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Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing…

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (edition 1995)

by Anne Lamott

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6,950167518 (4.18)196
Title:Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
Authors:Anne Lamott
Info:Anchor (1995), Edition: 1, Paperback, 239 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:writing, general

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Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott


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Ah, Bird by Bird. After many years of owning this book, I finally read through it, and I have very mixed feelings. Part of this may be heightened because, for longest time, I’ve heard Bird by Bird basically referred to as a Writer’s Bible. It was not this for me.

There were certainly moments of brilliance where I felt like Anne was bringing to light exactly what it feels like to be a writer, all the complicated feelings of magical intuition and crippling self-doubt. Talk of trusting in your characters to know themselves instead of forcing the plot onto them. Solid encouragement for facing writer’s block. But these moments were usually hidden in between Anne’s “instructions on writing”, which I rarely felt connected to.

I should take the time here to mention that I’m more Plotter than Pantser, and Bird by Bird is written about and for Pantsers. She tells you to just write with knowledge that you could throw out 90% of your first draft. This is not how I write in the slightest, so it was hard to relate to. But for a Plotter, I’m also more of an intuition/inspiration based writer. So, talk of reorganizing an entire book and other technical approaches to writing also didn’t work for me. Unfortunately, as I often have to deal with when reading writer’s tips, Bird by Bird emphasizes the force writing out every day even if you aren’t feeling it. This has never worked for me. It just leaves me with anxiety and a mess to edit later. None of these things are really the book’s fault. Anne’s approach to writing just doesn’t resonate with me. And that’s okay.

Bird by Bird often takes a humorous look at the writing journey. This can be enjoyable, but some of Anne’s jokes rub me the wrong way. The funny thing was that, in the first section of the book, I had trouble with the focus of the lessons but enjoyed the witty commentary around them. Then, in the second section of the book, I liked the idea of the lessons more, but she presented them in a very condescending way. For instance, she talks about natural approaches to clearing your mind and trusting your intuition, then apologizes saying, “Believe me, I hate natural solutions.” She’s putting down her own lessons just because they feel too out there and not “sharper, slicker” technical solutions. Several times in the book, she states her technical approach to a writing issue and “jokes” that if you don’t have to do it her way, then you aren’t a good person. Silly, but irritating. I find that Anne sometimes comes off as being a bit of an elitist when it comes to writing. But admittedly, those thoughts have been coloured partly by her online presence and not just the book, itself.

The opening and closing chapters of the book are the strongest, in my opinion. They are where Anne mostly sets aside the technical lessons and instead talks about how writing can enrich your life. Why it’s worth the effort whether you are ever published or recognized as an author or not. She talks about her writing journey. And that’s what resonates with me. I don’t need lessons on how to write; I’ve been writing for seventeen years. I need reminders that writing is meaningful and worth all the pain of cutting yourself open and letting your emotions spill out into words.

All in all, I still feel like Bird by Bird is a worthwhile read for most writers, especially those just starting out. Even if you discover more about what doesn’t work for you than what does. (Plotters, I’m talking to you.) At the very least, getting this book from your library and skimming through it should help you discover a few lines that make you think, “Hey, someone actually gets my goofy writer’s brain!” Some of those moments are truly magical. I just wish there were more of those moments for me. ( )
  fireflys_locket | Apr 24, 2017 |
Warm, wonderful and witty advice on writing. There were times when the humour was too obviously contrived, but as Lamott explains, humour was her defence mechanism in childhood. On the whole a book every writer should read for its honest look at the writing profession. Even as an experienced author, the emptiness of the blank page had almost overwhelmed me - after reading Bird by Bird I'm fired up with enthusiam again. ( )
  JudyCroome | Nov 24, 2016 |
This was the first of four books chosen for my library's summer reading program. I must admit that I had my heels dug in about this one - just didn't want to read it for some reason. I have zero aspiration to become a writer and did not think I would take anything away from this experience. It has now become the perfect example of don't judge a book by its cover - or its title. I loved this book. Every single, solitary page of it. It was brilliant, hilarious, soothing, enlightening...I could go on with the adjectives. I was profoundly moved and feel like I have had a beautiful, deep (from the bottom of my gut) cleansing, eye and soul opening, breath. Simply fabulous. ( )
  Maureen_McCombs | Aug 19, 2016 |
wonderful, soft, comforting. a great read for someone thinking about writing. it's well written, instructional and inspirational. i quote it often. ( )
  Joseph_W_Naus | Jul 20, 2016 |
A gift to all us mortals who write or ever wanted to write ... sidesplittingly funny, patiently wise and alternatively cranky and kind -- a reveille to get off our duffs and start writing now, while we still can. Seattle Times
  PendleHillLibrary | Jul 14, 2016 |
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I grew up around a father and a mother who read every chance they got, who took us to the library every Thursday night to load up on books for the coming week.
…getting all of one’s addictions under control is a little like putting an octopus to bed.
...perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor.
I understood immediately the thrill of seeing oneself in print. It provides some sort of primal verifications. You are; therefore you exist.
If you find that you start a number of stories or pieces that you don't even bother finishing, that you lose interest or faith in them along the way, it may be that there is nothing at their center about which you care passionately.
…if you are writing the clearest, truest words you can find and doing the best you can to understand and communicate, this will shine on paper like its own little lighthouse.”
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Book description
I found this book in a library after my life fell apart one rainy day in California. I thought the writing was so clean and simple and straight forward and funny that I almost cried with happiness. Telling the truth is really hard, but writing the truth is almost impossible. After that day, I went back to college for a few decades...so glad I did.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0385480016, Paperback)

Think you've got a book inside of you? Anne Lamott isn't afraid to help you let it out. She'll help you find your passion and your voice, beginning from the first really crummy draft to the peculiar letdown of publication. Readers will be reminded of the energizing books of writer Natalie Goldberg and will be seduced by Lamott's witty take on the reality of a writer's life, which has little to do with literary parties and a lot to do with jealousy, writer's block and going for broke with each paragraph. Marvelously wise and best of all, great reading.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:35 -0400)

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"Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that hed had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brothers shoulder, and said, Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird. Here, for the first time, is a local edition of the bible of writing guidesa wry, honest,-- down-to-earth book that has never stopped selling since it was first published in the United States in the 1990s. In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott, a bestelling novelist and memoirist, distils what shes learned over years of trial and error. Beautifully written, wise, and immensely helpful, this is the book for serious writers and writers-to-be."--Provided by publisher.… (more)

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