Sunday, March 09, 2008

Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott

Author Anne Lamott has written a large selection of fiction and non-fiction, but my favorite by far is Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. She is funny, honest, and up front about the most difficult subjects in life. For me, that willingness to be completely open is what makes her instructions on writing a book that is worth reading.

With all the books on writing, so many of them can become repetitive and stale. But the best books have some spark that makes them engaging and unique. As Lamott puts it, "Life is like a recycling center, where all the concerns and dramas of humankind get recycled back and forth across the universe. But what you have to offer is your own sensibility, maybe your own sense of humor or insider pathos or meaning." She uses her wry humor to accomplish this, even during tragic anecdotes.

The subtitle was particularly interesting when I first picked up this book: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. So much of the advice does apply to both topics. Tackle projects one step at a time (take them bird by bird, so to speak), have confidence in yourself, don't listen to your internal critique, and be open to the world around you.

Lamott is brutally honest about the difficult side of writing. She is the first to admit that "all good writers write [shitty first drafts]" and hate the few people who claim that their work comes out perfect on the first attempt. In her one small chapter about publication, she uses her own story to demonstrate how it is not a guarantee of happiness and how there are a whole new set of problems that arise.

With all of the truth-telling, the book is never discouraging. Lamott breaks down the myths and the fantasy, but replaces it with solid advice and techniques to move forward. Since it is written from personal experience and anecdotes I never felt the book was forcing advice on me. The message seemed to be "Here is my story and my method; I hope it helps you create yours." The section that includes publication is called "Publication-- and Other Reasons to Write." She always stays hopeful that even though things might not be easy, they are worthwhile.

That has been one of the most important lessons I have learned in my own writing. It may not be simple and it may not lead to a major book deal, but every moment I spend writing is worth it. Bird by Bird is a constant reminder of that.

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