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Bird by Bird

Anne Lamott


While starting my journey into full-time writing, I wanted to seek out books that would not only help me become a stronger writer, but a more confident self-advocate. While reading this book, I couldn’t help but pick up a highlighter to mark every “aha!” moment.

Anne Lamott was born in San Francisco, California, in 1954. After studying at Goucher college, she returned to California and began writing novels. Her first novel was published in 1980, and she has since published nearly twenty books, including novels and non-fiction works, like Bird by Bird. Bird by Bird features some of Lamott’s best learned truths from her journeys in writing. She divides her lessons into five parts, each focusing on the next steps towards becoming a true writer – published or not.

While I genuinely enjoyed reading this book, I would like to get a few critiques out of the way. Bird by Bird is brief, and while 

this brevity makes the book easily digestible, also limits the depth into which each chapter can dive. Lamott’s advice at times can present with somewhat of a surface-level just-do-it-ness (i.e. just write, just believe, just keep trying). Her words are inspirational, but sometimes fall short of really instructing the aspiring writer on how to take their next steps. There are some things that she writes for granted, such as having an agent, an editor, a network of writers, an advance, a published piece. These are all things that will come with confidence and with effort and with time, Lamott assures us, and even when we do one day have it all, true happiness will only be found within.

With that being said, I still believe Anne Lamott to be a powerful and hilarious writer. While she can occasionally go on tangents of loose inspiration, her words are always grounded in relatable life stories and witty jokes about the plight of writers. It is comforting to read Bird by Bird as a writer and know that every feeling, good and bad, elation and self-pity, loathing and bragging, are all valid. The path of writing takes a lot of dedication, but Lamott assures us that the reward of creation is worth all the trouble. The practical advice she offers is less about perfecting one's use of language, and more about forming connections with others, striving to understand the human condition, and telling your truth as you would tell it. Here are some of my favorite highlighted lines:  

“Your job is to see people as they really are, and to do this, you have to know who you are in the most compassionate possible sense.”

“Mostly things are not that way, that simple and pure, with so much focus given to each syllable of life as life sings itself. But that kind of attention is the prize. To be engrossed by something outside ourselves is a powerful antidote for the rational mind, the mind that so frequently has its head up its own ass – seeing things in such a narrow and darkly narcissistic way that it presents a colo-rectal theology, offering hope to no one.”

My favorite lines on writer’s block include:

“You get your confidence and intuition back by trusting yourself, by being militantly on your own side. You need to trust yourself, especially on your first draft, where amid the anxiety and self-doubt, there should be a real sense of your imagination and your memories walking and woolgathering, tramping the hills, romping all over the place. Trust them. Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance.”

“The word block suggests that you are constipated or stuck, when the truth is that you’re empty… But if you accept the reality that you have been given – that you are not in a productive creative period – you free yourself to begin filling up again.”

I especially loved Lamott’s chapter about the constant negative chatter that plays in the heads of creative people, the inner radio station that Lamott calls KFKD, or K-fucked. Lamott guides writers on how to tune out of KFKD in order to really tune in to their writing and the dreams and desire of their characters. On one of the strongest voices of KFKD, jealousy, she writes:

“I was raised in a culture that promotes this competitiveness, this insatiability, this fantasy of needing hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, and then, in the next breath, shames you for any feelings of longing or envy or fear that it will always be someone else’s turn. I was only doing what I had been groomed to do.” 

I would recommend Bird by Bird to anyone pursuing their dream, but particularly writers, and more specifically, fiction writers. Bird by Bird has inspired me to put more effort into connecting with the writing community, and using whatever methods help me in creating my content (Anne and I both have a penchant for index cards, it seems). This book has reassured me that step by step, bird by bird, word by word, writing is possible. 

Overall Rating:  4.5

Speed of Reading: Quick

Complexity: 3 out of 5

Language Density: 3 out of 5

Fun and Humor: 5 out of 5

Advice: 4 out of 5

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