Thursday, May 03, 2007

Bird by Bird

This is my second time reading Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott’s classic book of writing advice. Many consider it to be advice applicable to life in general, and her quotable writing makes it easy to see why:

“…thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’ ”

My favorite aspect of Lamott’s writing is that she advocates writing purely for the sake of writing. She points out that publication isn’t all it’s cracked up to be (she’s right) and that good writing springs from a desire to communicate, not to get a pay check. (Naturally, for those of us doing this as a living, the goal is to combine both.) Her descriptions of neurotic writerly behavior (checking the mailbox ten times a day, finding 101 things to do other than sit down to write) will make you laugh out loud. And when she’s profound – “Becoming a writer is about becoming conscious,” for instance – you’ll be thinking about her message long after you set down the book.

1 comment:

Ritergal said...

I absolutely love Bird By Bird. The first time I read it, I was visiting my father, who was recovering from shoulder replacement surgery. He wondered what I was reading that was so funny, and I couldn't imagine reading the section to him — it was the part where she discovers her father writes pornography. Mine doesn't!

Right now I'm rereading Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones. It's not quite rereading though. She revised it a couple of years ago, and I think it's better than ever. In my mind, Anne and Natalie are cut from the same cloth.