Book Review: Bird by Bird
In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott presents an interesting volume about writing. Although her focus is on fiction, much of the advice and ideas are applicable to other types of writing as well. As someone working to get better at non-fiction blogging, the advice has aligned well with other things I have learned, and has helped reinforce much of what I know about being a good writer.
Clocking in at about 240 pages, with a great combination of useful advice combined with wit and colorful storytelling the book is an enjoyable read all the way through. Anne includes many personal stories about her life to provide visceral examples of the lessons she is giving and make it clear that she, and just about every other author, struggles with many of the same difficulties.
Although there are numerous topics covered in the book, there are a couple of key topics that came up over and over throughout. These ended up being some of the best takeaways:
A huge part of writing comes down to having enough material to draw from. Take notes on the hardships in your life, take notes on interesting things you see or hear, take notes on ideas that come to your head, take notes on everything. Anne describes keeping a folded up index card and a pen in her back pocket wherever she goes, generating scattered piles of ideas all around her house to draw from. Notes don't necessarily need to be detailed, they just need to be enough to invoke the memory of what you are capturing.
Put in the hours
At every stage of writing and publishing you will have self doubt, anxiety, writers block, and other barriers that make it difficult to create. For the most part the best approach is to sit down every single day and get down at least few hundred words. That will unblock you, help you get past the barriers you are facing, and allow you to build the writing muscle and defeat perfectionism. If you don't know how to put in the hours, pick short assignments for yourself and write shitty first drafts.
Tell the truth
Story telling is all about telling the truth. Find your voice so you can tell your own truth, dig and uncover and get to know your characters to learn about their truth and tell that, ensure that the narrator of the piece is a truthful figure. Work as hard as you can to understand your world and the world you are creating, and tell the truth as you understand it.
Work with others
Find a writing group to keep you accountable. Get trusted people in your life who can review your drafts, and if they are writers review theirs in turn. Reach out to people to learn more about what you are writing about because, again, you are trying to tell the truth, and in order to do that you need to understand what you are writing.
There are other tips throughout the book on character development, building plot, and writing dialog, along with stories and advice about dealing with the hard times of writing and publishing, building the right mindset to approach the craft, and getting your brain to shut up and do what you want it to a little more often.
Personally, my biggest issue with the book is that, as someone who doesn't plan to write a novel or anything of that sort, a fair bit of the advice wasn't for me. The character development and dialog sections aren't super applicable for me, and some of the advice is about working through the creation and publication of very long pieces of work (e.g. books) which I won't be doing anytime soon.
But overall quite an enjoyable book, and if you are a writer, especially a fiction writer, I would recommend giving it a read.
I have been trying to take more thorough notes on the books that I read and have begun setting up a section of my site to upload these raw notes. You can find my notes on Bird by Bird here.
One last thing.
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