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Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

By Diana | Books | April 29, 2010 |

By Diana | Books | April 29, 2010 |

Reading this book is as though one were sitting through a writing class with Anne Lamott. I’ve never read her work, but I’m inspired to do so. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life is not so much a how-to book as it is a book of advice.

Lamott fills her book with wry observations and witty remarks from her own experiences. Again and again she cautions a writer from focusing on publication as the end goal. With chapters titled “Shitty First Drafts,” “False Starts,” “Broccoli,” and “Radio Station KFKD” you know this isn’t a dry writing manual. The idea that shitty first drafts are OK or to even be expected and celebrated is a liberating thought.

“I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much. We do not think that she has a rich inner life or that God likes her or can even stand her. (Although when I mentioned this to my priest friend Tom, he said you can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.)”

Lamott’s advice to those who don’t know where to start is to start with their childhoods. She says to write down all your memories as truthfully as you can. “Remember that you own what happened to you.” This advice resounded strongly with me for I had once tried to practice a similar exercise regularly. The purpose was to pick emotionally charged moments in my life and write short sketches. It’s a practice I should pick up again.

I was reading this book on a plane, and I couldn’t stop the laughs that escaped my lips. She has an unexpectedly funny style of writing. Anne Lamott writes to you as a friend. A friend you could meet for drinks. A friend who will tell you what you need to know. A friend who reminds you to enjoy the journey.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. For more of Diana’s reviews, check out her blog Badinage.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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