Bird By Bird
By Anne Lamott
(Anchor, 272 pp)
Scope: Writing anecdotes and advice. Some tips on craft and technique.
Overview: Anne Lamott takes the reader through the twists and turns of a writer’s life. The tone is chatty, the voice familiar and hilarious. It almost feels as if she reaches from the page and pats the reader’s hand when she says it okay “to write really, really shitty first drafts,” or “Bank on it. Jealousy is one of the occupational hazards of being a writer.”
New writers will find liberation in these words. It’s comforting to hear the frank truth from someone who’s been through it all. The old-timers will laugh and commiserate with the writer’s successes and blunders. For both, there’s inspiration, a reminder of why writers write and whom they touch in the process.
Ms. Lamott is both a storyteller and a teacher. But strictly speaking, this is not a book on craft. She advices on technique, but the HOW TO behind it is lacking. In this, the book falls short. Laugh with her. Cry with her. Let her stories rekindle and sharpen your drive. But those readers wanting to improve specific skills, look elsewhere.
- “The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.”
Some books sell. Some books don’t. The path to publication is lonely and grueling. Writing itself is meaningful.
- “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.”
Get the first draft down. Let it be awful. Just write. Tinkering, editing, polishing—that’s what second and third drafts are for.
- “Whatever your characters do or say will be born out of who they are, so you need to set out to get to know each one as well as possible.”
Look within yourself. Let friends (or enemies) inspire you. Talk with your characters, interview them, listen to them as you write.
- “Writing is about learning to pay attention and to communicate what is going on.”
Listen to the way people talk. Observer how they walk, sit, stand, fidget. Feel joy, pain, elation, and anguish. Notice how others feel these emotions as well. See people for who they are—all their layers—and use it in your writing. Be a window for your readers.
- “Whenever the world throws rose petals at you, which thrill and seduce the ego, beware. The cosmic banana peel is suddenly going to appear underfoot to make sure you don’t take it all too seriously.”
A writer’s life has ups and downs. Enjoy the good. Bear the bad. Keep writing.