Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Anne Lamott


Category: Nonfiction; Writing

Synopsis: Lamott offers advice for writers.

Date finished: 7 March 2014

Rating: ****

I’m always afraid to re-read books that meant a great deal to me at one point in my life. What it they don’t stand the test of time? What if I find them insipid or boring? I’m not sure I can stand that kind of disillusionment.

So it was with some trepidation that I undertook Bird by Bird again. At one time—nearly 20 years ago—this book was my lifeline. It was encouragement—dare I say, proof—that I could be a writer. It was friendly and funny. It was the book that every creative writing major read. And even though I’d read numerous other books about writing and the writing life, this was the bible, the holy grail, of writing books. My novelist boyfriend bought it for me. I was a poet then. My copy was signed by the great Anne Lamott herself, after I’d introduced her at her lecture at my university.

In short, the book meant a lot to me.

So. Did it hold up? Yes and no. The book is pretty much how I remember it. The parts that made me laugh or were especially reassuring were still there. The thing is—I’ve changed. My writer-ly dreams then, my fears and insecurities as a poet then, my whole life then was different. I’ve been writing for nearly two decades since reading the book the first time. I’m much more confident and have much less need for a network of writers.

I’d forgotten that the book was very deliberately about fiction writing and didn’t really mention or bow to other forms of writing. I find it odd that I’d forgotten that—since I’ve never written fiction—and that she’d made that decision.

Is the advice still relevant? I suppose it’s timeless to a certain degree. She advocates daily writing, crappy first drafts, and short assignments. She’s almost annoyingly cheerful toward new aspiring writers. And she’s at her best when giving anecdotes and telling stories to drive her points home.

So, all in all, I enjoyed this romp back in time. It was like visiting a place you knew so well at one time and finding the walls were all there, and for the most part they were the same color as you recall, but it feels much smaller than you remember.

I’m glad I went back for a visit, but I’ve not lost my anxiety of re-reading books that serve as landmarks for my life. 

Would you recommend this to a friend?
How could I not?

You might also enjoy:
Any of Lamott’s nonfiction. (I’ve never read her fiction.)

Other books on writing from this era or earlier: Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life, and William Stafford’s Writing the Australian Crawl.

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