Friday, April 13, 2012

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott (5 stars)

From Amazon: 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.

My oldest daughter owes Anne Lamott big time! Thanks to her Operating Instructions: A Journal of my Son’s First Year, I survived my first year as a mother. Another new mom recommended the book to me. I clearly had been living under a rock, because I never heard of Lamott prior to this.

Fast forward ten years (and yes, I’m still surviving motherhood. I even added two more daughters to the mix). Many fellow writers were touting Lamott’s craft book, Bird by Bird. I knew I had to read it. If she could make me laugh and give me strength during the most sleep-exhausted and difficult (although insanely rewarding) early parenting years, I had no doubt she could inspire my writing.

Again, she did not disappoint.

Similar to Stephen King’s On Writing, I felt like I was sitting in the room with the author while she told me stories and offered advice. Her candor lulled me in like a comforting lullaby.

Not one to sugarcoat things, something I find quite endearing, Lamott emphasizes the idea that publication is not the end-all be-all for writers. It, like most things we romanticize, is not all it’s cracked up to be. Writing because you love it should be enough.

What spoke most to me:

Shitty first drafts: Yep, that’s what she calls them. And I can tell you from experience, that’s what they are. But it’s nice to know an author I admire has them, and not just me. “Besides,” Lamott says, “perfectionism will ruin your writing, blocking inventiveness and playfulness and life force.”

Short Assignments: Instead of sitting down and trying to write a novel, writers should remember to embrace the short stuff and use their creative juices.

Characters: They are your story. Authors need to know their characters, down to the smallest detail. Lamott emphasizes dialogue in fleshing out characters: one line of dialogue that rings true reveals character in a way that pages of description can’t. According to Lamott, “plot grows out of character.”

Index cards: A writer should never be without a way to record thoughts and feelings. Nobody knows when or where inspiration will strike, so no reason to get caught off guard or unprepared. I will be throwing a notebook in my purse!

Finding Our Voice: Above all, she tells us to believe in ourselves, a theme that ran through Operating Instructions as well. She says, “We write to expose the unexposed. If there is a door in the castle you have been told not to go through, you must.”

Rarely do I quote so many passages during a review, but I could have quoted this book all day long.

I’ll leave you with a final thought from Anne Lamott: Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul.

I couldn’t agree more.

Again, like King, Anne doesn’t set forth rules and bullet points or outline the secret to writing success. Instead, she inspires you to find the secret to writing within yourself. Most of her advice applies to living, not just writing.
Rating: 5 stars

For more information on other Anne Lamott books, please visit her Amazon author page.