This one has been on my reading list for a while, and finally, I have done it. Bird by Bird is, as the tagline says, “some instructions on writing and life” in a humorous anecdotal style. Lamott draws on the events of her life to explain how and why she does her own writing, and in turn, providing invaluable advice to the reader. This is a good approach. Making things personal shows us how each of our writing journeys is inextricably linked to who we are, and that we must use our lives and experiences and character to make our writing work for us.
The advice is pragmatic and encouraging, but sobering when it needs to be. There are no promises of runaway publishing success, but there is advice on what to do if it happens for you anyway. More importantly, there is advice and commentary on what there is to treasure about the writing process that is not selling books. How it transforms your life, helps you grow, teaches and entertains, supports and enriches.
This is so important to remember. I write with publication in mind, as I am sure most who write do, but I also know that if I never published or earned as much as a single cent off my work, I would not consider my time wasted.
I love the heart of this book. The cackle-worthy observations, the warm and funny moments, the darkly honest but comforting admission that sometimes as a writer you will be convinced that everyone hates you, that you are a talentless hack, that you should throw out all your friends and start again. Lamott says “don’t worry, I often feel this way, even as a published writer. You will too, but you can get through it.”
One more thing (just in case someone else encounters the same bad review I did, or one like it): I avoided reading this book for some time, because I chanced upon a review of it which said that it was ruined, riddled with a pro-Christian sentiment. I imagined that the book would explain to me I was a terrible writer, unless I could find Jesus and accept him into my heart. This is not what happened. Lamott is Christian, and she talks aboutShe talks about God a lot, but mostly humorously, for example, to quip how strange it is that God seems to hate the same people she does, because they have been more successful in publishing than she has. She comments on one aspect of writing that she says is possibly easier to understand if you believe in God, but if you don’t, then here is how you might think about it instead. This is not proselytising. It’s a writer converting her personal writing experiences into a memoir of the craft. Just the same as she did when she talked about her dying friend, or her weird dad, or her cocaine binge when editing her second novel wasn’t going well. Don’t avoid this because it has a whiff of a different opinion or belief about it. You couldn’t grow as a writer, otherwise.
A gem of a book, highly recommended.