What type of book is Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott? It’s one of those rare books that makes you want to start reading it all over again just as soon as you finish. In a word, wonderful. Better than that, Bird by Bird has something to teach, or at least some helpful advice about writing, writers, and getting published. It’s all there: the anxiety, the yearning, the misplaced thought, the jealously, the longing, the joy. The words here don’t really do it justice. However favorable an impression you may have at this moment in time, at this point in the review, know this: The book is so much better than what I can describe, and when you actually sit down and read this book (and you should), you will say to yourself, “I didn’t know it would be this good!”
Lamott is the published author of eight books, including her most famous novel Traveling Mercies. If you’ve never read any Anne Lamott, join the club, but don’t let it stop you from getting this book. Bird by Bird is a series of discussions about writing and the writing life that reflect some of what Lamott teaches in her UC-Davis writing classes. And yet, there is so much more. She has infused her lessons with charm and grace, with stories of her family and her teaching, and above all, with her own day-to-day writing life. If you’ve ever wondered how a real author, a published author, goes about creating the magic, Lamott is ready to let you peak in. She talks about real writing tricks that work. She starts with the basics. She confronts her own inner demons and all those internal voices that tell every author his or her work just isn’t good enough, and tells you how to get past them and write anyway.
A little bit about the title, which I know must be making you wonder at this point. Bird by Bird refers to a story she tells about her brother and her father (another writer). Her brother was then a 10-year old who hadn’t done his report on birds the night before it was due at school (although he’d had 3 months to complete it…sound familiar?). He had worked himself up into a panic, wondering how he could possibly accomplish his monumental task. Finally, Lamott’s father sits down beside her brother, puts an arm around his shoulder, and says, “Bird by bird, buddy, just take it bird by bird.”
This gem of a book is filled with so many wonderful stories, so much humor and pathos, so many identifiable writer crises that you will be astonished at how effortlessly Lamott has accomplished her goal–helping us become better writers. I’ve never read a book about writing that was so practical, so humane, so lovingly created. This is the most practical guide to writing I’ve ever read, yet it’s never (no, not once) boring. She never gets bogged down in detail. Her writing never wavers. It’s an amazing book on those counts alone. That it has so much to teach as well truly makes it a treasure, a golden egg.
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life