bird by bird
Good writing is about finding the perseverance, emotion, and words needed to create something honest. It makes readers notice something they need to see. It makes writers explore the depths of their experience. It will make you a better reader, friend, person; and it might even get you published.
Bird by Bird helps the writer in three ways. First, it instructs. Its advice spans from commonplace to insightful, but Lamott’s anecdotes add complexity to each morsel. Many will recommend, for example, writing low-quality first drafts. But Lamott writes “shitty first drafts” and her amusing examples convince the reader of their virtues.
Second, it counsels. Writing takes something out of us and exposes it to the world, creating anxieties, jealousy, pride, and doubt over how our work is received. Lamott soothes these emotions through her own stories; she reminds us that these feelings are normal consequences of the literary life and points us to sound wisdom for coping.
Third, it motivates. The writer’s life is the best life because it wakes you up; it stimulates the spirit, organizes the mind, engages the ancient wisdom. Write because someone—society, a friend, or just yourself—needs to hear the truth.
Anne Lamott seamlessly unites a “how to” writing book with personal memoir. One upshot—Bird by Bird’s emotion overshadows its concrete takeaways. Actionable advice on publishing, writer’s block, plot treatment are nearly lost among deeply engaging stories. Left-brained me wants to throw a fit, until I realize how well this book exemplifies two writing idioms.
“Show, don’t tell” means that narratives communicate more effectively than dry facts. Bird by Bird has enough dry facts to stay organized, but the “showing” drives those facts into your gut for rumination—in a figurative, non-bovine kind of way.
“Find your voice” means that narratives are reinforced when readers can sense the author’s personality. Bird by Bird oozes of Anne Lamott. I get a sense of who she is and of how her experiences shaped her perspectives on writing. That glimpse into her writing worldview can help me develop my own.
So, while I did find some pieces of organized, pithy, “here’s ten steps for writing your book” kind of advice, I sense that deeper takeaways will trickle from the narrative as it settles into my mind. It just might take a few reads to get there.
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