Read This: Bird by Bird

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

If you are writing, or dream of writing, anything, ever—a book, a short story, a blog post, an article— I now have one resounding piece of advice for you: read this book.

I cannot stress this enough. A friend recommended this book to me, and I didn't think much of it. Then, I saw a woman toting it around at a writing workshop in Milwaukee but had more important things to consider (like pitching!), of course. Then, I was re-reading Jennifer Weiner's advice to writers when I noticed that she, too, highly praises this book, calling it "utterly indispensable." Then, and only then, did I put myself on the wait list for it at the library.

If you have any writing goals—be ye not so thickheaded. I only wish I would have sprinted to the bookstore the second I quit my job in October and immediately purchased this book.

In Bird by Bird Lamott offers tangible writing advice: encouraging you to write short assignments and sh*tty first drafts, find loyal test readers, join a writing group, start from the beginning of your childhood and write everything, write letters for inspiration, and on and on. I came away with so many concrete ways to motivate myself to write more! That, in and of itself, made it worth the read.

But she doesn't stop there. She uses countless analogies that really get to the core of what writing—and what life—feels like. Lamott writes with a beautiful balance of honesty and humor.

One of my favorite lines, from her chapter on jealousy:

"But if you continue to write, you are probably going to have to deal with it, because some wonderful, dazzling successes are going to happen for some of the most awful, angry, underserving writers you know—people who are, in other words, not you."

She also offers insights about writing that make you feel like she's secretly moved into your head. Her wisdom on listening to your characters hit home with me. She talks about writing towards a scene/moment and then getting to that very moment and realizing that the moment doesn't work. I had just written four chapters up to "the moment" in my newest book, and was struggling with how "the moment" didn't make sense anymore. To her, that's perfectly fine. Thank you, Anne, for chiming in at the right time to tell me that I'm not, in fact, crazy. Or, rather, that I may be crazy but in very good company. :)

She shares gems of wisdom that she shares with her writing classes, including this quote, which is now written in sharpie and hanging on a piece of paper glamorously taped to my closet:

"Writing a novel is like driving a car at night, you can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." —E.L. Doctorow

Now isn't that a beautiful analogy about both writing and life? Obviously, I am unable to read this through a lens of someone who is not writing. So it's hard for me to say with 100% confidence that you'll enjoy it if you don't have any plans of writing anything ever, BUT I still think you will. (And, I think there's a good chance you'll want to write something, at some point.) Lamott's analogies about life really rang true for me, even in a non-writing context.

So, go read it and let me know what you think! I'm planning on purchasing a copy (after the dreaded end-of-July move) and reading it again—it was bursting with valuable insights, from writing dialogue to plot to set design to publication and on and on!

Have you read any of Anne Lamott's books? I already bought Rosie because I found it at a used bookstore, and can't wait to read it! 

Also, do you know of any more writers-on-writing books that you recommend? I'm now obsessed with this genre, because when I took a break from writing to read  Bird by Bird I felt no guilt at all since I was practically still working on my writing, after all.

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