|The best thing about Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing & Life is, even when the thought of sitting down and writing is about as appealing to you as root canal work, she inspires you to want to write. That alone is worth the investment. The book is full of mostly well-established wisdom about the art of writing, but it’s written intelligently and with great humour and passion. She really practices what she preaches.
She takes you through the standard rules: Write every day at the same time, always write something each day, no matter how brief, or how hard it is; break the job into manageable tasks (“take it bird by bird”); start with short assignments and “shitty first drafts” that just get everything down, and edit later; avoid perfectionism; write about what you know; use your own authentic voice and style; use index cards as reminders, phone friends and experts to get background material you need quickly and authentically, and use writing groups and trusted readers to keep you going and honest. She explains how to deal with writer’s block, agents, publishers, and jealousy of other (successful but clearly inferior) writers.
What I liked best about the book were some of the humbler, lesser known rules of good writing:
The book includes an extraordinary 2-page story by the author that illustrates these and other points: It is charming, heartbreaking, full of surprises, imbued with the author’s great love for two very special characters, imbued as well with a bit of wonderful, spare, dialogue, some stunning imagery and an improbable analogy. But mostly, the story moves, and in so doing it takes the reader along for the ride.
Until you can read Bird by Bird for yourself, here are two quotes by other accomplished writers about the art of writing:
“The greatest writing is done on the edge of what you know and what you don’t know.”
“The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think.”