A Review of Anne Lamott 's "Bird by Bird"
What Does the Writer Say?
“ . . . good writing is about telling the truth,” says Anne Lamott immediately in her first chapter. This doesn’t mean to always tell the strict truth when writing (because then fiction would be tossed out the window) but to always have a truthful intention behind what you write. When the writer doesn’t have belief or understanding in what she writes, then the reader won’t either. Lamott tells us that telling the truth in writing means using craft correctly and not slipping in a twist as a way out of a tough situation. Or to write true to your characters—which means fully developing your characters—so that readers understand what motivates their actions (so a truthful villain wouldn’t be completely evil and dark). If you don’t fully believe in or develop your ideas, your writing won’t be good. It might be almost good, but not really.
Lamott Splits the Book into 5 Sections:
- The Writing Frame of Mind
- Help Along the Way
- Publication—and Other Reasons to Write
- The Last Class.
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She begins with rules and tips and explanations about writing. Craft is mentioned in this first chapter, instead of in later chapters like so many other books on writing. I like this because it establishes a sense of recognition by Lamott that her readers are writers. She talks shop with her readers and that feels good. We don’t have to go through some kind of initiation before getting to this level. Then, in The Writing Frame of Mind, Lamott begins talking about motivation. This is the difficult part: sitting down and actually writing. It is scary and feels like a lot of work. Luckily she has already drawn her readers into the book by treating them with respect—now we are hooked and read what she has to say, even if it is horrifying.
If writing is so much work, why do we want to do it? Because you want to write, she says. Because you should write everyday. Because there are so many things out there trying to keep you from writing that if you don’t do it everyday, it will be easier to stop and give up. Then she tells us about Help Along the Way. While a writer spends a lot of time alone, trying to write, it is also important to have a support system. Lamott mentions different kinds of support: writing groups, friends to edit and/or encourage, workshops, classes, taking notes, research, and the sharing of ideas.
Then comes Publication—and Other Reasons to Write. The idea of publication lurks around in most writers’ minds, but Lamott points out this isn’t the only reason to write. Writing will bring you joy and a feeling of completeness without publication. Writing can be a way to create something beautiful for another person or to capture memories and keep them alive. Writing can be a way to learn about yourself or release creative energy. Writing isn’t only about getting published. And, lastly, she tells us about The Last Class. The problem is that Lamott has to say goodbye. If other readers are anything like me, they are thinking they can do this: they can write. But that is while we are reading the book. Suddenly the book is ending and we will be alone. We have to do it on our own—the training wheels are coming off. This is just like the ending of a class. The teacher is no longer there to force you to write and you have to do it yourself. Lamott tries to gently let go in the end, but she also shovels on a bunch of reminders. Because, really, a lot of people won’t be able to do it on their own.
Craft & Anne Lamott
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I enjoy Lamott's style. Bird by Bird is one of the books on craft that I re-read whenever I need a boost. At the same time, I also enjoy Lamott's other fiction and non-fiction books. She manages to be both spiritual and down-to-earth at the same time.