Written by Anne Lamott
Reviewed by Marianne Spoon, WID communications officer
“When was the last time you looked at the first draft of anything you wrote and thought, ‘Done’?
If you’re in the ‘never’ category like me, don’t worry, you’re not alone. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been in the opposite camp, feeling like most of my professional and personal first drafts were so horrendous they needed to be quarantined for public safety. It brought me comfort to learn that author Anne Lamott may feel the same.
In her book Bird by Bird, Lamott modestly offers ‘some instructions on writing and life’ (though it’s really much more), with laugh-out-loud anecdotes and an eerie ability to transform her voice into one with such resonance, it may as well be your own.
The book’s title stems from Lamott’s childhood memory of her younger brother procrastinating to produce a school report on birds. Overwhelmed by the weight of the entire project and its impending deadline, her brother sat at the kitchen table, immobilized. Lamott’s father, also a writer, put his arm around him with the encouragement, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’
Lamott’s book runs with this timeless advice, expanding on how to write every day (even if it’s few words and you think they suck) and helping us find solace in writing for no one but ourselves. More importantly, she asks us to constantly ask ourselves why we write: To expose a greater truth? To capture a moment that first seems indescribable? To remember ideas, people and places you love that bring you joy? To confront and overcome pain and fear?
Lamott’s advice is not only heartfelt; it’s driven by her own experience grappling with words and navigating the cutthroat territory of the publishing industry. Her writing achieves what many writers dream of: a direct voice and conversation with readers — a type of ‘no B.S.’ back and forth with ideas in real-time without hesitation.
But it’s not just practical advice that Lamott offers with this book; it’s articulating how good writing can contribute to humanity and our ability to say, ‘Yes, we’re in this together!’
She writes: ‘We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.’
Ultimately, this book furthered my view that writing is a process, not a product. We treasure good writing for its ability to capture truths of life rather than its potential to sell. It’s not a state of doing, but rather a state of being, of viewing the world. It’s this tendency to describe the human condition through writing that resurfaces and captures us through culture and time.”