Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott is an American writer who has written both novels and non-fiction books. She has taught classes on writing. This book is the substance of what she teaches.

The book is a helpful guide to writing. She makes some excellent points. Here are some of the suggestions that I found most helpful:

* Write a little each day.

* Write a bad first draft. Just get the words on the paper. Then you can edit and re-write.

* If you get stuck in your writing, you might write your story as if it’s a letter to someone. The informality of a letter might deliver you from perfectionism.

* Publication is overrated. Writing is its own reward.

* To be a good writer, write a lot.

She gets the title from a little story about her dad:

I also remember a story that I know I’ve told elsewhere but that over and over helps me to get a grip: 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, which 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.” (p. 18-19)

One of her big points in the book is that publication is overrated. Rather, writing is its own reward. These are her words:

But I still encourage anyone who feels at all compelled to write to do so. I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all that it is cracked up to be. But writing is. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do – the actual act of writing – turns out to be the best part. It’s like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward. (p. xxvi)

Anne Lamott is an excellent writer. She is honest and vulnerable. She is funny – at times, hilarious. Unfortunately, she is profane at times.

For those who are interested in the art of writing, Anne Lamott is a helpful teacher.