Review: Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott

August 5, 2020

Books pages and pens on a bed

I just finished raving about this book on my Goodreads, but that didn’t feel like enough. So I wanted to expand a little more. I haven’t read a book of such high caliber in a while. A book that needs to be savoured, demands its reader to stop and pause.

Originally published in 1994, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life has become one of the quintessential texts for aspiring authors. And yet, I never sat down to read it, even though I’ve known I wanted to write since I was a kid. I have read dozens of other books on writing, but they really didn’t resonate like this one. Nothing else I’ve ever read on the subject so eloquently captures the process; the crippling self doubt and insecurities, matched with the sheer elation at getting a sentence just so. At the same time, Lamott offers actionable steps that will help writers write. I literally can’t stop reading this book. As soon as I finished it I flipped right back to the beginning and started again.

I also felt a wide range of emotions while reading. And I think that’s exactly what Lamott wanted, because it so perfectly mirrors the process of writing. I am nearly a DECADE into into writing my first novel. And I remember telling one of my creative writing teachers about the material I was planning on using. “It sounds like you have about ten years of writing ahead of you,” my teacher said. “You better get going.” And she was right. It took that long because I had to process my own experiences, piece by piece, so I could transform bits of them into fiction. It’s painful, it’s ugly, but it’s also so, so freeing. And thats the biggest takeaway I got from Lamott’s work. On page xxvi of the 25th anniversary edition, she reminds us that, “[…] publication is not what it’s cracked up to be. But writing is. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do, the actual writing, turns out to be the best part. It’s like discovering that while you thought you needed a tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.”

And she goes on like this for another couple hundred pages; gorgeous prose punctuated by important lessons. The subtitle of the book certainly doesn’t lie. While she does veer, what some might call, ‘offtrack’ at times, she seems to always have a plan. She brings her rambling thoughts and experiences back around to make her point. And what more could you ask for in a book on the meandering and ultimately cyclical process of both writing and life.

Book resting on smith corona typewriter
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