Bird by Bird Book Review

I recently interviewed Ed Cunningham – podcaster on A Need to Read – on my podcast where we talked extensively about his Desert Island Books. His list had changed slightly since he first posted on my blog which books he was taking to a deserted island, and new to the list was Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. He said it was an integral book when it came to encouraging him to write more, and – after God knows how many years of empty promises about how I’ll sit down tomorrow to write, had bored to tears – I thought that there would be no time like the present to read it. Luckily Gertrude & Alice had a copy in stock and so I pushed it to the top of my reading pile and started it on the penultimate day in July.

Bird By Bird book review

Since I had never read anything by Anne Lamott, I didn’t know anything about her writing style, but immediately fell in love with her sharp humor, her witty anecdotes and how she doesn’t shy away from the difficult – and often painful – side of writing.

Written with a self-deprecating sense of humor, Bird by Bird is an exploration of Anne’s harsh but realistic approach to writing and should be read by anyone looking to flex, sharpen, and maintain their creative muscles. Lamott is expertly on a range of subjects ranging from the neurotic mentality of writing to the sorrows and joys of publishing; and she uses her own experiences and friends and enemies she met along the way to provide real-life examples.

Part Manual, Part Memoir, Part Manual Bird by Bird is a surprisingly fun book about writing and, as the title suggests, life. From the death of her best friend to cancer to the hysteria surrounding the failed revisions of one of her books, it’s an open, honest, and sometimes hysterically funny book that fully deserves the hype that surrounds it. It is full of practical and factual advice on writing as it addresses the difficulties of writing and publishing, along with step-by-step advice on dialogue, plot, characterization, and more, and is rich in Lamott’s signature dry observations of life somewhere between belief and failure, and the “bird for bird” philosophy represented therein can apply to all creative endeavors, not just to writing.

Bird by bird by Anne Lamott summary

Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, tried to get three months to write a report on birds. [It] was due the next day. We were out in our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was sitting near the kitchen table, tears, surrounded by binding paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobile the size of the task ahead. Then my father sat down next to him, put his arm around his brother’s shoulder and said. “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it one bird at a time. ‘”

With this basic guide in mind, Anne Lamott returns with a new gift: a step-by-step guide to writing and managing the life of a writer. From “Getting Started” with “Short Assignments” to “Shitty First Drafts”, “Character”, “Plot” and “Dialogue”. from “false starts” to “how do you know when you’re done?” Lamott encourages, instructs and inspires. She talks about “Writers Block”, “Writing Groups” and “Publication”. She’s incredibly honest and one of the funniest people out there.

If you’ve ever wondered what it is like to be a writer, what it means to be a writer, what the content of your lunch says about who your parents really were, then this book is for you. From faith, love, and grace to pain, jealousy, and fear, Lamott insists that you keep your eyes open and then shows you how to survive. And she always turns from the life of the artist to the art of life.

Buy Bird by Bird at, Book Depository, Waterstones, Amazon or Amazon AU.

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I loved this article on Brain Pickings: Anne Lamott on Writing and Why Perfectionism Kills Creativity.

Anne Lamott Author Bio

Anne Lamott is the author of several novels and non-fiction books. Her non-fiction, based in the San Francisco Bay Area, is largely autobiographical, with a heavy dose of self-deprecating humor and topics such as alcoholism, single motherhood, and Christianity. She appeals to her fans with her humor, heartfelt insights, and open views on issues such as her left-wing politics and unconventional Christian belief. She is a graduate of Drew College Preparatory School in San Francisco, California. Her father, Kenneth Lamott, was also a writer and was the basis of her first novel, Hartes Lachen.

Lamott’s life is documented in Freida Lee Mock’s 1999 documentary Bird by Bird: A film portrait of the writer Anne Lamott.

More books by Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott has written a number of other books, including Dusk, Night Dawn: On Revival and Courage, Fast Everything: Notes on Hope, Small Victories, Hallelujah Anyway, and Hard Laughter.

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