Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Anne Lamott's Wonderful Book on Writing: Bird by Bird.


Early in my MFA program, one of my tutors had me read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Now I need to first explain that to me, most books on writing are akin to self help books, you know the kind where the author tells you nothing new in an extremely authoritative and annoying tone. I hate those books, and I felt the same about most writing books.
Aaach. Even the letters have been taught self-awareness. 
Yes I know everybody quotes John Gardner, some to the point of ad nauseam. Not to say he didn't give some excellent advice such as never write you looked or saw because your reader figures that you're looking or seeing something that you're writing about. That is great advice and something I discuss with my writing students. So hats off to you for that one, Gardner. Unfortunately, he was also somewhat of a pompous ass. The same with Robert McKee the author of Story. What is it with these men? Neither of them has ever written a top selling novel or screenplay so what makes them an authority on writing? Nothing. 
I know I've never really written anything, but if I keep this intense look on my face no one will notice. 

Anne Lamott, on the other hand, is a successful author and teacher. She's published numerous books that are, if not best sellers, very good reads. So she knows of what she speaks. Which takes me to Bird by Bird, a book about the slings and arrows of becoming a writer. She named the book after advice her writer father gave to her brother struggling to write a book report on birds. He told his son to write about  one bird at a time, a concept Anne Lamont discusses in her helpful book. She advices writers to not take on a huge story all in one piece. Instead, focus on one little corner. Write about it until its complete and then move on to another corner. Do this step by step until you've written about the whole picture. 

In addition to giving helpful advice, she also talks about her failures in her writing, which is wonderfully refreshing. It also makes it clear that she gets what it's like to be a working writer. This book is something all writers of any genre, fiction and nonfiction need to buy and put on their bookshelf to refer to again and again. 

And just like Anne Lamott shares her heart piece by piece, Janis Joplin, another female hero, tells us to break another little piece of heart. Now this is real angst. Sing it Janis.

2 comments:

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

I agree. All of Anne's books are original, charming, focused and helpful.

Her life is not so orderly. But, she speaks to our issues with great guidence and caring.

Jude Johnson said...

Janis rocked.
Thanks for an excellent post, Gabriella.
I haven't read any of Ms. Lamott's work but I'll be looking for this book now.
I write my best in "chunks", not necessarily in chronological order, and I've been struggling to force myself to follow an outline. I'm going back to what feels more natural.
~Jude