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“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.'”

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.

(Condensed synopsis and cover image from Goodreads.com)

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott was recommended and loaned to me by a fellow teacher. She thought that I would find it interesting, not only for possible use in my classroom, but also just for my own personal use. I was really interested in reading Bird by Bird, especially after having read On Writing by Stephen King. I also know that another colleague of mine uses Lamott’s chapter “Shitty Firsts Drafts” with her AP students at the beginning of each year, so I was curious to find out how I could utilize this book.

What I liked about both Bird by Bird is that similar to On Writing, Lamott uses a combination of memoir and lessons to put together her advice on writing. However, unlike King, Lamott’s stories seemed to repeat themselves. This was just something that lost my interest on a personal level, not on a level that would help with the writing aspect. This book was also geared towards those who are planning on writing fiction novels and/or short stories. While this is generally not the area of writing that I do, I did still find a lot of helpful hints along the way.

I thought Lamott’s advice on recognizing shitty first drafts was one that we all need to remember as we write not just for the end goal, but also with an idea of perfection. There could be many missed opportunities when it comes to writing simply because we feel like the end product may not be “good enough.” And this is true. Often our first attempts will not be good enough, but they are a start. They are something to begin with and work from to create that idea that was forming in our head (sometimes at 2:00 in the morning). Lamott also gave great advice about how to use personal experiences in your writing. She often tells her students in her writing classes to think about their childhoods, to use the memories that they have as starting points for their stories. She has them focus on one thing and write about it. She wants them to keep writing until those ideas begin to develop.

Bird by Bird is a book that writers can keep returning to when they find themselves stuck in in need of some guidance. Not only does Lamott tell people to focus on the things and experiences that they know, but she has a one-inch frame approach that allows writers to focus on one thing without feeling overwhelmed with their writing. Since Bird by Bird was a book that was borrowed, I now need to go get my own copy so it can sit alongside King’s book, On Writing.

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