Study Guide

Bird by Bird Part 2, Chapter 14

By Anne Lamott

Part 2, Chapter 14

Part Two: The Writing Frame of Mind

Looking Around

  • Lamott explains this chapter pretty clearly going in, but there's a twist. Here's how she starts off: "Writing is about learning to pay attention and to communicate what is going on" (14.1).
  • Seems nice enough. But then our author adds, "Now, if you ask me, what's going on is that we're all up to here in it, and probably the most important thing is that we not yell at one another" (14.1).
  • Okay, maybe writing isn't all fun and games. Lamott goes on to say that writing means you see people suffer and try to find some meaning in it. This requires respect.
  • The way Lamott tells it, writers basically need to see others as they really are, and to do this, writers also have to know themselves in a way that is honest but compassionate. She says it sounds simple, but it's tricky to actually do it.
  • Lamott gives some examples of ways we can see other creatures with what she calls "compassionate detachment" (14.4), and then she explores how to see yourself that way. She suggests practice. Apparently, it's like exercise—you get better as you do it more.
  • Training your mind to do this is also like trying to house-train a puppy.
  • To be a writer, you have to be reverent. You need a certain awe for what you're writing about, a certain openness to the world around you.
  • Lamott recommends walking around with a child who is so young that everything seems new and amazing. That's what she thinks people are supposed to be like, especially writers.
  • If you ask Lamott, paying attention in this way can fill you with joy. If you believe in God, you can see God in everything. If you don't, you can be surprised by the world itself and what happens in nature and human beings.
  • Seeing things this way and writing about them truthfully is a source of hope, according to Lamott. She explores several specific things that might work this way, and she recommends a deep attention to things.

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