Friday, January 7, 2011

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

I am constantly on the lookout for good resources for my Freshman Writing class. A fifty cent copy of The Lively Art of Writing was a great thrift store find and its simple clear advice has been incorporated into my lectures. Bird by Bird was picked up for the same purpose, but turned out to be quite different. Instead of grammar rules, it contains pep talks for would-be writers. The advice is for people who already love to write so I ended up reading it for personal benefit.

Although the book is sprinkled with distracting obscenities, it gives sound principles on how to create believable characters, plots and settings. Solid wisdom can be sifted out from the chaff and I was truly inspired to spend time each day writing down memories that may later be shaped into stories.

Although Lamott encourages her writing students to pursue publication of their work, she contends that their primary reason for writing must be self-satisfaction:

Even if only the people in your writing group read your memoirs or stories or novel, even if you only wrote your story so that one day your children would know what life was like whey you were a child and you knew the name of every dog in town – still, to have written your version is an honorable thing to have done… If you are writing the clearest, truest words you can find and doing the best you can to understand and communicate, this will shine on paper like its own little lighthouse. (p. 235)

Other favorite quotes: There’s no point in writing hopeless novels. We all know we are going to die; what’s important is the kind of men and women we are in the face of this. (p. 51)

Becoming a writer is about becoming conscious. When you’re conscious and writing from a place of insight and simplicity and real caring about the truth, you have the ability to throw the lights on for your reader. He or she will recognize his or her life and truth in what you say, in the pictures you have painted, and this decreases the terrible sense of isolation that we have all had too much of. (p.225)

I think this is how are supposed to be in the world – present and in awe. (p.100)


GretchenJoanna said...

I'm thankful that you have gleaned the good from this book and now I don't need to read it. I would probably agree with you on what was good to take away; I certainly like what you've shared here!

Cindy Swanson said...

"Distracting obscenities"? Just scratching my head as to why those would be necessary in a book like this. Sounds like a good read, though, and I really enjoyed your review!

the Ink Slinger said...

Thanks for the review! I've never heard of this one, but it certainly sounds like a worthwhile read. By the way, I like the second quote you shared...

"There’s no point in writing hopeless novels. We all know we are going to die; what’s important is the kind of men and women we are in the face of this."

Cindy Swanson said...

Thanks so much for commenting on my blog...that's always a pleasant surprise!

I'm interested in checking out the new Jane Eyre movie that's scheduled for release this spring. Although none of the screen adaptations have really lived up to the book!

Janet said...

I read Lamott's 'Traveling Mercies' and had such mixed feelings. There's so much wisdom and perceptiveness, and I found it so very FUNNY. Yet as you say about this, it was distracting in its crudeness at times. It makes me doubtful that I'll pick up another of her books.

Enjoyed your review of this one.