November is all about writing, and since the books I’ve been reading lately are about writing in some way or another, I thought I would offer reviews. The first book to review is Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott.
I knew this book had been around awhile (ahem, 1994), but as I am often late to the party I have just discovered and read it. What I’m saying here is that if you already know about this book and love it (or hate it), feel free to skip the reading. Just note that I have managed to post for 20 days in a row, even though there are a handful that were rather hastily thought about and posted.
Back to Bird by Bird. Count me in the group that loves this book. Her subtitle should have said some instructions on life and writing, because what I took away most was the life instructions. She did deftly weave life and writing together, so much so that life and writing are almost interchangeable.
She divides the book into 5 parts: writing, the writing frame of mind, help along the way, publication–and other reasons to write, and the last class. Writing in a teacher to student style, you can close your eyes and hear the words spoken as if you are in her class. This makes it an easy read, but no less profound (or it is probably an audible book and then you can actually hear it).
Do not be fooled by the section call “writing”. You will not learn to conjugate verbs or what the past perfect tense means; you will not learn when to use a semi-colon. When she talks about characters or plot or dialogue, she defines these things, but you will not learn how to write dialogue. Rather you will learn the process of dialogue. On characters, for example: “Get to know your characters as well as you can, let there be something at stake, and then let the chips fall as they may.” [p. 45]
The chapters are not long, but each one is packed with wisdom. Lamott believes in intuition, and in getting out the way so that your writing can happen, so that you can get to know your characters, and so that you can move forward. She gives insight into finding your own voice, writer’s block, and publication.
I think my favorite chapter, and one I re-read from time to time, is the one called “Perfectionism”. If you read the post I wrote in the summer telling all I am a recovering perfectionist, then that, of course, all makes sense. This chapter opens with truth:
“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and [___________].” p. 28.
I added the blank line because you can fill in your own thing that perfectionism is keeping you from; Lamott writes that “it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.”
So, just in case I am NOT the last person on the planet to read this book, I recommend it, even if you are not a writer, for the insights you may discover.