“Bird by Bird” Book Summary In Brief
“Bird by Bird” is a guest pass to a world-class writing workshop with best-selling author Anne Lamott. With her unique blend of wit, wisdom, and self-deprecating charm, Anne tackles some of the biggest issues that creative professionals joust with every day. Her lessons are both applicable to those who want to write and those who want to innovate without imploding (hopefully you fall into both categories).
Anne provides glimpses of her own writing rituals – including a rather curious notecard fetish, entertaining excerpts of her students’ work, and axioms from some of the greatest minds of all time, all to support her case that creativity has more to do with practice than providence. It is not, however, a How To Manual.
“Bird by Bird” provides a rope bridge to help artists waddle out of creative paralysis and onto solid ground, where they can begin construction.
In my opinion, for anyone called to pen and page, “Bird by Bird” is the essential backwoods guidebook: detailing how to take your first strides into the forest, describing poison berries that will stifle your creativity, offering tactics for crafting believability and connection, and cautioning against the precarious path to publication. And by page 238, you’re on your own; compass and pen in hand, to embark on whatever creative foray lies in front of you.
Top 4 Takeaways
#1 Don’t be a Naughty Narrator
Working as a best-selling fiction writer could be described as lying for a living – but it’s far from it. Anne Lamott spends her days in meticulous observation, collecting mannerisms, motives, accents, and attitudes that will later serve as fodder for her writing. She conjures up imaginary characters, dreams up plots, and captures conversations that frankly never happened. So what is it that makes Anne’s fabrications so much more compelling than, say the chair-slamming altercations of WWE wrestlers in leotards?
It comes down to one thing: believability.
Each of us is hardwired to detect deception. That’s not to say we don’t occasionally enjoy being lied to (holla for Harry Potter), but we know not to trust a tall tale. As readers – and consumers – we need to sense that the person behind the pen “is not playing games or being coy or manipulative, but is telling the truth to the best of his or her ability” (Bird by Bird). This principle is true whether you’re writing a novel or a newspaper ad.
The next time you slap together a sentence, ask yourself – was that really what I saw/ felt/ want to say? Or am I just writing what I think I “should say?”
Was the wind really “howling,” or was is actually “thwacking against the window”?
Will couples counseling “help rekindle the spark,” or will be a “drastically cheaper than divorce”?
#2 Fill up Your Creative Cup
According to Lamott, writers’ block is not a kind of creative constipation, but more of a creative deprivation.
Rather than sweating it out at the keyboard, willing your brilliance to bubble up to the surface, she recommends unchaining yourself from the desk and filling yourself up on whatever kind of creative stimulant makes you feel most alive.
Go for a walk, do a little dance, resign your post as a slave-driver and focus on work that comes more easily. Then, when your creative cup is full again, dive back into the work.
#3 Cut Yourself Some Slack and Start the First Draft
[Tweet “Perfectionism will keep you cramped and insane your whole life.” – Anne Lamott”]
Forget getting it right the first time around.
Give yourself permission to download every horrible headline, sucky sentence, and atrocious alliteration (see what I did there?) onto the page. No one ever has to know you wrote such things. But you will only ever achieve verbal Feng Shui if you empty your mind of all its current clutter and begin carefully selecting the sentences and ideas that deserve to survive.
#4 Beware the Pitfalls of Publication
Think of publishing as a purple iridescent bug zapper luring you to a crispy, (often) disappointing blaze of glory.
Anne has been there, several dozen times in fact, and she knows that publication is not a harbinger of fame, fortune, or sanity. Decades of teaching writing workshops have taught her that “most people really want to be published, but they only kind of want to write.”
And I think, isn’t that eerily similar to being in business? Most people really want to boost their bottom line/ make a buck/ climb the ladder, but they only kind of want to be of service.
Thoughts on “Bird by Bird”? Are you a fellow adorer of Anne Lamott?
Tell me about it in the comments section below!
All the best,
Book Title: Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
Author: Anne Lamott
Genre: Nonfiction, Writing
Publisher: Pantheon Books (First Edition)
Release Date: 1994
Buy the Book: Amazon I Barnes & Noble
Connect with the author: Facebook I Twitter I Goodreads