Study Guide

Bird by Bird Part 3, Chapter 22

By Anne Lamott

Part 3, Chapter 22

Someone to Read Your Drafts

  • Time for the comics: Lamott starts this chapter with a description of a New Yorker cartoon. In it, a writer and an apparently normal person are talking to each other. The writer, presumably describing a publisher, says, "We're still pretty far apart. I'm looking for a six-figure advance, and they're refusing to read the manuscript" (22.1).
  • Shmoop did a little research, and you can see the actual cartoon here.
  • Anyway, Lamott thinks the kind of person who says this is probably the kind of person who thinks he's too smart to bother with advice from other writers. Occasionally, some famous writer will tell Lamott that she should stop encouraging people to show their work-in-progress to other writers. Lamott says she doesn't argue, but she keeps on telling people to get advice on work-in-progress, anyway.
  • So much of writing involves feeling lost or getting things wrong, and there are often lots of ways to tell a story right. Lamott thinks somebody else may be able to spot it when you've found a right way, and it's worth trying to find that somebody.
  • It doesn't even really have to be another writer who gives this advice. It could be a close friend or a spouse. Basically, you just need someone who's willing to read drafts and tell you honestly what's going well and what needs work.
  • Lamott knows how tough it is when someone tells you that a piece you've been working away at still needs more effort. She says it's normal to think at first that you may not even want to know this person anymore. But eventually you get over it and realize how amazing it is that this person cares so much about you as a person and also your writing and will give you honest and helpful ideas for making it better.
  • Lamott describes the two people she trusts to give advice on her work. Then, she describes how the process usually works for her, complete with the part where she wants to stop being friends with her trusted advice-givers because they have a few suggestions and the part where she finally starts to feel grateful.
  • It's much better if your friend has a few suggestions than if your agent does. Your agent might give up on you, but your friend is a lot less likely to do that.
  • Lamott launches into an extended metaphor describing how scary it can feel getting feedback on your work but also how useful it can be in the end. She compares it to God turning up with a wrecking ball one day and letting you know your whole house needs rebuilding.
  • Lamott turns to the question of how to find someone to read your drafts this way. It's about the same as finding a writing group, except you only have to ask one person at a time. You can ask someone from your writing class if you have one, or you can ask a person you already know who likes your writing. Lamott says some of this may feel as scary as asking for a first date in seventh and eighth grade, but she seems to think it's worth it, anyway.
  • Next, Lamott turns to a question her students ask her: what if you do find a possible writing partner and that person's responses turn out to be mean and negative? Lamott says basically that if the person is always negative, you should move on. You want someone who's honest but gentle. It has to be someone who keeps encouraging you to write, even if they sometimes think you've got a while to go before publication.
  • Lamott says beginning writers make a lot of mistakes, but they should definitely be encouraged to keep writing. And she says the chances are good of finding a good reader for your drafts. She says almost all the writers she has met have found this person eventually.
  • Lamott closes with some advice that applies to both dating and to finding a writing partner. Isn't that handy? "It's not unlike finding a mate, where little by little you begin to feel that you've stepped into a shape that was waiting there all along" (22.22).

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