Study Guide

Bird by Bird Plot Analysis

By Anne Lamott

Plot Analysis

Ever meet somebody on the bus or at camp who seemed super rambly? Maybe they told you a reaaaaally long story, or two or three, and maybe they kept inserting their opinions on everything from Doritos to Selena Gomez.

The thing is, sometimes you realize afterward that that person's train of thought held together pretty well; it just wasn't obvious at the time.

Bird by Bird is a little like that. It seems to be a long series of funny stories, quirky asides, and funky but fascinating opinions on everything from how to get a new story started to how Anne Lamott thinks some California restaurants serve food resembling various ex-presidents' brains. (She doesn't say which ones.)

Underneath it all, though, Lamott has a pretty organized structure. It's a mark of her skill that the book feels like a fun and quirky ramble, but it's also super organized. The book is divided into four parts, with chapters in each of the parts that—surprise—actually fit together really well.

Here's the lowdown.

Part One: Writing

Like it says on the package. In this section, Lamott tells us a whole bunch of super useful stuff about writing, from how you get to know a character to how you can tell when you've finally finished the darn thing. Aside from the fact that it's 2 a.m. the night before it's due, of course.

Part Two: The Writing Frame of Mind

If your job is shooting video of wild lions or bears for the Nature channel, we're betting you don't just need a few how-to guides; you need a whole new mindset. Writing is like that, too—with less chance of getting eaten alive if you fail…depending how you feel about mean comments on Twitter.

Here, Lamott teaches us how to think like writers.

Part Three: Help Along the Way

Writers can go a little crazy. No wonder they need support groups, help, and an endless supply of free coffee, as well as other stimulants. (Blame Anne Lamott for this information, not us.) Lamott probably can't mail everybody Starbucks gift cards, but she can tell you how to find other writers to talk to, and she can give a bit of advice about getting unstuck. That's basically what this section does.

Part Four: Publication—and Other Reasons to Write

Fame, glory, a J. K. Rowling-size royalty check—that's what lots of wannabe writers seem to want. Here, Lamott tells us that we're not likely to get those things. But she does tell us some other good reasons to write.

Part Five: The Last Class

Anne Lamott has just one chapter to answer any questions she missed and remind us what she thinks is most important about writing. This chapter is a grab bag full of all the final things Lamott has to tell us. It's pretty inspiring, if you like that kind of thing. Maybe not quite a trip to the Grand Canyon, but pretty close.

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