First Published: 1995
All writers can expect to agree on at least one thing: writing, regardless of skill level, is hard. The challenges writers encounter may differ from each other, but there is undoubtedly a shared pain when it comes to the harrowing task of putting pen to paper (or mouse to word document) and expressing raw, jumbled thoughts in an articulate and meaningful manner. In Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott takes the reader (most likely an aspiring writer) under her wing and offers the most honest advice she can give on what it really means to be an author.
The ability to sit down and focus for an extended period of time is the first step, and arguably the hardest, in the process of writing. The author describes the familiar feeling every writer encounters when it comes time to skillfully craft words into substantial, meaningful work: the task at hand suddenly becomes an impossible feat that rivals conquering Mount Everest, the inner critic’s dull whispers rapidly morph into unbearable, ear-shattering jabs, and low-level priorities suddenly sound an alarm of urgency. Lamott strikes down these restraints by offering ingenious solutions and intriguing examples on how to work through self-doubt and unrefined discipline.
Every writer must become accustomed to churning out “shitty first drafts”, otherwise progress and growth will never take place, Lamott argues. Many writers waste too much time fretting over every word and sentence as the first draft comes into being. Writing should come freely, thus the first draft should spill out on to the page (mistakes and all), and not come in short stop-and-go’s like rush hour traffic. For those who struggle with perfectionism (which is probably a majority of writers), an entire section on the hindrances of the problem and why it should be dealt with quickly is included in the book.
Lamott presents several exercises to help writers adjust to the process of writing, such as how to start and finish a project, why it is important to develop an awareness of the world and to what degree these observations can be used, methods to strategically set free-writing prompts to get at the “good stuff”, and processes with which to develop characters, dialogue, and plot. Going above and beyond, the author even gives advice on ways to deal with the emotions that go along with writing, competition, sharing work, writing groups, and publication.
Writing is not easy, and requires passion and drive to be successful. The author explains the woes that come with writing, and offers relatable, vulnerable illustrations from her own life and career. However, she also does an excellent job of showing the joys that come with writing, and recommends that anyone who has a burning devotion for the craft should give it a shot.
Through Bird by Bird, Lamott hits every aspect of what it means to be a writer and then some. That being said, every writer should refer to this book when they are in need of some encouragement, direction, and advice.