As a writer, or as a person who appreciates writing, if you haven’t read Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird then you MUST put it on your list as a Do-Not-Miss book. My mom passed the book onto me during our last visit together–suggesting I might like to take a look at it. Half way through the book, I have pages upon pages dog-eared; willing myself to return to these pages to re-read, highlight, and keep at the ready, when I need a really good piece of advice, a little source of inspiration, or a great big literary kick in the butt to get my writer’s engine going again. Lamott paints pictures like this, that make us writers remember why we have chosen this craft to begin with:
“Because for some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die. They are full of all the things that you don’t get in real life–wonderful, lyrical language, for instance, right off the bat. And quality of attention: we may notice amazing details during the course of a day but we rarely let ourselves stop and really pay attention. An author makes you notice, makes you pay attention, and this is a great gift. My gratitude for good writing is unbounded; I’m grateful for it the way I’m grateful for the ocean. Aren’t you?”
She breaks the book down into chapters based on the writing classes she has taught at UC Davis, and at conferences all around the country. Chapters like: Getting Started, Shitty First Drafts, Character, Dialogue, Writer’s Block, and Finding Your Voice. But amidst all this great and highly applicable advice, is germane honesty and personal revelation. She not only writes about how to write….but about what it’s like to be a writer; what it’s like to will yourself to get a few words down on the page when it feels worse than pulling a stubborn, impacted tooth at two-thirty in the morning in a drunk dentist’s waiting room (she didn’t say that…I did, but can’t you so relate?). She writes about advice she received from her own writer father–Kenneth Lamott, exchanges she has with her students, and experiences from her real world that have and do affect her writing.
Lamott is a fascinating character, herself. A recovered alcoholic and former atheist, she is a sober and highly colorful woman who loves all things “Jesusy”, abhors George W. Bush and all his cronies, and strives to mix wit, humor, honesty, reverence and irreverence in her writing and life. To get a better sense of Lamott as an individual as well as a writer, check out this interview with San Francisco Gate writer David Ian Miller, or this one, on Powell’s Books website.
A Guggenheim award winner, Lamott has penned numerous other works of fiction and nonfiction, including:
Travelling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith
Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith
Operating Instructions: A Journey of My Son’s First Year