Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. Anchor Books. 237 pages.
As a writer, and as a writing teacher, I am always looking for books that teach writing. And there are lots of them out there. Like life, it seems like everyone has advice to give (including myself; my book Write Thinking was an attempt to share my philosophy on writing psychology, but apparently it was premature). Up to this point, the two best books I have found for writing advice have been On Writing written by Stephen King and Story by Robert McKee. I still recommend both of those book heartily.
Now I have a third book to add to that list. Bird by Bird is a book that’s been recommended to me for a couple of years, and I somehow never got around to reading it. Anne Lamott has a lot of good information to share about writing, and like the subtitle says, about life itself. Here’s an example:
“We write to expose the unexposed. 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. Most human beings are dedicated to keeping the one door shut. But the writer’s job is to see what’s behind it, to see the bleak unspeakable stuff, and to turn the unspeakable stuff into words–not just into any words but if we can, into rhythm and blues.”
After writing for more than 40 years, it’s hard for me to find books on writing that don’t tell me things I’ve already learned. I’ve gone beyond the nuts-and-bolts stage, and come to realize that once you learn the basics, much of writing is brain games: psychology. That’s what led me to writing my own book Write Thinking, which deals with the mental gymnastics that come with writing. And Lamott has a lot to contribute in that area. She shares the inevitable truth that the reward for writing is writing itself–not fame or fortune, not even in getting published. If more would-be writers knew that, they would have a healthier approach to the craft.
Finally, Lamott has a gift for humor that is always a breath of fresh air. I have already decided to include this book as one of my textbooks for my Narrative Writing class next summer. It’s informative, educational and entertaining.
I give it five out of five stars.