Read-Through Thursday: Bird by Bird

This is a series wherein I will discuss whatever book I’m reading or have just finished.  Feel free to post in the comments what you’re reading or your own thoughts about the books I discuss.

I just want to clarify that this is not a review.  I may recommend the book, but my real point is that I love to talk about books and this is my blog so I get to do whatever I want.  And I want to talk about books!

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

I haven’t finished this book yet, but I think I already know what makes it an enduring classic.  The writing style.  It’s humorous, it’s real, it’s relatable, it’s honest.  The advice, so far, is nothing I haven’t seen before.  But Anne Lamott tells it in such a funny way that it stays with you.  And I’m a big believer in being reminded (repeatedly) of the good stuff.  No matter how great a piece of advice, I will likely forget it when it comes time to write.  The more times you hear/read something, the more likely you are to retain it.

Here is an example: “The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later.  You just let this childlike part of you channel whatever voices and visions come through and onto the page.  If one of the characters wants to say, ‘Well, so what, Mr. Poopy Pants?,’ you let her.”

And I love that she admits to having conversations with people who aren’t there.  I do that, too (especially in the bathtub, shower or car).  For example, she writes, “I speed or run an aging yellow light or don’t come to a full stop, and one nanosecond later am explaining to imaginary cops exactly why I had to do what I did, or insisting that I did not in fact do it.”  It’s so refreshing to see my own behavior acknowledged, shared and validated (thanks, RocketMan).

The title of the book comes from something her father told her brother when he was stuck writing a report on birds and getting frustrated.  It reminds me of something I learned from my mother.  Eating an elephant (ignore the ick factor for a moment) seems like a huge task.  Of course it is.  But how do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.

Ooh, it feels good to be back.  What is everyone up to this week?

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16 Comments

Filed under Reading

16 responses to “Read-Through Thursday: Bird by Bird

  1. Hi Vicki, (called you VB yesterday because I was looking at the name of your blog.) I read and enjoyed Bird by Bird, too. Lamott’s humor, especially. I loved the part where she went to New York in her Writer Suit to discuss her book with her editor, and had already spent the advance…. 🙂

  2. While it’s not my favorite writing book, I found Bird by Bird helpful. Letting first drafts be rough was good advice. I liked knowing that even seasoned authors have lousy first drafts. She had good humor too.

  3. Gail

    I haven’t read Bird By Bird, but it sounds good. I agree a 1st draft “is when you let it all pour out.”
    This week I finished reading 2009 Newberry Honor book the Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly. I liked the the MC’s wit and the uniqueness of this book. I also read the Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night by Joyce Sidman & illustrated by Rick Allen. Another award winner by Sidman. I loved this book! Sidman and Allen combine their talents for an imagery-rich hike in the night time woods. Try reading the poems aloud without showing the pictures to your kids/students to see if they can guess what the poem is talking about from the words. Kids love to do this!
    Joyce Sidman has written many other great poetry books, which would be great for a combination celebration of Earth Day and April being National Poetry Month!

  4. Hello Vicki.
    Nice to have you back. 🙂
    I haven’t read “Bird by Bird” before. There are so many great books about the craft of writing out there. I will certainly add this one to my how-to reading pile. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  5. I haven’t read this, but the advice sounds good. “Bite by bite” is one way to eat an elephant for sure, but it’s a fun way to think about our writing, which gets to be a daunting task!

  6. The one really unique thing I learned from bird by Bird that I haven’t seen anywhere else is her “picture frame” trick – wont’ give you the details if you haven’t got that far yet. But you are right, it’s her personality that really makes this book. In fact I think I need a good dose of Lamott right now… I’ve been floundering with my WIP for a while now, I think I might need more structural revisions – which goes beyond revision to the dreaded RE-WRITING stage.

  7. I’m going to have to check this one out. Thanks, Vicki!

  8. LOL, this is great! I love the honesty of this post. My imagination takes me away too, with various scenarios and characters. Guess it’s a good thing I write them down–a way to clear out the brain. 😉

  9. Hey Vickie, I always thought my first draft was more like a smushy baby all cute and thrilling, just screaming for attention!
    Sounds like a fun book. I never even heard of it, so I appreciate the sharing. Any book that has fun, yet gets a message accross is really a good read.

  10. Vicki, I’ve heard of this book but haven’t read it yet. It sounds awesome. And I to have conversations with people that aren’t there. I thought I was the only one. How cool to realize that I’m not the only one that a little crazy:)

  11. Vicki Tremper

    Thanks for all the great comments, everyone! I just wanted to point out to those who haven’t read it, that it’s not very long. Shorter than much of the YA fiction out today. So, an easy read all around!

    Yes, Margo, the picture frame trick is awesome. It has to do with giving yourself short assignments so you don’t overwhelm yourself, and so you get the most out of that assignment. She writes that E.L. Doctorow said: writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.

  12. I have not heard of this book or had the chance to read it but I shall be checking it out…

  13. I’m going to have to read this one–it sounds great! I love the concept of a child’s draft, where the characters go romping around. I’ve had a romper or two in my manuscripts, and it’s nice to know I can let them play and be a disciplinarian later 🙂

  14. I’m not one for how-to books because frankly, I don’t like being told what to do, but this is one that has even tempted me… I should pick it up… as for what I am reading… I’ve set aside one of LDiane Wolfe’s books and a Wally Lamb book because I have to do line edits on a darned book of my OWN that I’ve read 50 times already (grrrr) but the fact of the matter is, I need to make sure the editor edits didn’t cause a need for more edits (which in fact they have, but never mind)

  15. Yeah, I don’t do how-to books, though of course when it comes to something I’m wanting to learn more about, I will take a look at those. 😀

  16. I love your mums advice – one bite at a time! So true for writing – one page at a time!

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