Study Guide

Bird by Bird Part 4, Chapter 28

By Anne Lamott

Part 4, Chapter 28


  • Looks like Lamott has finally finished telling us good reasons to write other than getting famous because she's finally giving us a chapter about publication. And why not?
  • Sure, Lamott may be right that all that stuff like giving and finding your voice is better than getting published, but who doesn't want at least a little bit of a shot at getting some work out there?
  • Lamott still calls it "the myth of publication" (28.1), but she's going to tell us about it at least.
  • Lamott describes herself when she's waiting to hear back from an agent or an editor. If her picture of obsessive nervousness doesn't make you think twice about the publication process, not much will.
  • Eventually, Lamott gets around to describing what happens after you do find out your book will be published. She says things are good for some months as you work through all the final editing and preparation.
  • Once again, Lamott describes the hopes people have about publication. She talks about how people seem to think it will change their lives dramatically, give them real confidence, and make everything amazing.
  • Lamott says this isn't what happens for her. For her, getting published is kind of like a cross between the last few weeks of pregnancy and the first day of seventh-grade gym class. If Lamott sounds ambivalent about publishing, she is.
  • It all starts out okay. The publisher sends you a paperbound book with your work set in type. (These are called bound galleys, in case you ever need to impress someone.) When Lamott gets these, she's deeply relieved because she feels like the publisher is too far in to cancel on her. (The publisher actually wasn't planning to cancel, but that's not the point when you're being obsessive.) Reviewers are also getting these galleys.
  • The writer's first read-through of the galleys is wonderful. However, the following readings get scarier and scarier as the writer sees typos and gets more and more worried about whether anyone will like the book.
  • Early reviews are a mixed bag, in Lamott's opinion. Some think your work is fantastic, and some think the opposite, but you somehow hold on until the actual publication date.
  • Lamott says the actual publication date will feel seriously epic as you anticipate it, and you'll be expecting the publisher to send the Blue Angels by in celebration. Or flowers, anyway.
  • Then, Lamott tells the story of the time she and her friend Carpenter had books coming out on the same day and how they both expected a huge amount of attention that day and got very little. Then, they sent each other flowers. She says publication dates are often like this, but without the flowers.
  • Basically, Lamott still doesn't think publication is going to mean fame and fortune for really anyone. She describes how it's generally pretty anticlimactic—and eventually, if you're a writer, you will get a very bad review.
  • Lamott does have some good news about publication, though. Publication does mean that the community of other writers and editors and so on have recognized the work you're doing, and they can see you're doing something right. Lamott says you also get to make a living doing something you love. (Note: a living wage may not be guaranteed by the first book. Lamott is also pretty honest in this book about the fact that writing hasn't made her super rich.) But she says you will get a quiet joy from knowing all of this.
  • You still have to start writing the next darn thing, though. Lamott says you have confidence after you've been published because you've been published, but you're also terrified because you have to do it again.
  • Lamott says the thing to do is just write hard until you get through this phase, and eventually you'll remember again that "the real payoff is the writing itself" (28.20).
  • For any readers who feel like Lamott is being a downer, she says that the good hours writing are pretty fantastic, but so are her son and her church and her family and friends.
  • But Lamott does believe that we can find real satisfaction in being writers, in getting some work done most days on writing projects, and even in getting published and being recognized as a writer.
  • Then, she tells some stories about how many ways it can go wrong if you try to build all your self-esteem around being a published writer. Bottom line? The coach in Cool Runnings is pretty much right when he says, "If you're not enough before the gold medal, you won't be enough with it" (28.36). Ditto for publication. Lamott knows her '90s sports films, apparently. Maybe it was all those matinees she went to while she had writer's block.
  • Finally, Lamott adds one more thing. When a book she wrote did pretty well, she found herself going a little crazy from all the attention. She knew she should stop paying attention to all the buzz, but she couldn't stop, either. So, she went to see the pastor at her son's preschool. He told her that you can't get peace from the world; you have to find it in your heart.
  • Lamott said she hated that.
  • The preschool pastor sympathized, but he also said that if you can find peace in your heart, the world can't take it away.

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