Albatross, bittern, crow, etc

Albatross, bittern, crow, etc

“I grew up around a father and a mother who read every chance they got, who took us to the library every Thursday night to load up on books for the coming week.”

Some of you may or may not know that I am not only a voracious reader and reviewer of books on a tawdry little WordPress blog, but I am also a writer under my own steam. I’ve got a degree in it and everything, so it must be true. However, just lately, I have been entirely drained. The idea of writing has dragged me down and the words aren’t coming. I’m not the sort of writer who will force himself to sit before the keyboard and waste an hour just tapping away at a stream of conciousness about how much I loathe myself – not my style.

Since I finished my first novel last year (drafts and edits in progress), I have not really found myself diving into anything new. Lamott may well have changed all of that because Bird by Bird is an incredibly persuasive book.

The title comes from this story that Lamott shares:

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. [It] was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'”

The book is a combination of memoir and how-to guide, mostly giving the reader an insight into the world of writing. It doesn’t focus on the actual aspects of getting published (although they are glossed over towards the end) but instead gives you other reasons to write, and explains how to actually get the words down. Lamott is clearly very gifted and this book is beautiful, moving, hilarious and most certainly inspiring. She makes wonderful observations about character, plot, dialogue and writer’s block. She talks about the frame of mind required to write, about how one should listen to their work and see where it takes them.

And somewhere along the line, it stops being advice about writing, and starts being advice about life. The chapter on perfectionism is particularly great for that.

Anyone who is a writer, or wants to be a writer, could benefit from giving this book a once over. Some of the advice you’ve heard a million times before but some of it is brand new, and while everyone has their own style of working, all writers can glean something out of this, if only some of the great anecdotes that get used. There’s also a great poem by Phillip Lapote in it – it might be worth it just for that.

All I know is, I am inspired to write again. Fingers crossed I can produce something worthwhile!

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