extraordinary books on writing – part two

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

First I listened to Word by Word, then to the audiobook version of Bird by Bird, and today I’m reading Bird by Bird on my iPad. Why? Because I got kind of hooked. Because Anne Lamott writes and talks exceedingly well about writing. Because Lamott knows what she’s talking about – and seems genuinely interested in sharing her insights.

In short: Anne Lamott makes you want to write!

In order to be a writer, you have to learn to be reverent. If not, why are you writing? Why are you here? … Think of reverence as awe, as presence in and openness to the world. Think of those times when you’ve read prose or poetry that is presented in such a way that you have a fleeting sense of being startled by beauty or insight, by a glimpse into someone’s soul. All of a sudden everything seems to fit together or at least to have some meaning for a moment. This is our goal as writers, I think; to help others have this sense of — please forgive me — wonder, of seeing things anew, things that can catch us off guard, that break in on our small, bordered worlds. When this happens, everything feels more spacious.


Bird by Bird – Quick SUMMARY of major points:

  • Write regularly whether you feel like writing or not, and whether you think what you’re writing is any good or not.
  • Give yourself short assignments. Keep it manageable so you don’t get overwhelmed.
  • Write sh**ty first drafts. (I’m not being prissy about the word choice, just don’t want to get hung up in spam filters.) Don’t expect a piece of writing to flow perfectly out of your fingers on the first go. Of all the points she makes, many people seem to find this one the most helpful.
  • Let the Polaroid develop; in other words, observe, watch, listen, stay in the moment, until you understand what you want to write about.
  • Know your characters.
  • Let the plot grow out of the characters.
  • “If you find that you start a number of stories or pieces that you don’t ever bother finishing…it may be that there is nothing at their center about which you care passionately. You need to put yourself at their center, you and what you believe to be true or right.”
  • Figure out ways to jam the transmissions from Radio KFKD, the interior station feeding doubts and criticism into your brain. Especially about jealousy of other writers.
  • Have pen and paper ready at all times. (She always carries an index card.)
  • Call around. Ask for help.
  • Start a writing group.
  • Write in your own voice.
  • Being published brings a quiet joy, but it doesn’t transform your life, and eventually you have to write again.
  • “Devotion and commitment will be their own reward.”

8 Comments Add yours

  1. Mary says:

    I’m hooked on Bird by Bird as well. I blogged several of her insightful suggestions. She is an amusing teacher.

    1. Sigrun says:

      Agree – she is amusing, and also very down-to-eart practical. I will see you blog for your thoughts on her work, have you other instructors you like to read?

  2. KM Huber says:

    I agree, Sigrun, Bird by Bird is one of my top writing books. I enjoy her FB updates, and there is a public broadcasting radio program that she drops by from time to time and is always witty, a rare quality that I admire. Thanks for the excellent summary; for me, it is a timely reminder.

    1. Sigrun says:

      Thank you Karen!
      Reading Lamott is almost like talking to a wise friend, I keep on having these discussions with her in my head imagining her answers to all kind of literary questions.

  3. Good advice for visual artists too.

  4. Arti says:

    Bird by Bird is one of my favourite books on writing. That was some years ago when I first read it; I still remember how the title came about. It’s amazing how AL can transfer one observation into a totally different kind of application.

    1. Sigrun says:

      If I was to have a writing guru, she would have been the one 🙂

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