Bird by Bird

I recently read and thoroughly enjoyed Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. What made this book so interesting, as opposed to other books about writing, is that she mixes life and writing until the two aspects are inseperable. And of course, that is perfectly fitting because we write about life and to experience it again, and we live because we express things, often in writing.

Rather than reading like a memoir, the book is like having a very long Q&A session, in the most amusing and entertaining way. Lamott has thought about all the questions she usually gets from her writing students, and organized them into a very thoughtful book. She covers just about every topic of writing – characters, dialogue, plot, publishing, a writer’s group, and how to write to make sense of life. She gives examples of her own life and how writing helped her understand and accept difficult experiences. She’s pretty hilarious throughout the book, and I found myself laughing a lot.

I went through the book as I read and marked about a million passages, either for Lamott’s wit or original style, the practicality of the advice, or the beautiful craft of the language. Some of my favorite tips for writers that she offered were look through everything as if through a one-inch frame (aka, focus on small assignments), being a good listener (to your characters, to the world around you), and advice on how to stop worrying that you’re not good enough. She also made a good point that we write for ourselves, and although publication is often the ultimate goal, writing for yourself is important and you shouldn’t go chasing after readers. She wrote, “Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.”

I would recommend this book if you are interested in writing at all, whether or not you are a seasoned writer or just want to start writing. It also provides an interesting perspective on life. It is far less spiritually-focused than Travelling Mercies (which I read earlier this year) but still gives a clear picture of what Lamott’s personal outlook is, which is heavily influenced by faith.

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