A review of Anne Lamott’s nonfiction classic Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
BY NANCY KAY CLARK
Copyright is held by the author.
I CAN’T say I’ve learned something earth-shattering about writing after reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (Anchor Books 1994, 2019). But that’s probably because in the 25 years since it first came out it has become such a classic many of her insights have been adopted by the writing world. Every leader of every writing workshop and course I’ve attended has given similar advice. Even the title Bird by Bird has become something writers say to one another when faced with an overwhelming task — like completely rewriting your 100,000-word novel in three months. Take it bit by bit, one will encourage the other, take it “bird by bird.”
Lamott’s practical advice about getting started, shitty first drafts, short assignments, character, setting, dialogue and avoiding the trap of perfectionism is all sound and any day now I will implement them in my own writing practice (as soon as I stop self-sabotaging).
But what I liked most about the book was the feeling I’ve gained a witty, truthful and loyal writing companion — who peppers her conversations with wonderful stories — and who knows all too well the petty jealousies, self-loathing, and delusions of grandeur that ebb and flow through the hearts of writers everywhere. As she describes her own writing life, you will recognize yourself. And when she tells you to get over yourself and get on with it — not because being published is the gateway to happiness, but because every once in a long while the act of writing is — you will believe her.
I will keep this book beside me while I write, like a life preserver, and reach for it when I feel myself drowning in the dark waters of self-doubt. I expect it will get plenty of use.