bird by bird

October 11, 2006 | 4 Comments

I’ve had Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, on my ‘someday reads’ list for a few years. I’d never found an excuse to bump it to the top of the list, so I was happy to see it on the syllabus for one of my classes.

I appreciate that this is more than just a book about how to write. For anyone who picks it up hoping to be a writer, they are going to walk away with much more — it is a book that portrays the therapy that writing offers. That sounds like a good result, whether you are published or not. A few thoughts from the many passages I underlined:

  • Plot grows out of character. If you focus on who the people in your story are, if you sit and write about two people you know and are getting to know better day by day, something is bound to happen. Characters should not, conversely, serve as pawns for some plot you’ve dreamed up. (pg 54) – Obviously she is talking about writing a story here, but shouldn’t we think this way in terms of all relationship? We can define all we want to about how our interactions will look, but we are always dealing with other people who rightfully have a chance to shape those interactions. Such a simple idea — and so complex to embrace.
  • You are going to have to give and give and give and give, or there’s no reason for you to be writing. You have to give from the deepest part of yourself, and you are going to have to go on giving, and the giving is going to have to be its own reward. There is no cosmic importance to your getting something published, but there is in learning to be a giver. (pg 202)
  • If something inside you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Don’t worry about appearing sentimental. Worry about being unavailable; worry about being absent or fraudulent. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act–truth is always subversive. (pg 226)
  • Thanks for sharing this. I, too, have heard about this book but I’ve not added it to my list. Looks like I should!

  • that last excerpt is a doosie. great stuff. thanks john.

  • Hedrick

    She is one of my favorite writers. You introduced me to her years ago with Traveling Mercies. She reminds me or a crazier version of my own mother and that’s what I like about her. To me, she’s the female more political potty mouth version of Don Miller.

  • jon

    thanks for posting this. i’ve been meaning to pick this up and those quotes made me realize what i want for christmas