Book Review: Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
Review by David Yarian, Ph.D.
I first read this book about three years ago as I was beginning to explore creative writing. I've been a lifelong reader, but never thought of myself as a writer. It's been a profound experience to let my imagination go at the keyboard, to close my eyes as I type faster and faster, trying to keep up with the images flashing across the screen in my mind. I haven't published anything, but the process of "making up stuff" has been fascinating, enlivening and just plain fun.
The first writer's conference I attended was a one-day event sponsored by a local writer's association. There were several speakers and a hundred or so bright-eyed writers-to-be, all gathered on a sunny February morning in a cavernous room in the community center. We heard lectures on self-publishing, finding an agent, and how to use verbs more effectively.
During a break I wandered over to the table of books for sale (no surprise here!). Somehow in the midst of a hundred books on writing, Bird by Bird captured my attention. I was hooked after reading the first paragraph and bought it on the spot. I didn't even write down the title so I could go home and order it on Amazon! I read the whole thing immediately. Then over the next several weeks I read it aloud to my wife, a few pages a night.
I love this book! It's filled with Lamott's quirky wisdom about writing and life. She pulls no punches as she describes her struggles as a writer, a mom, a single woman. With her sardonic, self-deprecating humor, she raises low self esteem to an art form. She demonstrates that somehow, after facing the worst about ourselves, it's possible to pick up and keep going, wiser, more compassionate, and more creative.
Lamott encourages the newbie writer and the veteran alike, reminding us that everyone struggles as they sit down before a blank page or a blank screen. Even rich and famous published writers write shitty first drafts. Somehow I find this encouraging. This is a great book, a true friend.