Study Guide

Bird by Bird Part 3, Chapter 20

By Anne Lamott

Part 3, Chapter 20

Calling Around

  • If Lamott's take on index cards is good news for writers, this chapter might be even better. In it, she explains that you really don't need to know everything about what you're writing about. You can just ask people. Even better, lots of the people you ask will be absolutely thrilled that someone wants to hear what they know about a particular topic.
  • Besides, Lamott points out, you can call up experts on a topic you're writing about and count it as part of your writing work that day. (These days, it may be easier to use social media, but either way.)
  • Lamott says you'll occasionally stumble on other helpful things while calling around for information. She gives an example from her second novel. In it, a man is trying to open a bottle of champagne on a first date.
  • Lamott was describing all of this when she realized that there's a wire thing above most champagne corks, and she had no idea what to call it. She figures a winery should know, so she called the Christian Brothers Winery. The line is busy, so she sits daydreaming for a while and actually gets a great description of a vineyard in fall written down while waiting.
  • Lamott tries calling the winery again. No luck. It's still busy. But, as she's hanging up, a friend calls. He wants to talk about his life, but Lamott says, "No, no, talk to me about grapes" (20.8). After hearing the description she's just written, the friend gives Lamott a quote about grapes. She writes that down and feels a happy glow about how much material she's getting.
  • At last, Lamott calls and gets the receptionist at the winery. The receptionist doesn't know what the wire thing is called, either, but she transfers Lamott to a monk. Lamott says the monk sounds as though he's 2,000 years old, and he seems genuinely pleased to be able to give her some information. Lamott secretly thinks that he somehow kept going just long enough to help her out, then died happy having shared his knowledge with a desperate writer.
  • The monk says the thing on the champagne bottle is called a wire hood.
  • Lamott is thrilled. She got some good writing done about vineyards, she got a great quote from a friend, and she learned what a wire hood was.
  • As a bonus, Lamott says she can't tell us how many people have been delighted to know what a wire hood is after reading her book. Well, okay, actually she admits it was three people. But they seemed truly pleased.
  • Lamott also admits that one of these people was her mother, and mothers do tend to be super excited about books by their children. But, still. The point is, sometimes writers can ask people for knowledge, and sometimes readers are excited about it, too.

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