Publisher: Anchor Books (1994)
Seventeen years ago, Anne Lamott published a book about writing in which she weaved her life experiences (reminiscent of Stephen King’s On Writing but of course, Lamott came first) being published, the aftermath, the reactions to negative and positive reviews, as well as putting pen to paper.
The title comes from a passage in the book which is on the back cover:
“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. [It] was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’”
This book about writing was easy to read (like Writing Down the Bones) but provides a complimentary view of the writing life that Natalie Goldberg paints in her book. Goldberg’s book works particularly well for people with writer’s block and those seeking encouraging techniques and/or exercises to unblock oneself. What’s different about Lamott’s book about writing (other than her funny anecdotes) is her honest view of the writing life.
There’s a hysterical anecdote that’s humbling and also realistic about Lamott’s interaction at a clothing store, while shopping for a writer’s event, with an employee claiming to read everything when Anne admits to being a writer.
Moments as the funny anecdote above are sprinkled throughout the book that provide comfort in being surrounded by writers, knowing I’m a part of this circle, and that being published doesn’t mean “I’ve made it!” A little dated (she mentioned a big portion of the book about having an editor and knowing a bit about the book industry now, that’s not very common anymore) but still completely relevant regarding the content/message, this book about writing was amazing. Every night, for two weeks, I sat down with Anne Lamott, a mentor in the shape of a book, and read her experiences in this industry while thinking the whole time, “Yup, I’m a writer. This is what I’m going to go through when I get there.” And I loved every second of it!
I’m not trying to idealize the act of having a “writer life” because that looks different for everyone and it’s also not perfect for everyone.
Bird by Bird was tone perfect in all aspects and a book every writer should own. These words can act as someone who can relate to you as writer, know what it feels like and on the way, pat you on the shoulder and tell you, “It’s alright. Just keep going” when you feel like giving up. In the end, that’s exactly how I felt and maybe you will too.
Own it. Read it. Dog-ear it. Memorize it. Love it. Support in a book. What more could you ask for?