Bird by bird: Some instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott (Part 1)


When a book like Bird by Bird flies into your nest, you tend to get excited, especially since everything you’ve heard about this book is so good.

The book lives up to this.

In the true spirit of good reviewer, I had a pencil in my right hand just so that I could keep jotting down the important stuff that makes this book memorable. However, I put my pencil down a great deal as Anne Lamott makes you smile and reflect and then smile again. Pencils get in the way.

Lamott tells us all the things that creative writing literature emphasizes- plot, character, setting, dialogue, etc. In this post we look at the Life in Some Instructions on Writing and Life.

Lamott tells us how she nearly lost a book contract. When her novel didn’t work, she sobbed, and she almost gave up.  She did, however, arrange her book sections into a garden path of chapters and rewrote much of it again.

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Her honesty is baffling- why would you want to confess failure? And even if you do, how can you do it and look like a winner? Makes you think.

Lamott does not breathe fire down her students’ necks telling them what they should be writing. She tells her story, and if a teacher can do that well enough, then she’s a good teacher. Her father was a writer as well, she tells us, and she loved reading like he did. The first book she wrote was a gift for her dying father. And the second book she wrote was for a dying friend.

So writing is Not about agents and publishers. It’s about giving back, telling the truth and going back to your memory so that you can find things and yourself as well.

And while you are it, get rid of the green-with-envy internal monologues and the facebook insecurity so rampant now that everyone is a *writer*.  Lamott admits that she is jealous too, human. There is nothing we can do about these fruitless stabs of envy- it is inevitable every time you see a “friend” get published or read work better than yours or commiserate about the unfairness of it all.

We can be nice to ourselves, even compassionate. Especially in writing groups. You don’t need to cut an author to size with the sword critiquing, Lamott says. You can point the way with the sword as well. She is benevolent; I like that. Lamott is a teacher first, so she cares for her students.

The real difficulty often lies post publication when you admire your “publishedness” in the mirror whichever way you turn. So the only reason to write is because it helps you write better the more you do it, and read better.

Good reasons all the same. In Part 2 of this book review, we look at Lamott’s writing process.


You can read the part 2 here.


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