The Wednesday Reviews: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

When I came into possession of my Nook tablet a few years ago, it was given to me along with a pale green cover, one that had a quote I had never seen before, by some man I had not a clue about. The quote was “Choose an author as you choose a friend.” by Sir Christopher Wren. Although I never told my Dad outright, as he had chosen this cover, but when I first saw this quote, I laughed to myself. “What?” my inner analyst guffawed, obviously amused, “treat an author as a friend? Guess I got to meet an author at a café before I buy their book. And perhaps I’ll only call someone my friend when they can hurl literary characters off of buildings and add suspense to plot. Ha! Guess readers can’t read nor have friends.”

    However, when I finished this book, Bird by Bird, Some Instructions on Writing and Life by the wonderful Anne Lamott, I happily defenestrated my inner analyst, and laughed at him at the entire way down.

    Anne Lamott is amazingly funny in this book, and certainly has the voice to go along with it. She felt so authentic in her words that I felt like I had been invited her over to her house, and we were discussing life and writing. She is very knowledgable, and if she did ever come over and tell me the story of this book, I know it would be an afternoon I would not soon forget. I felt a personal connection with her narration, even if there was no plot, no jumping off of cliffs, nada. She’s the kind of person who will blow you away with just her words.

    Anyone who writes, wants to write, or just needs some life advice: READ THIS BOOK.

    Here’s a quote I love: “I think [writers] should write with everything they have, daily if possible, for the rest of their lives.”

    So refreshing? Is it not? The content of this book is like sitting on the porch, the weather a perfect 75 degrees, and sipping on a mango smoothie. The smoothie is thick, it’s creamy, it’s freaking tangy and delicious, and you can’t get enough. It has its brain-freeze moments, where you know you need to calm down and digest the information, but it’s a good brain-freeze. Although she never gives any brain-hurters, she certainly gives you pieces of mango to chew on.

    For example, in her famous chapter, “Shitty First Drafts”, her best quotes from that chapter would have to be “The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later… If one of your characters wants to say “Well, so what, Mr. Poopy Pants?,” you let her… because there may be something great in those six crazy pages that you would have never have gotten to by more rational, grown-up means.”

    Gosh, I had never thought of that. Although she already has another chapter on the subject of Perfectionism, this is also something that delves into that topic. Allowing yourself to be a child again means you’re more likely to take risks, because you don’t have Mr. Cynical Adult Analyst screeching in your ear like some Howler Monkey on steroids. Which means more productive, risk-taking work.

Lamott also tackles the subject of our inner Analyst in her chapter KFKD, giving another great window and solution to life and writing.

    “If you are not careful, station KFKD will play in your head twenty-four hours a day, nonstop, in stereo. Out of the right speaker in your inner ear will come the endless stream of self-aggrandizement, the recitation of one’s specialness, of how much more open and gifted and brilliant and knowing and misunderstood and humble one is. Out of the left speaker will be the rap songs of self-loathing, the lists of all the things one doesn’t do well, of all the mistakes one has made today and over an entire lifetime, the doubt, the assertion that everything one touches turns to shit, and one doesn’t do relationships well… and on and on and on.”

    This is so true it hurts. We as humans love to praise ourselves, and then throw ourselves into a well of depression, sometimes at the same time. If one is to be a writer, that means they’re alone a lot of the time, making us extra susceptible to such noise. Luckily, Lamott has some suggestions.

    “The first way to get quiet… is first to notice that the station is on… You sit down to work at nine in the morning, and do the prayer or the small-animal sacrifice or whatever, and then breathe for a moment, and try to focus on where your characters are… Gently bring your mind back to work.”

    I love that chapter. No, scratch that earlier thought, I love every chapter in this book. It has great advice, it’s wonderfully honest but inspiring, and is just dang refreshing. Don’t only take my word for it, go read it. You will not regret it, writer or not.

    So, my rating for this child? I give it 5 Stars.

    I’ll end this review with a quote:

        “Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul… We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on the ship.”

    With that last quote, my childhood memory leaps back to the time my mother played her favorite song: I Hope you Dance by Lee Ann Womack. Read these lyrics out loud and let it permeate through to the heart. This is the essence of life, of writing:

I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean,
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens,
Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance,
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance.

                                                                  I hope you dance.

See you Friday J



6 thoughts on “The Wednesday Reviews: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

    • Oh, definitely! It is so insightful, charming and full of humor. This is a book that shines along with some of the better ‘craft of writing’ books, like Stephen King’s On Writing. It’s got some great life advice too. :)

  1. Pingback: Thank You Anne Lamott, Steve Wright, and My Dogs | Wilder Man On Rolling Creek

  2. Pingback: Anne Lamott on Writing, Reading and Life - Critical Margins

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