Bird, Lamott talks honestly about the ups and downs of a writer’s life, condensing the material she covers as a writing teacher into a book.  It’s mainly geared towards those who wish to write fiction – she covers character development, plot, and dialogue – but she talks at length about bigger issues that face writers of every stripe, from getting motivated . . .

You begin to string words together like beads to tell a story.  You are desperate to communicate, to edify or entertain, to preserve moments of grace or joy or transcendence, to make real or imagined events come alive.  But you cannot will this to happen.  It is a matter of persistence and faith and hard work.  So you might as well just go ahead and get started.

. . . to the deep desire that some people have to write –

Writing can be a pretty desperate endeavor, because it is about some of our deepest needs: our need to be visible, to be heard, our need to make sense of our lives, to wake up and grow and belong.

She offers such sage advice as committing to “short assignments” because looking too far down the road can be immobilizing, and accepting that the first draft of anything is sure to be shitty.  Lamott speaks honestly, too, about every writer’s desire to be published, and how rare it actually is to be published, and how being published usually isn’t all it’s cracked up to be anyway.  In other words, do it for the love of writing, not for the desire to be published.  A hard pill to swallow, but no doubt true.

This book was published, however, back in 1994!  I do wonder what Lamott might have to say were she to write an updated edition to this book, taking into account the explosion of blogging (where virtually anyone can be a “published” writer) and self-publishing.  How have these things impacted the craft of writing?  Has the market  – and the niche of the writer itself – been diluted by work published based on commercialism and pure marketability rather than true writing talent?

This is a book I’ll hang onto and refer back to in my own writing endeavors.

2 thoughts on “Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

  1. I’m glad you enjoyed this book. It’s one of my favorites. I tend to really like Anne Lamott, including her faith memoir Traveling Mercies. Ever read it? It’s the only conversion story I’ve ever read with the f-word in it:) Also, Steven King has a book called On Writing that I liked–part memoir, part writing advice. Whatever you think of his horror pulp fiction, he does have something interesting to say about telling stories, and lots of ’em!


    • Beth, I haven’t read anything else by Anne Lamott. I should! As for Stephen King, I used to be a huge fan of his, but I haven’t read any of his stuff for years. I’m going to add that one to my to-read list, though – thanks!


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