AH: Bird By Bird

Hullo, world! 

It’s been a rainy grey week here in Vancouver, but yesterday we saw some sunshine which was a relief. I got a chance to go out with my wotaku friend, which always cheers me up…

But to be honest, this week has been rough. I don’t know why. I cried a lot, stared at a lot of blank screens, skipped more meals than I should, and have overall been in a tough place. (Not to mention I didn’t post last week. I do so apologise about it!!)

Insert Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. 

A book that’s been on my TBR and also one that’s been recommended to me by my friend, Bird by Bird was the writing book I thought I knew about…yet didn’t. 

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

by Anne Lamott

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. [It] was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said. ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'”

With this basic instruction always in mind, Anne Lamott returns to offer us a new gift: a step-by-step guide on how to write and on how to manage the writer’s life. From “Getting Started,’ with “Short Assignments,” through “Shitty First Drafts,” “Character,” “Plot,” “Dialogue.” all the way from “False Starts” to “How Do You Know When You’re Done?” Lamott encourages, instructs, and inspires. She discusses “Writers Block,” “Writing Groups,” and “Publication.” Bracingly honest, she is also one of the funniest people alive.

If you have ever wondered what it takes to be a writer, what it means to be a writer, what the contents of your school lunches said about what your parents were really like, this book is for you. From faith, love, and grace to pain, jealousy, and fear, Lamott insists that you keep your eyes open, and then shows you how to survive. And always, from the life of the artist, she turns to the art of life.

I: “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.” 

This, I think, is so central to this book. So often we get hung up on finishing the book, we don’t think it has a beginning. But what’s more important is to start somewhere, every day. (୨୧ ❛ᴗ❛)✧

II: “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 a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.” 

I love this quote so much! I more often than not struggle with perfectionism (in writing, in studying, in every part of my life) and think there’s something I should be doing, something I could be doing to not die (according to Lamott). Which, very obviously, isn’t true. 

III: Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.” 

This is the kind of why we write and read. Lately, I’ve been reading (and working on a 2K essay) on Plato’s Republic, and I had to go back to the why of the Art and Artists…does it matter? And if so, why? 

IV: “E.L. Doctorow said once said that ‘Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice on writing, or life, I have ever heard.” 

I heard the exact same thing about faith walk somewhere and I think it illustrates both cases perfectly. So often we have no idea where we’re going in our stories (even when we have a detailed outline) and it makes us nervous. And yet, when we’re driving a car at night, you just have to keep stepping on the gas…and eventually, you’ll get there. ꒰ ∩´∇ `∩꒱

V: “If something inside of you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the centre of your work. Write straight into the emotional centre of things. Write toward vulnerability. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act—truth is always subversive.”

This sort of links to the third quote about books. Plato talks a lot about the form of truth and how it may manifest itself in many iterations (or imitations) but the form is what matters & there’s only one of it. There’s always a universal truth that matters to us. So, continue writing it, just the way you see it. 

“My job is to paint what I see, not what I know.”

J. M. W. Turner

That’s it for now! Thanks for reading. What did you think? Have you read Bird By Bird? Or do you have any other favourite books on writing? Let me know in the comments below; I’d love to chat with you!