Bird by bird : some instructions on writing and life

by Anne Lamott

Hardcover, 1994




New York : Pantheon Books, c1994.


NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER * An essential volume for generations of writers young and old. The twenty-fifth anniversary edition of this modern classic will continue to spark creative minds for years to come. Anne Lamott is "a warm, generous, and hilarious guide through the writer's world and its treacherous swamps" (Los Angeles Times).  "Superb writing advice.... Hilarious, helpful, and provocative." --The New York Times Book Review For a quarter century, more than a million readers--scribes and scribblers of all ages and abilities--have been inspired by Anne Lamott's hilarious, big-hearted, homespun advice. Advice that begins with the simple words of wisdom passed down from Anne's father--also a writer--in the iconic passage that gives the book its title: "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.'"… (more)

Media reviews

Seattle 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.
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New York Times Book Review
Superb writing advice...hilarious, helpful and provocative.
Los Angeles Times
A warm, generous, and hilarious guide through the writer's world and its treacherous swamps.

User reviews

LibraryThing member MorganGMac
Lamott offers more encouragement than practical advice. Her main goal seems to be making sure you know other writers are also neurotic, unsure, and just feeling their way through the dark. Some sections are unnecessary tangents, but some are helpful suggestions for how to think about yourself as a
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"writer" and how to find ways around writer's block. Interesting read, occasional moments of very nice imagery, but don't think the holy grail of writing is somewhere in these pages.
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LibraryThing member theWallflower
I found it rather useless, and I wasn't impressed by the advice therein. The book comes highly recommended, but I didn't find anything to cull that I didn't know already. Maybe it's for very beginning writers, ones that are starting out for the first time and have first novel jitters. It seems like
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she takes a long time to say a simple message. Each chapter is a very big piece of bread that you've got to gnaw through to get to the meat inside. Maybe it's because I'm a straightforward guy, but I found that looking on the Internet was a better resource than this book.
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LibraryThing member miyurose
Ask anyone who writes what books they would recommend, and this one is sure to be on the list. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I enjoyed On Writing. I did think there was some good advice — taking things 'bird by bird' and looking at the world through a 1-inch picture frame come to
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mind — and I appreciated her description of what it’s like to be published, but the rest of it just didn’t speak to me like I expected it to. I still would recommend it to those who want to write, and I’ll keep it on my bookshelf, but I don’t think it is a book I will refer back to over and over again.
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LibraryThing member Lisa2013
recommended for: writers and readers

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
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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.
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LibraryThing member c_why
Fantastic book. Infectious energy, enthusiasm, humour, vitality -- can't praise it highly enough. Anyone who wants to write MUST read this book.
LibraryThing member RandyMetcalfe
Writers write, as they say. That is about the only certain advice one can receive from a book on writing and life and the writing life. With a wry, self-deprecating, brutally honest demeanour, Anne Lamott informs her students that the way to become a writer is to sit down every day at the same time
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with a clean piece of paper or the file on your computer you’ve been slaving over for more than a year—and write. Only those who have actually attempted this will appreciate, along with Lamott, just how difficult it may be to fulfil that simple injunction. She is well aware that you will stare at the page or the screen sometimes for hours on end; that you will reconsider your decision to post-pone the fun you could have had working on your taxes; that the corner of your desk will become endlessly fascinating and just may be the grain of sand in which you will perceive the whole…yes, just about anything is more enticing, at times, than writing.

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.
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LibraryThing member AuntieClio
A very dear friend was appalled that I hadn't read any of Lamott's non-fiction that she sent two books to me. (For full disclosure, I had read one fiction book and had found it deeply lacking leading me to wonder what all the fuss over Lamott was about.)

bird by bird showed me the errors of my ways,
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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.
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LibraryThing member agathanaylor
LOved this book. Loved the idea of writing and life being much the same journey. Honest.
LibraryThing member srearley
I've actually been reading this slowly for several months, a chapter or two at a time. I loved it, and will reread, maybe dipping in to individual chapters. It's about writing, yes, but there's an awful lot that really applies to anything, any creative endeavor, and frankly, just living your
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Very funny, very thought-provoking.
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LibraryThing member fiercebunny
When I was young and first started to write, my grandmother put this book in my hands and I've been hooked on it ever since. Anne Lamott writes amusing and well written advice and stories that a great for aspiring writers or anyone with a sense of humor.
LibraryThing member spiketorescue
I recommend this book to all my friends that write or wish they were writers.
LibraryThing member amyfaerie
A nurturing, inspiring book on being a writer. I'm a sucker for this sort of book, but this is one of the best.
LibraryThing member orangejulia
This book is a series of essays by Lamott about many and varied things which somehow lead back to the subject of writing. Lamott gives a blunt look into her head, which is an insecure neurotic mess, and how she takes her scattered ideas, her procrastination, her imagination and makes herself write.
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I really enjoy this book and re-read it regularly.
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LibraryThing member ChuckB
Get inside a writer's mind and get some advice that sounds true to life and really works!
LibraryThing member pw0327
Well, either way, Ann Lamott has written a simply put and beautifully thought out tome on wiritng. Not how to write, but how to get your gluteus on a chair and fight through all of your inner and outer demons and put yourself on the pages. To take a bold step forward and reveal to the world who you
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really are.

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.
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LibraryThing member jvoorhees
Don't let anyone tell you that this book is simply about writing. Anytime Anne Lamott writes, it is about life. This book is certainly a great guide to the writing process, but it speaks so deeply to the human condition I place it on par with most any metaphysical tome. Don't put this book down
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until you are done.
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LibraryThing member nmaloney
Ann LaMott is a marvelous teacher. I enjoyed this book tremendously and recommend it highly.
LibraryThing member caerulius
As books on writing go, this is a little gem. Part inspirational/how to book, part memoir, Lamott has written a book on writing that is, quite simply, a pleasure to read. It has good, practical advice and does make you want to set out and write, but doesn't attempt to provide you with a formula for
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writing, or to give a set of instructions to follow. Lamott knows from experience that writing is an act of creative inspiration, and there is no blueprint for quality writing. But she does explain ways of accessing the observations and stories that can get locked inside, how to keep going when you feel like no one is listening or reading, and how to persevere.
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LibraryThing member JoshEnglish
Lamott tells great stories and anecdotes, but I find her approach to writing very sad. She doesn't seem to enjoy the process of creation. To me, the very idea that every first draft is crap is repulsive.
LibraryThing member danbarrett
This was a decent book about writing, but it's about the life of a writer more than about the craft itself. I found her anectdotes helpful, and the book is a fun read, but I don't feel like I got much out of it other than a sense that other people, even published authors, go through the same
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problems I do.
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LibraryThing member rayski
Anne provides basic thoughts on how to write, but what makes it worth it is that lots of her antidotes can be applied to life too. In a lot of cases to make her writing point she uses life examples. If you’re not an Anne Lamott fan then take a star away, unless you’re looking for help to write
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that autobiography.
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LibraryThing member Crowyhead
A lovely, funny, brilliant book on the craft and art of writing.
LibraryThing member dschander
Lamott can be rambly, but her advice on writing is both encouraging and discouraging (in a good way, if that makes sense). I appreciated her brutal honesty about the process of writing and being a writer, especially. I really don't have the discipline to be a serious writer, but I was at least
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inspired to continue to write here and there, even if I never show it to anyone else.
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LibraryThing member kathysoper
A writing guide like no other. Hilarious, irreverent, and thoroughly helpful.
LibraryThing member PCGator
Encouraging writing advice with bits of humor sprinkled throughout. Particularly helpful for those writing about their own past or recording family stories. Full of useful tips, plus a few real gems to tape above your writing desk.




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