We know you're shocked: Bird by Bird, a book subtitled "Some Instructions on Writing and Life," is about writing. So, just like it says on the cover, Anne Lamott has a lot to say about writing and reading, and how they both intertwine with life—especially her life, which includes a professional writer father who inspires her to become a writer herself. But Lamott is also big on the idea that writing and reading aren't just for professionals—they're for anyone who cares about knowing him- or herself better or exploring the world, and they can make anyone's life richer, even if that person isn't a published author.
For Lamott, writing involves community.
Writing is a lot more important to Lamott than publishing because writing itself is what lets the writer grow and understand the world better.
If you don't have hope, skip being a writer because a lot of the time, it's the only thing you're going to have. In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott lays it all out about how as a writer, your dreams and plans rarely come true, at least in the way you expected they would. You might never get published. You might spend months or years on a novel and still have it not come together until you do your third rewrite. You'll probably be financially strapped forever, even if you do manage more or less to support yourself. But hey—life itself is kind of like that. Stuff happens. The only thing that'll get you through is a little gumption and a lot of hope.
For Lamott, hope isn't a passive wish for something to happen; it's an active way of working toward that goal.
Bird by Bird shows us that we often hope for the wrong things (like fame or publication) but we can learn to hope for better things (like growth or finding out how much we enjoy writing in and of itself).
So, genius writers lock themselves up in a library and refuse to talk to others while inspiration rushes through them as fast as a Ferrari, right? Yeah, no. In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott is all about showing how community has helped her write, whether it's her father getting her started as a writer, her friends or her church or her son giving her ideas and encouragement, or her editors or early readers offering helpful feedback. For her, being a writer is almost like being in a band: she can't do what she's trying to do without other people.
Lamott doesn't think you can separate writing and community.
Lamott seems to make the story happen for all her communities, not just her high school classmates.
Okay, so you signed up for a book about writing, not a book about life and death. But it turns out that life and death are some of the most important things writing can talk about, and since one goal of writing is to help us process and understand our experiences, and life and death are pretty big parts of most people's experiences, Bird by Bird turns out to be about mortality and immortality, too. Anne Lamott finds herself writing to interpret and share the lives of those she cares about—as well as to cope with their deaths and give a certain kind of continuing life to their stories.
Writing makes our communities bigger, and sharing memories with those larger communities helps make mortality more bearable, according to Anne Lamott.
Writing does more in this book than keep alive someone's memory; it helps Lamott understand who that person was and incorporate what she learned from that person into her own life.
Shmooper, know thyself.
Easier said than done, right? In fact, figuring out who you are is one of the million-dollar questions in all of literature. In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott talks a lot about what it means to be a writer, what it means to be part of a community, what it means to be shaped by your family, even what it means to be a human being. And who better than a writer to talk about all this? It doesn't get better than getting it from the horse's mouth.
Sometimes the toughest things to write about are the ones that really show us who we are, when we face them.
According to Lamott, you can't become a good writer without wrestling with who you are.
Anne Lamott learns about life and writing from all sorts of experiences, religious and spiritual among them. Lamott is technically Christian, but she also seems to value insights and examples from other religions, as well as from more general spiritual patterns like meditation that might be practiced (although not always in the same way) by those of many faiths or none.
In Bird by Bird, Lamott sees writing as being about life, and religion and spirituality are aspects of her own life that give it meaning. She takes a broad view: you don't have to be religious or spiritual to be a writer, but for some people, it can help because, in the end, it's all about having an open mind and being in awe of life.
Lamott learns a lot about writing from her own church, and she seems eager to learn from other people's spiritual experiences, too, whatever their belief systems are.
For Lamott, writing can be one path to becoming a fuller person.
You may be surprised to learn this, but Anne Lamott is obviously pretty sold on writing. As she tell us in Bird by Bird, she thinks it will open up your life to awe, help you grasp the truths of being human, let you engage with your community, and make you seriously and obsessively miserable on a regular basis.
Oh, yeah. Writing is hard work, and there are days when you don't want to do it. There will be stretches of time when you think everything you're writing is crap. Sometimes, it really is crap. But dissatisfaction is just part of the job description—and, double surprise—it can actually inspire you to do even better, more satisfying work. How's that for a paradox?
For Lamott, publication is mostly irrelevant to a lot of the best things writing does for us.
Lamott thinks writing is worth all the hassle because of the changes it causes in the writer as a person.
Sorry, folks, but you're not going to get on The New York Times bestseller list if you're not committed to doing the hard work to get there, and it's not all about playing poker with famous writers. In some ways, Bird by Bird is Anne Lamott's ode to perseverance; she's convinced that being a writer takes real commitment. And, you know, we should probably believe her. Luckily, she makes it fun by giving us a boatload of inspiring stories and quotes about writers—including herself—who've kept on going, whatever the odds.
For Lamott, learning to tell your stories and the stories of others is one of the most satisfying things you can do, period.
Finding a community is one of the best things you can do to keep going as a writer, according to Lamott.