Study Guide

Bird by Bird Part 4, Chapter 25

By Anne Lamott

Part 4, Chapter 25

Part Four: Publication—and Other Reasons to Write

Writing a Present

  • Ah, publication. It sounds like the best thing ever. Fame. Fortune. Instagram glory. What's not to like?
  • Anne Lamott says it's really not that great. Tragic, huh?
  • On the bright side, Lamott also says there are lots of other great reasons to write. Writing can be rewarding in a bunch of ways other than just money and fame.
  • Lamott's first reason to write is writing a present. It is the title of the chapter, so maybe that's not a shocker. Lamott says she's written two books that were presents to someone she loved as that person was dying. This may not work for everyone, but Lamott felt honored and happy to be able to tell her father's story, and he got to read it before he died. When he got brain cancer, she was able to write a story for him, and he was able to receive it as a gift and know his story would go on beyond his life.
  • Lamott says another reason she wrote that book when her father was dying was that she desperately wanted more funny books about cancer that also helped people understand the experience. Lamott can't find a lot of these at her local library (no kidding), so she keeps writing her own.
  • Lamott says this meant a lot to her family. It made her father's last months the best they could be and helped her share the joy and laughter that her family had in the middle of all the terrible things about her father's death.
  • Then, Lamott talks about the way she also wrote a present to her friend Pammy 15 years later, when Pammy got breast cancer. Lamott already had a bunch of journal entries about Pammy because Lamott had been journaling about her young son, Sam, and Pammy was helping out a lot. Lamott was able to write up a lot of her journal entries and share that story with Pammy before her death, and it also meant that Pammy's daughter Rebecca would have another way to remember her mom.
  • Lamott also felt like her book might be a gift to other single mothers. There seemed to be a lack of sarcastic parenting books out there, and Lamott thought she could help.
  • Lamott put both of these stories together in her book and hoped the book could be a present both for the people she was close to and for other people with similar experiences.
  • So there we have it folks, presents and sarcasm: two great reasons to write.
  • Then, Lamott tells a pretty moving story about a later time when someone close to her lost her new baby, Brice, and Lamott eventually found a way to write a present about him.
  • Finally, Lamott gives some advice. She says telling our stories about difficult things can help other people and that it's worth doing. She recommends writing a self-indulgent first draft that just has everything you want to put in it. Then, she suggests going back through and cutting out whatever you can of the self-indulgent parts and keeping the parts that are most likely to be interesting or helpful to others.
  • According to Lamott, you may still find critics who can't appreciate what you wrote or who think it's too personal, but that's okay. The important thing, for Lamott herself, is that she got to write for two people she loved and respected, and they also loved and respected her. That's a pretty amazing audience.
  • Okay, Lamott is also a New York Times bestselling author, so her audience is a teeny bit bigger than two people. But the point holds.

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