Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Bird by Bird

I just finished reading Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. I've read this book before, but I found an unclaimed copy when I got back to school in August and decided to read it again before making too much of an effort to find its owner.

I have a bit of an ambivalent relationship with Anne Lamott. I love her funny, irreverent, original take on the world. In her books on faith, I am constantly struck by her insights. I find her incredibly quotable - except I don't use that kind of language. Yeah, this is where the ambivalent part comes in. She makes me feel very priggish, cliché-ridden, and old (though actually I think she is older than I am). Sometimes her irreverence veers into territory where I'm uncomfortable.

All that being said, I love this book. Perhaps it's because her theme isn't faith here, but writing.

Here are some great quotes, to indulge my urge to quote her:
Publication is not all that it is cracked up to be. But writing is. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. The thing you had to force yourself to do - the actual act of writing - turns out to be the best part. It's like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.
I have found this to be true more than ever since the earthquake, in the writing I've done here on this blog and elsewhere. I've reached the point where I would write on my blog whether or not anyone read it (which is good, because some days I think hardly anyone does). I've always written, off and on, but now it feels like a lifeline to me.

Here is Lamott on first drafts:
But the bad news is that if you're at all like me, you'll probably read over what you've written and spend the rest of the day obsessing, and praying that you do not die before you can completely rewrite or destroy what you have written, lest the eagerly waiting world learn how bad your first drafts are.
Here's what she has to say about books:
For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die. They are full of all the things that you don't get in real life - wonderful, lyrical language, for instance, right off the bat. And quality of attention: we may notice amazing details during the course of a day but we rarely let ourselves stop and really pay attention. An author makes you notice, makes you pay attention, and this is a great gift. My gratitude for good writing is unbounded; I'm grateful for it the way I'm grateful for the ocean. Aren't you?
And then, because I've been collecting quotes about middle school lately, here she is on finding someone to read your drafts for you:
It's like asking for a date, so while you are doing this, you will probably be rolfed by all your most heinous memories of seventh and eighth grade.
And later, talking about a benefit she was supposed to read at once:
There was a paragraph about the event in the book section, and once again I was not included. This time the publicity chairwoman called, upset and so full of apologies that she managed to mollify me. Then there was a big mention in the society pages, and guess what? It felt like seventh grade all over again.
(Just like in the quote I posted yesterday, seventh grade is the metaphor for being wretched.)

I recommend this book (book #54 of the year), whether you want to write or not. It's entertaining and fun and insightful.

This post is linked to the September 11th Saturday Review of Books.

1 comment:

Janet said...

Sounds good, but I won't be ready for more Lamott for awhile yet... I'll keep this one in mind for when that time arrives.