Book Review: Bird by Bird

Months ago, Brenda recommended that I read Bird by Bird. Recently, I came across the book as I was browsing the library and was all to happy to try it out. A guide to writing, Bird by Bird read a little like a humorous and neurotic (in a charming way) memoir and was such an addictive read.

Ann Lamott provided a very nurturing guide. She coddled the aspiring writer with pretty obvious writing advice. Keep writing. Don’t write to be published, write to write. Get it all out and screw getting it perfect the first few time. She also rallied to not force your plot on your characters. Get to know the characters as they develop through writing, and if the plot doesn’t suit their way of life or personalities, ditch the plot and let the characters lead and navigate the story. I thought this “get to know your characters” approach very liberating and whimsical and it made me want to try writing fiction. In the end, the fact that she made me laugh out loud with her personal anecdotes, appreciate how versatile gardens are as metaphors, (I already turned in the library book or I’d share that excerpt on gardens with you), and made me consider writing fiction just for the sake of writing, has made this book one of my favorite books this year.

I can’t say enough how Bird by Bird was an enjoyable read, even for those who don’t write creatively. There was one piece of advice that spoke to me. I thought it was great general life advice regarding those frenemies who are prone to schadenfreude. Her advice is simply to be rid of them.

I don’t think you have time to waste not writing because you are afraid you won’t be good enough at it, and I don’t think you have time to waste on someone who does not respond to you with kindness and respect. You don’t want to spend your time around people who make you hold your breath. You can’t fill up when you’re holding you breath. And writing is about filling up, filling up when you are empty, letting images and ideas and smells run down like water – just as writing is also about dealing with the emptiness. The emptiness destroys enough writers without the help of some friend or spouse.

More Excerpts

“Novels ought to have hope; at least, American novels ought to have hope. French novels don’t need to. We mostly win wars, they lose them. Of course, they did hide more Jews than many other countries, and this is a form of winning.”

“You avoid forcing your characters to march too steadily to the drumbeat of your artistic purpose. You leave some measure of real freedom for your characters to be themselves. And if minor characters show an inclination to become major characters, as they’re apt to do, you at least give them a shot at it, because in the world of fiction it may take many pages before you find out who the major characters really are, just as in the real world it may take you many years to find out that the stranger you talked to once for half an hour in the railroad station may have done more to point you to where your true homeland lies than your priest or your bet friend or even your psychiatrist.”

Recommended Reading:

Two years ago, I read Stephen King’s On Writing and loved it. Also a guide on writing and memoir.

Questions: What are you reading? How are you liking it?