"Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he'd had three months to write [It] was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said, 'Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'".With this basic instruction always in mind, Anne Lamott returns to offer us a new gift: a step-by-step guide on how to write and on how to manage the writer's life. From "Getting Started," with "Short Assignments," through "Shitty First Drafts," "Character," "Plot," "Dialogue," all the way from "False Starts" to "How Do You Know When You're Done?" Lamott encourages, instructs, and inspires. She discusses "Writer's Block," "Writing Groups," and "Publication." Bracingly honest, she is also one of the funniest people alive. If you have ever wondered what it takes to be a writer, what it means to be a writer, what the contents of your school lunches said about what your parents were really like, this book's for you. From faith, love, and grace to pain, jealousy, and fear, Lamott insists that you keep your eyes open, and then shows you how to survive. And always, from the life of the artist she turns to the art of life.
bird by bird showed me the errors of my ways, and I have joined the bandwagon of people beating the drum for sweet, honest, just as messed up as the rest of us, Anne Lamott.
Although each chapter is, ostensibly, about writing and learning how to shut those voices in our heads off and being willing to just write "shitty first drafts," it's also about learning to live life honestly.
I fell so thoroughly in love with Ms. Lamott that I left her a mash note on her Facebook page. Something I very rarely do on any author's page. I might have said something about wanting to hug her until I suffocated her. Might have.
This book shares a few useful techniques to help your writing process, which I’ll get to in a moment, but what makes it one of the best books on writing that I have read is Lamott’s compassion for others in her situation. Because more than anything else, this is a book about compassion. Compassion for others, certainly, but also compassion for oneself. That, and learning the value of producing an SFD: a “shitty first draft”.
Lamott has a strong belief in the power of writing per se. If you press on, word after damn word, reaching a certain number of words per day (she suggests three hundred as a target), eventually you will complete your SFD. And here is an important tip: don’t show your SFD to anyone. The embarrassment of riches (and the stink) of an SFD should be yours alone. Fortunately, once you’ve got an SFD you can move on to the rewriting stage—because having made something, your job as a writer is to make it better. Of course making it better can take a long time. It may involve sharing your current versions with your writing group, with a trusted but critical colleague, with an editor or your agent, if you have one. The good news is that no matter how bad they think your writing is or how much further you’ve got to go with it, at least you can rest easy that they didn’t see your SFD.
By all means borrow this book from your local public library. And when you’ve finished reading it, go out and find it in a bookshop somewhere. Because you’ll want to have it on the shelf in your office to glance at when you are staring at that blank page (or screen) to remind you that, well, writers write. (P.S. If you think this review is bad, you should have seen my SFD.) Recommended.
Very funny, very thought-provoking.
This is an enjoyable read and a lovely book. Anne Lamott is a very engaging writer and she is very funny, honest, and heartfelt. Although I don’t desire to be a writer, like most readers I’ve wanted to be a writer at times in my life. I took to heart her advice that at some point one has to decide whether to be a reader or a writer, a choice I’d made but it solidified my decision for me. The “bird by bird” philosophy espoused in this book can apply to all endeavors, not just the one of writing.
The chapters are well balanced and are invaluable in the philosophical advice it dispenses. That is the beauty of good writing, the universality of the message is such that you can take the philosophy generally or specifically, which ever way you want to take it, the truisms are true.
Lamott is well known as a funny but well thought out author on matters spiritual. She does so with great grace and humor. She is able to tell a great story, dispense great wisdom and still make you laugh out loud. Her main vehicle is her self deprecating sense of humor. After a while though, I can see the punch line coming, I can feel her timing and start to expext a funny, knee slapping aside coming on. It got tedius after a while. If she weren't so predictable I would have enjoyed this book much more. Note that this writing strategy did not mitigate the message, nor did it minimize the ideas or the advice. What it did was to decrease the pleasure of reading her prose. It made it common place when the reader is always anticipating the rim shot.
One slight quibble. I would love to give this book to a friend's daughter. She is a bright and precocious little girl with a stellar sensibility for good writing. I think she would love the philosophical content immensely and gain much for her own writing from what Lamott has to say. Unfortunately, Lamott has injected just enough expletives in the narrative to make me hesitate. I have always been told that using expletives is a cheap way to achieve emphasis, to make a point by creating shock value. Lamott is way too good of writer to stoop to using expletives in a writing book just to get her point across. I am sure she can find powerful and effective ways to make her point but she chose to mix in the expletives. I am not disturbed by it but I think she missed the boat by doing what she did because it is delaying her outreach to young writers thirsting for advice and knowledge which she has placed in this book.
Overall though, it is quite a nice addition to my library, I will be reading and re-reading her wisdom for years to come.