Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is a treatise on writing and on life, liberally sprinkled with hope and empathy. Narrated in Anne’s characteristic self deprecating wit, it explores vulnerability and grace in equal measures.
The book has a meditative quality, not to be just read but also re-read, giving the reader new perspective and depth each time.
On being a writer, she says,
“One of the gifts of being a writer is that it gives you an excuse to do things, to go places and explore.”
This in itself is gratifying, bringing a kind of validation to writing, something we do for our soul but can now tie with wordly benefits.
Writers often think that the acme of their careers or even their endeavours is being published. Anne says:
“I believed, before I sold my first book, that publication would be instantly and automatically gratifying, an affirming and romantic experience, a Hallmark commercial where one runs and leaps in slow motion across a meadow filled with wildflowers into the arms of acclaim and self esteem.
This did not happen for me.”
Once we are disinvested in publishing being the sole aim of writing (it’s still a very big part, of course), it becomes easier to find satisfaction in the process rather than the end.
Anne teaches writing workshops and being a writer all her life, her advice springs from practicality and even vulnerability that’s endearing and makes you feel human and glad.
“Sometimes, when my writer friends are working, they feel better and more alive than they do at any other time.”
And that somehow sums up, why we get back to writing again and again in our lives.
Talking about beginning to write, she emphasises the importance of short assignments and knowing that first drafts are always going to be insufferably bad (my euphemism for the ‘other’ word that’s used to describe first drafts). There the battle that sets you against perfectionism, the enemy of writing.
There are rich insights on character, plot, dialogue; Anne makes us see and feel things beneath the surface of our own consciousness and how we can be intuitive to write and develop stories.
While talking about the writing frame of mind, she talks of reverence and awe that helps us be open to things and experiences. Writing becomes meditation, a way of self discovery and of salvation.
Anne also talks about her own writing process, how she takes notes, how she uses her material, how she researches and what to expect from writer support groups.
Here’s something she says that stuck with me:
“They all look a lot less slick and cool … because helping each other has made their hearts get bigger. A big heart is both a clunky and a delicate thing; it doesn’t protect itself and it doesn’t hide. It stands out, like a baby’s fontanel, where you can see the soul pulse through.”
And this, for me, is the essence of the book. Compassion, acceptance, love. Life and writing merge and seem to feed each other.
I am writing book reviews this month for #BlogchatterA2Z.