Despite the subtitle, “Some Instructions on Writing and Life,” BIRD BY BIRD won’t really teach you what to write, or how. It’s a series of little essays in which Lamott tells you more than you really need to know about her life, tells you what works for her, and hopes that it will also work for you. It has chapters on plot and characterization and even on publication, but really, it’s a memoir of the daily life of a working writer. Even though this book didn’t teach me, it did something very important. It inspired me to keep writing.
I’ve come full circle in my appreciation for this book. I first read it years ago, as a beginning writer, and I loved how Lamott seemed to understand me. She didn’t gloss over the difficulty of writing, how hard it was to come to the page every day, how scary. I felt like she was my big sister, showing me how things were done, letting me copy her, hoping I wouldn’t make the same mistakes. I thought her day-to-day life was fascinating, and I couldn’t wait to live that kind of writer’s life myself.
Soon, I became a better writer. I sought out books on the craft and business–books on dialog, plot, outlining, and query letters. I became a published writer and no longer needed help putting pen to paper. I sneered at books like BIRD BY BIRD the way a teenager sneers at picture books.
Lately, I’ve softened my stance. Now that I’m a daily writer, I realize that Lamott taught me the number one lesson a writer needs to learn–write every day. Those books and classes on craft won’t do a writer any good unless she’s writing every day. And if she is writing every day, she might not need so many books and classes. A daily practice of writing will teach you a lot, and if this book helps you get there, then BIRD BY BIRD has done its job.
Pie slices: 1 slice craft, 7 slices inspiration
This book is best for: beginning writers
I recommend this book
Rating: 4 stars