I recently reread Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird” for the umpteenth time in anticipation of a class I’ll be teaching. And while “Bird by Bird” might be the ultimate guide to writing, it’s also chock full of life lessons. I take away something new each time I read it.
Anne is a prolific writer on uneasy life topics like coping, death, disappointment, illness and addiction. But that’s not to say her work is a downer in any way. Her writing is hilarious, brazenly honest, quirky, genuine and just plain fun to read.
The book’s title itself if a life lesson I invoke frequently. “Bird by Bird” reflects a story of her brother who, as a child, was overwhelmed by the enormity of an assignment to write a report about birds. Her father, a successful writer himself, just advised Anne’s brother to take it “bird by bird.” What simple, yet powerful, advice to guide us through most of life’s trying times.
Anne shares many practical lessons about writing including how she organizes thoughts using good old fashioned index cards and forces herself past writer’s block by accepting the “shitty first draft” (her own words) – or SFD in polite company – will meet no one’s eyes but her own.
Her chapter on perfectionism is particularly helpful. She writes, “Perfectionism means that you try desperately not to leave so much mess to clean up. But clutter and messes show us that life is being lived. Clutter is wonderfully fertile ground – you can still discover new treasures under all those piles, clean things up, edit things out, fix things, get a grip.”
This book is a must-have for any aspiring writer reminding all of us that writing can’t be constrained by a single practice, a series of rules or edicts from others. Writing is about voice and heart and truth and expression. “We write to expose the unexposed,” she writes in the chapter about finding your voice. “If there is one door in the castle you have been told not to go through, you must. Otherwise, you’ll just be rearranging furniture in rooms you’ve already been in.”
If you’re into reading about writing, I’ve got lots of other suggestions. Read on here to get my favorite books about writing and writers.
My summer challenge is to get off the screens and back to books. My accountability is to write a dozen-ish short Blink Book Reviews of 300-ish words. Join my summer Blink Book Review Facebook group to get my reviews and book suggestions from others.