Of all the writer self-help books I’ve been reading, this is probably the most personal. Ms. Lamott doesn’t write for fun. For her, writing requires she rip open a vein and expose every jagged nerve ending to get at the “truth” of her writing. Her books, fiction and memoir, are painful and true. She gives practical guidance on how to strip away the non-essential and get to the heart of the matter.
The title, Bird by Bird, refers to something her father told her brother when he was overwhelmed by an ornithology homework assignment. Take each bird separately and write about that. She uses that wisdom when she’s overwhelmed, which she frequently is when writing about her father’s early death from cancer, raising a son alone, and rejections after she’d been paid an advance. She gives lots of practical advice, all permeated with her own trials and tribulations. No, writing is not fun for her.
She gives the usual advice about writing on a schedule, writing a crappy first draft, and throwing out false starts. She also tells you things other writers don’t tell you such as how to write from a moral point of view, how to take notes every minute of the day, and when to use beta readers and when to ignore them. I found the chapter on Jealousy (of other writers) to be particularly interesting. I also found her idea of writing letters to your descendants about your work. It helps give the writer the big picture and a sense of ownership. No other book I’ve read discusses libel and how to fight against it by claiming exes have small penises (no one will admit to being that guy!).
As usual, this was a recommendation from one of my writers’ groups and a “must read” for beginning writers, and while I can’t say I enjoyed it, it probably pushed me to try harder. Ms. Lamott is more into quality than quantity and passionate about her calling. It’s something we all should strive for.
Thank you, Ms. Lamott.