Bird by Bird: Anne Lamott's Timeless Instructions on Writing and Life
Below is the first one in a series of articles about my personal journey in finding teachers and mental renewal in good literature.
If you wonder why learning from good literature is essential, find out more in "A Good Read"
Bird by Bird is one of the first books I read on the topic of writing. I didn’t have any specific expectations before opening the book. I vaguely thought that Anne Lamott was going to pass on methods to write well. But I found something much more: she taught me how to be a writer, how to see writing from an accomplished author’s perspective.
In a witty, metaphorical, poignant narrative, Anne wrote down the meat and bones of this vocation. There is a distinct silver lining shining through her book the beautiful struggle of a writer’s life. She tells the stories of her own struggles so real, at times so absurd and hilarious that I burst into laughter. I guess that’s how she has chosen to look at her tough life. Attitude is everything. She chooses to laugh at it instead of being squandered by it.
Anne doesn’t try to be the perfect teacher standing so tall that it hurts our neck if we ever try to look up to her. She shows her insecurity, her self-loathing, egotistical side with authenticity and humor. She paints an imperfect portrait with satire, so when we look at it, we may see ourselves too. And we can learn to laugh at our struggle too, and find joy in it instead of being daunted by it. And perhaps we can learn to let go the overwhelming expectations we put on ourselves as we embark on the journey of a writer. We can feel that we are enough, with all of our flaws, to simple begin.
Anne uses an amusing binocular to look at every single detail of a writer’s day - wrestling with concepts and thoughts in our mind, to write what needs to be written. She taught me to put my judging mind to sleep and trust in my unconscious, because that is where my 5-year-old-self plays. It is the child in me that sees the world in the most naïve, innocent way. And she is the old one who could pour that world on the blank page.
She gives life, meaning and humor to the most mundane tasks in writing. So much that I have started to regard my own creative process as a pleasure, an honor, a blissful struggle, a sacred place which I can enter. Her advice is also practical and detailed, most notably when she suggests giving a “teenie little penis” for characters that we took from real life, deterring them from going public with libel issues.
One thing that rings very true to me is what she wrote about the responsibility of a writer. She commands us to tell the truth, because other than that we have nothing to tell the world. She urges us to find the clearest, most succinct way to tell the truth of how we understand the world, to the best of our ability. She asked us to write directly to the emotions. She wants us to share our stories with conviction, with innocence, with naivety. So that we can make others take off their blindfold, dazed by the sun rays and realize that the world is not just bleakness but full of colors. So that we can find our way back to each other, and teach each other to be innocent, and brave, again.