My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird Some Instructions on Writing and Life, while not quite to the level of Stephen King’s On Writing or Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, is a worthy addition to the “How Do I Write” canon.
Lamott’s book offers some very practical and important advice on writing. There’s little new in the world of writing advice — make time, write, don’t self-edit, and write — but that doesn’t make what she has to say uninteresting. Her writing about the importance of giving herself permission to be a “writer,” her advice on first drafts (they are shit, get used to it), and her rumination on defeating the negative voices that try to convince you to stop were amongst the best I’ve read on the topic.
I found myself making notes to pass along to fellow writers, and identifying whole chapters and sections that I would point out to the young and aspiring writers with whom I work. (I may have even annotated a few chapters for myself.)
There are two problems with the book, one which some will have less of a problem and another that made it a big more difficult to read.
The first, and least problematical, was Lamott’s infusion of the God metaphor did wear thin after awhile. Despite my own atheism, I understand that people draw their creative inspiration from a variety of places. For the religious, God will certainly be one of those. Lamott explains to the reader that she isn’t somebody who pushes religion on people, and yet she ascribes a great deal of writing to that exact inspiration.
The second, and more problematical, was the repetitive, sarcastic style, which worked in the beginning but became too familiar by the end. The trope presented itself in this way. The author sets up a scene, describing exactly why you should take an action or follow a certain path. Then with a quick cut, she would explain that she didn’t do that, things didn’t work out, and she eventually found her way to the advice she had just imparted. Early on, I found myself laughing aloud while reading. Near the end of the book, the style wasn’t ever subverted and I had to force myself not to skip over those asides.
While I wouldn’t sit down to read the book from start to finish, I would encourage anyone who has aspirations to write to do just that. You’ll find more than enough valuable insight into the writing process and the mind of the writer to make this worthwhile.