Bird by Bird

A review

Only Anne Lamott can unveil the sacredness of walking, writing, eating, and dying with such irreverence. Time and again, it’s unclear whether you’re catching your breath because it’s so freaking funny – or because it’s so creatively insightful. Because she does both in the same paragraph, on just about every page.

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Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life gives some excellent guidance on writing, but so much more, and does so in a riveting, creative, encouraging – and marvelously irreverent – manner.

She’s realistic without being harsh, telling us over and over how hard this writing life is. And she’s unfailingly kind, constantly reassuring us we’re not alone and the creative endeavor is worthwhile.

A few dog-eared passages (there are SO MANY!):

“I spent as much time as I could outdoors while I waited for my unconscious to open a door and beckon. It finally did. I did not have some beautiful Hallmark moment when I threw back my shoulders with a big smile, dusted off my old hands, and got back to work. Rather, it was like catching amoebic dysentery. I was just sitting there minding my business, and then the next minute I rushed to my desk with an urgency I had not believed possible.” – p. 180

This happened to me just last night. Scrolling that ultimate time waster, Facebook, and saw a video that got me thinking, and I just had to immediately sit down and write. Three single-spaced pages and one hour later, I have something to work on that I think could really be something.

Of course this doesn’t happen often. Mostly, I sit with this laptop burning my thighs and wonder if I will fill up even one page of dribble in the next 30 minutes. But I carry on. What else am I gonna do? Binge on Downton again? (Maybe.)

“There is an ecstasy in paying attention. You can get into a kind of Wordsworthian openness to the world, where you see in everything the essence of holiness, a sign that God is implicit in all of creation.” – p. 100

Yes and yes.

“You write a shitty first draft of it and you sound it out, and you leave in those lines that ring true and take out the rest. I wish there were an easier, softer way, a shortcut, but this is the nature of most good writing: that you find out things as you go along. Then you go back and rewrite. Remember: no one is reading your first drafts.” – p. 71

This also is true. I often get to page 2 before I get to what I really want to get to. Only I didn’t know that when I started. Hm.

“In any case, the bottom line is that if you want to write, you get to, but you probably won’t be able to get very far if you don’t start trying to get over your perfectionism. You set out to tell a story of some sort, to tell the truth as you feel it, because something is calling you to do so. It calls you like the beckoning finger of smoke in cartoons that rises off the pie cooling on the windowsill, slides under doors and into mouse holes or into the nostrils of the sleeping man or woman in the easy chair. Then the aromatic smoke crooks its finger, and the mouse or the man or woman rises and follows, nose in the air. But some days the smoke is faint and you just have to follow it as best you can, sniffing away. Still, even on those days, you might notice how great perseverance feels. And the next day the scent may seem stronger – or it may just be that you are developing a quiet doggedness. This is priceless. Perfectionism, on the other hand, will only drive you mad.” – p. 31

It’s possible I’m developing a quiet doggedness in this writing project.

This. Is. Priceless.

Thanks, Anne, again.

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Published in: on October 22, 2016 at 1:34 am  Leave a Comment  

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