Friday, February 8, 2008

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

I also remember a story I know I've told elsewhere but that over and over helps me get a grip: 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, which 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."

Such is the wisdom of Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, a book on writing. It is a very good book; through a strange little quirk of fate it a much more widely read book than any of Lamott's novels, which is an irony I'm sure not lost on her.

I had to read this for my creative writing class, and, while it's fairly short on how to write--style and grammar and plot and shit like that--it is heavy on inspirational material, on why you ought to write and how to make yourself do it and how to get in the right frame of mind for a writer. If you are a writer, chances are it will make you want to write; if you are not a writer you will probably be confused by how little concrete information it offers. But that's not really what it's about. It's really more like a book written by someone enamored with books, who really loves writing and wants to share exactly what writing does for her. People with the same enamoration will relate, and Lamott's prose is simple, fluid, and at times hugely funny.

If you want to write, I recommend it--it took me only a couple of hours to read and it really rejuvenated my desire to write. I leave you with Lamott's advice on writing about your ex-spouse:

Make yourself the first wife or girlfriend, not the third wife, and do not include his offensive children, especially the red-haired twins. If you disguise this person carefully so that he cannot be recognized by the physical or professional facts of his life, you can use him in your work. And the best advice I can give you is to give him a teenie little penis so he will be less likely to come forward.

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