Bird by Bird

I read an amazing book this week.

Despite my undergrad English major & creative writing minor, I haven’t read a lot of books on craft. Almost none. Like, I vaguely recall Mamet’s Writing in Restaurants but I think I read that in grad school. I found books about writing snooze-worthy–or it might have just been that, at the time, I was spending God knows how many hours a night in rehearsals and prone to reading on my bed.

Still, I wish someone had given me a copy of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird sooner, because it’s AMAZING.

You should read it if you haven’t already. It’s not pretentious. It’s neurotic and funny and wise and inspiring. Not all of it worked for me–for instance, the sections on writing things down on note cards or having a writing group–but it made me laugh out loud a lot. These were some of the highlights:

I love how she writes about trying to quiet your mind and hear the characters above the other voices, which are "banshees and drunken monkeys. They are the voices of anxiety, judgment, doom, guilt. Also, severe hypochondria" (p. 7). She has glimpsed the inner workings of my mind.

Perfectionism "will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle" (p.28) Ack, yes. Total recovering perfectionist here.

She focuses on character, on really listening to them and learning about them over time and letting the story build organically from them. Questions to ask: "What sort of first impression do they make? What does each one care about most, want more than anything in the world? What are their secrets?" (p.46) 

"I honestly think that in order to be a writer, you have to learn to be reverent…Think of those times when you’ve read prose or poetry that is presented in such a way that you have a fleeting sense of being startled by beauty or insight, by a glimpse into someone’s soul…This is our goal as writers, I think; to help others have this sense of–please forgive me–wonder, of seeing things anew, things that can catch us off guard, that break in our small, bordered worlds" (p.99).  Omg she’s totally writing about the flash! Kindred spirit!

She describes intuition as a "tiny fitful little flame" that we need to tend. Discusses how we need to trust it, especially in a first draft, and "stop the chattering of the rational mind" because "rationality squeezes out much that is rich and juicy and fascinating" (p. 112). Yes a million times over. I started overthinking this first draft and it almost killed it dead.

"I don’t think you have time to waste not writing because you are afraid you won’t be good enough at it, and I don’t think you have time to waste on someone who does not respond to you with kindness and respect. You don’t want to spend your time around people who make you hold your breath" (p.171). Some of the best advice I’ve ever read on writing or life.

Have you read it? What did you think? Are there any other books on writing that you just love & adore?

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