Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Bird by Bird - Anne Lamott

So. Whew. Time for something light and fun. Whenever I feel like I should give up the writing ghost and just commit myself to doing something realistic, like teaching or copy editing, I sit down and read this book from cover to cover. I rise convinced that, if I feel like I should write, then I should write (this does not mean that what I write will be great or even good, or even that I should show it to other people, but I should do it nonetheless). With every Tom, Dick and Harriet flooding the blogosphere these days, it seems as though the reverse should be true, and that most of us should stop writing until we figure out if we're any good at it or not. But how else do we figure this out? And how else are we going to get any better?

Lamott's advice is simple and direct: Write shitty first drafts. Take things one inch at a time. Commit to writing a certain amount every day. She makes it seem so manageable, so doable, so intrinsically rewarding that, even if both my blogs are shut down and I never see another word of mine in print, it will be worth the doing. It's ok, she says, if it's hard, and if you feel at times like your friends are collaborating against you, and like you're not attractive or funny or kind, and that no one will ever want to hold your hand again. You're supposed to feel this way. People who do not feel this way are rare, and do not have interesting inner lives, and probably also eat Cream of Wheat for breakfast. Every day.

Lamott is so frighteningly precise at times that you want to leap to your feet, pumping your fist in the air and hollering, 'Yes! Yes!' And then you would like confetti to fall from the ceiling. This is particularly inappropriate if you are on the bus, and I do not recommend it. She is also hilarious, and if you do not choke on your tongue reading this book, then you are not the type of person I want to spend time with. She is tender and encouraging and heartfelt and genuine and honest. I would like to have her for a cousin.

Seriously, if you ever have felt compelled to write, or if anyone in your life spends any time writing and you want to understand why they're so neurological and why sometimes their eyelashes fall out, or if you have no interest in writing but you have a dark sense of humor hidden away somewhere, you need to read this book.

9.5 caterpillars


jenclair said...

I should read this again...and may even have my old copy boxed up somewhere.

Bybee said...

My favorite part was how to avoid lawsuits for making a character too close to a real person...give the character a small penis!

Charley said...

I have an aversion to Anne Lamott, but I have always heard wonderful reviews of Bird by Bird. One of my favorites is Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, and I am currently reading If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland, though it is not thrilling me. Perhaps I'll give Lamott another chance.

LisaMM said...

A friend gave me this book for Christmas but I've yet to start it. I will soon.. you make it sound really good.

Eloise said...

Great review! I read this recently and agree with everything you've said, especially the jumping up and shouting 'yes!' I don't think I actually did that but I did start laughing and talking to myself in a public place while reading it. It was embarrassing when I realised what I was doing, but worth it for this book.