Bird By Bird: Some Instructions On Writing And Life by Anne LamottBird By Bird: Some Instructions On Writing And Life by Anne Lamott

Bird By Bird: Some Instructions On Writing And Life

byAnne Lamott

Paperback | September 1, 1995

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For a quarter century, more than a million readers—scribes and scribblers of all ages and abilities—have been inspired by Anne Lamott’s hilarious, big-hearted, homespun advice. Advice that begins with the simple words of wisdom passed down from Anne’s father—also a writer—in the iconic passage that gives the book its title:
 
“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.’”
 
An essential volume for generations of writers young and old, Bird by Bird is a modern classic. This twenty-fifth anniversary edition will continue to spark creative minds for years to come.
Anne Lamott is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Almost Everything; Hallelujah Anyway; Help, Thanks, Wow; Small Victories; Stitches; Some Assembly Required; Grace (Eventually); Plan B; Traveling Mercies; and Operating Instructions. She is also the author of seven novels, including Imperfect Birds and Rosie. A past recipient ...
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Title:Bird By Bird: Some Instructions On Writing And LifeFormat:PaperbackProduct dimensions:256 pages, 8 × 5.18 × 0.57 inShipping dimensions:8 × 5.18 × 0.57 inPublished:September 1, 1995Publisher:Knopf Doubleday Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0385480016

ISBN - 13:9780385480017

Reviews

Rated 4 out of 5 by from good read! i bought it because i was intrigued by its summary and i was pleased to actually get something from reading this. glad it joined my collection, especially since i got this book on sale!
Date published: 2018-07-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Inspirational Part memoir and part advice, this is a good book for aspiring writers.
Date published: 2018-03-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Love I'm not a writer by occupation but desire to get my own stories down for myself. This book was a huge encouragement, funny (as Anne is), and a complete joy to read. #plumreview
Date published: 2017-10-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from great read Funny and insightful. Great read for anyone interested in writing fiction.
Date published: 2017-10-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of my favourites I am an avid reader and this book has remained in my top three for years. Every time I read it, there is something new to discover, something new that resonates. I always seem to find what I'm looking for in the pages. This book stays propped at the top of my list [of this genre] with Tiny Beautiful Things (Cheryl Strayed) and This is How (Augusten Burroughs). It is my most well-worn book.
Date published: 2017-05-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Humorous and Eye-Opening This book is a must-read for any aspiring writer. Anne Lamott's delightfully honest, funny and brilliant advice is poignant and important. This is a book which, rather than simply advise and guide new and adept writers, truly and simply inspires.
Date published: 2016-12-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent book on writing A really great resource for any aspiring writer, or those who have always wondered how writers do it.
Date published: 2016-11-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Terrific! This is the best book about writing that I have read (& I've read a lot of them). It is both human and helpful. Even if you are not a writer you will like it.
Date published: 2015-03-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Writing with Humanity What strikes me most about this book is how humane it is, how it brims not only with passion for her craft but also compassion for those who practice it and need it, that is to say humanity. This funny and profound book is an affirmation of the strange madness that is the artist's life, and the pathetic, weird and the exalted in all of us.
Date published: 2014-04-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent I've read it and also listened to the audio version. If you like this book you'll love Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones too.
Date published: 2014-04-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Bird by Bird This is one of the funniest and insightful books I have ever read. I enjoyed it thoroughly!
Date published: 2014-03-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Bird by Bird For aspiring writers, this is a great book in getting you inspired and fired up to write. A lot of useful suggestions and tips are shared here. The most important one being how to stay driven to write.
Date published: 2014-01-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An easy and meaningful read A must have for writers.
Date published: 2013-11-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from great book for readers and writers... I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember. At first I typed my stories on a little portable Brothers typewriter. I remember that it was blue and that you had to really hit the keys hard. When I graduated from high school, my parents gave me an electric typewriter that weighed at least 50 pounds. At the time it was state-of-the-art, honest. I have always wanted to be a writer, a published writer and I guess I am. I’ve written and had things published and even been paid for what I’ve written. Of course the writer’s carrot is the novel and I’ve been slogging away at one – never with the dedication and determination to actually finish it, of course, just enough to say that I’m writing one – for over a decade. Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird speaks to writers who care more about the craft and less about the imagined glory. This is not a how-to book. It’s not a book filled with prompts and practical advice about how to write pithy dialogue or set the scene. Still, it’s a wonderful book. " The very first thing I tell me new students on the first day of a workshop is that good writing is about telling the truth." Bird by Bird offers “some instructions on writing and life.” It’s Lamott’s love letter to the written word – and she clearly does love them – the words, I mean. It is laugh – out – loud funny and tender, too. Lamott navigates the writer’s world with a great deal of affection and a healthy dose of tough love. She’s honest about her jealousy when faced with the success of writers she believes to be less talented than she is; she discusses the pitfalls of the blank page; she talks about how to negotiate with your characters. But mostly she talks about why we write (and why we read). She says: "Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul." Writing, says Lamott, is important work. Writers should write, not for the notoriety which they assume comes with publication (and Lamott tells some funny stories about the so-called status of the published author) but because they have to. They want to. They must.
Date published: 2010-05-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Even if you dont write - worth the read Funny and readable.
Date published: 2009-10-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from It makes you want to write So different and in a way unique from other writing instruction book, Anne Lamott not only teaches one how to write, but she virtually shared her heart in Bird by Bird. The feelings, the resistance, and confusions are something that could not be easily fixed in the course of writing, but I have found solace in this wonderful little gem.
Date published: 2007-12-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Staple of the Writer's Life Buy this book for anyone you know who is a writer. It is a must-have! Lamott tells a wonderful autobiography interspersed with definitive instructions on better writing. Great book, even if you don't write and want to read some good writing.
Date published: 2006-07-11

Read from the Book

Getting StartedThe very first thing I tell my new students on the first day of a workshop is that good writing is about telling the truth. We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are. Sheep lice do not seem to share this longing, which is one reason they write so very little. But we do. We have so much we want to say and figure out. Year after year my students are bursting with stories to tell, and they start writing projects with excitement and maybe even joy—finally their voices will be heard, and they are going to get to devote themselves to this one thing they’ve longed to do since childhood. But after a few days at the desk, telling the truth in an interesting way turns out to be about as easy and pleasurable as bathing a cat. Some lose faith. Their sense of self and story shatters and crumbles to the ground. Historically they show up for the first day of the workshop looking like bright goofy ducklings who will follow me anywhere, but by the time the second class rolls around, they look at me as if the engagement is definitely off.“I don’t even know where to start,” one will wail.Start with your childhood, I tell them. Plug your nose and jump in, and write down all your memories as truthfully as you can. Flannery O’Connor said that anyone who survived childhood has enough material to write for the rest of his or her life. Maybe your childhood was grim and horrible, but grim and horrible is Okay if it is well done. Don’t worry about doing it well yet, though. Just start getting it down.Now, the amount of material may be so overwhelming that it can make your brain freeze. When I had been writing food reviews for a number of years, there were so many restaurants and individual dishes in my brainpan that when people asked for a recommendation, I couldn’t think of a single restaurant where I’d ever actually eaten. But if the person could narrow it down to, say, Indian, I might remember one lavish Indian palace, where my date had asked the waiter for the Rudyard Kipling sampler and later for the holy-cow tartare. Then a number of memories would come to mind, of other dates and other Indian restaurants.So you might start by writing down every single thing you can remember from your first few years in school. Start with kindergarten. Try to get the words and memories down as they occur to you. Don’t worry if what you write is no good, because no one is going to see it. Move on to first grade, to second, to third. Who were your teachers, your classmates? What did you wear? Who and what were you jealous of? Now branch out a little. Did your family take vacations during those years? Get these down on paper. Do you remember how much more presentable everybody else’s family looked? Do you remember how when you’d be floating around in an inner tube on a river, your own family would have lost the little cap that screws over the airflow valve, so every time you got in and out of the inner tube, you’d scratch new welts in your thighs? And how other families never lost the caps?If this doesn’t pan out, or if it does but you finish mining this particular vein, see if focusing on holidays and big events helps you recollect your life as it was. Write down everything you can remember about every birthday or Christmas or Seder or Easter or whatever, every relative who was there. Write down all the stuff you swore you’d never tell another soul. What can you recall about your birthday parties—the disasters, the days of grace, your relatives’ faces lit up by birthday candles? Scratch around for details: what people ate, listened to, wore—those terrible petaled swim caps, the men’s awful trunks, the cocktail dress your voluptuous aunt wore that was so slinky she practically needed the Jaws of Life to get out of it. Write about the women’s curlers with the bristles inside, the garters your father and uncles used to hold up their dress socks, your grandfathers’ hats, your cousins’ perfect Brownie uniforms, and how your own looked like it had just been hatched. Describe the trench coats and stoles and car coats, what they revealed and what they covered up. See if you can remember what you were given that Christmas when you were ten, and how it made you feel inside. Write down what the grown-ups said and did after they’d had a couple of dozen drinks, especially that one Fourth of July when your father made Fish House punch and the adults practically had to crawl from room to room.Remember that you own what happened to you. If your childhood was less than ideal, you may have been raised thinking that if you told the truth about what really went on in your family, a long bony white finger would emerge from a cloud and point at you, while a chilling voice thundered, “We told you not to tell.” But that was then. Just put down on paper everything you can remember now about your parents and siblings and relatives and neighbors, and we will deal with libel later on.“But how?” my students ask. “How do you actually do it?”You sit down, I say. You try to sit down at approximately the same time every day. This is how you train your unconscious to kick in for you creatively. So you sit down at, say, nine every morning, or ten every night. You put a piece of paper in the typewriter, or you turn on your computer and bring up the right file, and then you stare at it for an hour or so. You begin rocking, just a little at first, and then like a huge autistic child. You look at the ceiling, and over at the clock, yawn, and stare at the paper again. Then, with your fingers poised on the keyboard, you squint at an image that is forming in your mind—a scene, a locale, a character, whatever—and you try to quiet your mind so you can hear what that landscape or character has to say above the other voices in your mind. The other voices are banshees and drunken monkeys. They are the voices of anxiety, judgment, doom, guilt. Also, severe hypochondria. There may be a Nurse Ratched–like listing of things that must be done right this moment: foods that must come out of the freezer, appointments that must be canceled or made, hairs that must be tweezed. But you hold an imaginary gun to your head and make yourself stay at the desk. There is a vague pain at the base of your neck. It crosses your mind that you have meningitis. Then the phone rings and you look up at the ceiling with fury, summon every ounce of noblesse oblige, and answer the call politely, with maybe just the merest hint of irritation. The caller asks if you’re working, and you say yeah, because you are.Yet somehow in the face of all this, you clear a space for the writing voice, hacking away at the others with machetes, and you begin to compose sentences. You begin to string words together like beads to tell a story. You are desperate to communicate, to edify or entertain, to preserve moments of grace or joy or transcendence, to make real or imagined events come alive. But you cannot will this to happen. It is a matter of persistence and faith and hard work. So you might as well just go ahead and get started.I wish I had a secret I could let you in on, some formula my father passed on to me in a whisper just before he died, some code word that has enabled me to sit at my desk and land flights of creative inspiration like an air-traffic controller. But I don’t. All I know is that the process is pretty much the same for almost everyone I know. The good news is that some days it feels like you just have to keep getting out of your own way so that whatever it is that wants to be written can use you to write it. It is a little like when you have something difficult to discuss with someone, and as you go to do it, you hope and pray that the right words will come if only you show up and make a stab at it. And often the right words do come, and you—well—“write” for a while; you put a lot of thoughts down on paper. But the bad news is that if you’re at all like me, you’ll probably read over what you’ve written and spend the rest of the day obsessing, and praying that you do not die before you can completely rewrite or destroy what you have written, lest the eagerly waiting world learn how bad your first drafts are.The obsessing may keep you awake, or the self-loathing may cause you to fall into a narcoleptic coma before dinner. But let’s just say that you do fall asleep at a normal hour. Then the odds are that you will wake up at four in the morning, having dreamed that you have died. Death turns out to feel much more frantic than you had imagined. Typically you’ll try to comfort yourself by thinking about the day’s work—the day’s excrementitious work. You may experience a jittery form of existential dread, considering the absolute meaninglessness of life and the fact that no one has ever really loved you; you may find yourself consumed with a free-floating shame, and a hopelessness about your work, and the realization that you will have to throw out everything you’ve done so far and start from scratch. But you will not be able to do so. Because you suddenly understand that you are completely riddled with cancer.And then the miracle happens. The sun comes up again. So you get up and do your morning things, and one thing leads to another, and eventually, at nine, you find yourself back at the desk, staring blankly at the pages you filled yesterday. And there on page four is a paragraph with all sorts of life in it, smells and sounds and voices and colors and even a moment of dialogue that makes you say to yourself, very, very softly, “Hmmm.” You look up and stare out the window again, but this time you are drumming your fingers on the desk, and you don’t care about those first three pages; those you will throw out, those you needed to write to get to that fourth page, to get to that one long paragraph that was what you had in mind when you started, only you didn’t know that, couldn’t know that, until you got to it. And the story begins to materialize, and another thing is happening, which is that you are learning what you aren’t writing, and this is helping you to find out what you are writing. Think of a fine painter attempting to capture an inner vision, beginning with one corner of the canvas, painting what he thinks should be there, not quite pulling it off, covering it over with white paint, and trying again, each time finding out what his painting isn’t, until finally he finds out what it is.And when you do find out what one corner of your vision is, you’re off and running. And it really is like running. It always reminds me of the last lines of Rabbit, Run: “his heels hitting heavily on the pavement at first but with an effortless gathering out of a kind of sweet panic growing lighter and quicker and quieter, he runs. Ah: runs. Runs.”I wish I felt that kind of inspiration more often. I almost never do. All I know is that if I sit there long enough, something will happen.My students stare at me for a moment. “How do we find an agent?” they ask.I sigh. When you are ready, there are books that list agents. You can select a few names and write to them and ask if they would like to take a look at your work. Mostly they will not want to. But if you are really good, and very persistent, someone eventually will read your material and take you on. I can almost promise you this. However, in the meantime, we are going to concentrate on writing itself, on how to become a better writer, because, for one thing, becoming a better writer is going to help you become a better reader, and that is the real payoff.But my students don’t believe me. They want agents, and to be published. And they also want refunds.Almost all of them have been writing at least for a little while, some of them all of their lives. Many of them have been told over the years that they are quite good, and they want to know why they feel so crazy when they sit down to work, why they have these wonderful ideas and then they sit down and write one sentence and see with horror that it is a bad one, and then every major form of mental illness from which they suffer surfaces, leaping out of the water like trout—the delusions, hypochondria, the grandiosity, the self-loathing, the inability to track one thought to completion, even the hand-washing fixation, the Howard Hughes germ phobias. And especially, the paranoia.You can be defeated and disoriented by all these feelings, I tell them, or you can see the paranoia, for instance, as wonderful material. You can use it as the raw clay that you pull out of the river: surely one of your characters is riddled with it, and so in giving that person this particular quality, you get to use it, shape it into something true and funny or frightening. I read them a poem by Phillip Lopate that someone once sent me, that goes:We who areyour closest friendsfeel the timehas come to tell youthat every Thursdaywe have been meeting,as a group,to devise waysto keep youin perpetual uncertaintyfrustrationdiscontent andtortureby neither loving youas much as you wantnor cutting you adrift.Your analyst isin on it,plus your boyfriendand your ex-husband;and we have pledgedto disappoint youas long as you need us.In announcing ourassociationwe realize we haveplaced in your handsa possible antidoteagainst uncertaintyindeed against ourselves.But since our Thursday nightshave brought usto a communityof purposerare in itselfwith you asthe natural center,we feel hopeful youwill continue to make unreasonabledemands for affectionif not as a consequenceof your disastrous personalitythen for the good of the collective.

From Our Editors

For even the most experienced authors, the prospect of beginning a new project can be daunting, and Anne Lamott's best-selling book has advice on achieving your writerly goals. Her basic philosophy stems from advice that her father gave to her then-10-year-old brother when he was frustrated over an elementary school bird project: "Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird." Smart, practical and funny, Bird by Bird can help you deal with any task that seems insurmountable - your kids, your job, your life and even your writing!

Editorial Reviews

“Superb writing advice. . . . Hilarious, helpful, and provocative.” —The New York Times Book Review   “A warm, generous, and hilarious guide through the writer’s world and its treacherous swamps.”  —Los Angeles Times “One of the funniest books on writing ever published.”  —The Christian Science Monitor “A gift to all of us mortals who write or ever wanted to write. . . . Sidesplittingly funny, patiently wise and alternately cranky and kind—a reveille to get off our duffs and start writing now, while we  still can.”  —Seattle Times“Bird by Bird would be worth reading just for Lamott’s ele- gant, moving, and often-hilarious prose. But the advice she offers is just as fantastic as the style with which it’s delivered.”—Forbes   “Anne Lamott understands better than anyone that writers need help. . . . She writes so well, in fact, that it’s hard to believe that she, too, has trouble with writing. That’s what’s so deeply comforting about this book.” —The Wall Street Journal   “Deftly and honestly explores the mental challenges of being a writer. . . . Lamott’s advice is, simply put, invaluable.” —Bustle   “Delight[s] with insight and descriptive acumen. This humorous, insightful, no-nonsense approach will remind novices why they are writing.”       —Kirkus Reviews   “Offers unique inspiration. . . . An honest appraisal of what it takes to be a writer and why it matters so much.” —Library Journal