Anne Lamott put her writing teacher hat on for Bird by Bird. And what a hat it is! She shares many nuggets of wisdom, instructions, and stories of her own. I listened to the audiobook, narrated expertly by Susan Bennett. Thankfully, I also have a print copy because I’ll go back to this book time and time again in both formats.
The chapters are generally short and quite specific, with topics like Plot or Finding Your Voice. In case you think everything is serious, there’s also a chapter called Broccoli. But within each practical idea is a personal insight as well. Lamott might tell a story about her son, or most frustrating rewrite. She tells a bit about her church, or her best friend Pammy.
In this wise yet open way Lamott has been helping writers since the 1994 publication of Bird by Bird. For me, it’s the first book I’ve read of specific advice about being a writer. I’ve always just written intuitively, with experience blogging and writing in business. I’ve even self-published a book. (Don’t worry, it was professionally edited. Boy, did I need the help!) But I’ve never read a book about the craft of writing.
I couldn’t have started with a better book. My two favorite Lamott basics are: write shitty first drafts and short assignments. That short assignment is to write only enough to fill a one-inch picture frame. Nothing more. Then fill another and another. Or to write without reining yourself in on that first draft. There’s plenty of time for editing later. But if you stop to edit on page one, you may never write that pivotal paragraph in page four.
Lamott makes it clear that, in her experience, writers are insecure. She tells an enormous number of self-deprecating stories which make you realize that she’s just like you. And then she makes a joke, you laugh, and think to yourself, I could start that short writing assignment today. And you do.
“Becoming a writer is about becoming conscious. When you’re conscious and writing from a place of insight and simplicity and real caring about the truth, you have the ability to throw the lights on for your reader.” Indeed this is exactly what Anne Lamott does in Bird by Bird.