Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

( 113 )

Overview

"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 ...

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Overview

"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 author of five books, including the novels Hard Laughter, Rosie and Joe Jones, offers an "inspiring book about writing as a way of finding truth" (San Francisco Chronicle). "A reveille to get off our duffs and start writing now, while we still can."--Seattle Times.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird is an inspiring and humorous look at the spirituality and sometimes dull reality of writing and the writing life. Lamott offers practical and honest suggestions on how to beat writer's block, find inspiration, or tackle a project that seems overwhelming, all of it wrapped in her warm and often hilarious viewpoint. With lessons in craft, art, and even life, having Bird by Bird on the shelf is like having a fellow writer and friend on hand for whenever you need motivation, inspiration, or even just a chuckle or two.
From the Publisher
"Superb writing advice... hilarious, helpful and  provocative." — New York Times Book  Review.

"A warm, generous and  hilarious guide through the writer's world and its  treacherous swamps." — Los Angeles  Times.

"A gift to all of  us mortals who write or ever wanted to write...  sidesplittingly funny, patiently wise and alternately  cranky and kind — a reveille to get off our duffs  and start writing now, while we  still can." — Seattle  Times.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Lamott's Operating Instructions miscellany of guidance and reflection should appeal to writers struggling with demons large and slight. Among the pearls she offers is to start small, as their father once advised her 10-year-old brother, who was agonizing over a book report on birds: ``Just take it bird by bird.'' Lamott's suggestion on the craft of fiction is down-to-earth: worry about the characters, not the plot. But she's even better on psychological questions. She has learned that writing is more rewarding than publication, but that even writing's rewards may not lead to contentment. As a former ``Leona Helmsley of jealousy,'' she's come to will herself past pettiness and to fight writer's block by living ``as if I am dying.'' She counsels writers to form support groups and wisely observes that, even if your audience is small, ``to have written your version is an honorable thing.'' Sept.
Library Journal
Author Lamott here discloses that she has intentionally written some books as gifts to family and friends, as portraits of people she has loved. This work is a different kind of present to a less familiar audience of strangers who share a common desire to write. It is a generous offering filled both with specific suggestions as well as brief glimpses into Lamott's life. Her voice is soft but strong as she prods the listener to be persistent above all else. Lamott inspires through examples of her own successes but more often through her failures, all the while sharing practical writing techniques. She explains how to get started as well as how to develop dialog, use index cards to help remember ideas, form writing groups, and cope with anxiety and writer's block. Even for those with no desire to write, this recording, narrated by the author, offers the listener the opportunity to contemplate life one step at a time, or "bird by bird." Recommended.Jeanne P. Leader, Western Nebraska Community Coll. Lib., Scottsbluff
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385480017
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/28/1995
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 16,752
  • Product dimensions: 5.15 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.55 (d)

Meet the Author

Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott lives with her son, Sam, in northern California. She is the author of five books, including the novels Hard Laughter, Rosie, Joe Jones, and All New People. Her last book, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year, was published by Pantheon in 1993.

Biography

Anne Lamott's recovery from alcoholism and drug abuse helped her career in two ways. First, it marked an artistic rebound for the novelist; second, she's become an inspirational figure to fans who have read her frank, funny nonfiction books covering topics from motherhood to religion to, yes, fighting for sobriety.

Early on, Lamott's hard-luck novels were impressive chronicles of family strife punctuated by bad (but often entertaining) behavior. Everyone in Lamott's books is sort of screwed up, but she stocks them with a humor and core decency that make them hard to resist. In Hard Laughter, she tells the (semi-autobiographical) story of a dysfunctional family rocked by the father's brain tumor diagnosis. In Rosie and its 1997 sequel, Crooked Little Heart, the heroines are a sassy teenage girl and her alcoholic, widowed mom. Another precocious child provides the point of view in All New People, in which a girl rides out the waves of the 1960s with her nutty parents.

Lamott's conversational, direct style and cynical humor have always been strengths, and with All New People -- the first book she wrote after getting sober -- she turned a corner. Reedeming herself from the disastrous reviews of her messy (too much so, even for the endearingly messy Lamott) 1985 third novel Joe Jones, Lamott's talent came back into focus. "Anne Lamott is a cause for celebrations," the New Yorker effused. "[Her] real genius lies in capturing the ineffable, describing not perfect moments, but imperfect ones...perfectly. She is nothing short of miraculous."

That said, Lamott's sensibility is not for everyone. The faith, both human and spiritual, in her books is accompanied by her unsparing irony and a distinct disregard for wholesomeness or conventionality; and God here is for sinners as much as (if not more than) for saints. Her girls are often not girls but half-adults; her adults, vice-versa. She finds the adolescent, weak spots in all her characters, making them people to root for at the same time.

Among Lamott's most messy, troubled characters is the author herself, and she began turning this to her advantage with the 1993 memoir Operating Instructions, a single mom's meditation on the big experiment -- failures included -- of new parenthood. It was also in this book that Lamott "came out of the closet" with her Christianity, and earned a whole new following that grew with her subsequent memoirs, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life and Traveling Mercies. However gifted Lamott was at conveying fictional stories, it was in telling her own stories that her self-deprecating humor and hard-earned wisdom really made themselves known, and loved by readers.

Good To Know

Lamott's Joe Jones, which is now out of print, was so poorly received that it sent the alcoholic Lamott into a tailspin. "When Joe Jones came out I really got trashed," she told the New York Times in 1997. "I got 27 bad reviews. It was kind of exhilarating in its way. I was still drinking and I woke up every morning feeling so sick, I literally felt I was pinned to the bed by centrifugal force. I wouldn't have very many memories of what had happened the night before. I'd have to call around, and I could tell by people's reaction whether I'd pulled it off or not. I was really humiliating myself. It was bad."

Lamott's father was a writer who instilled the belief in her that it was a privilege in life to be an artist, as opposed to having a regular job. But she stresses to students that it doesn't happen overnight; that the work has to be measured in small steps, with continual efforts to improve. She said in an NPR interivew, "I've published six books and I still worry that the phone is going to ring and [someone] is going to say, 'Okay, the jig is up, you have to get a job..."'

In an essay accompanying Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, Lamott described her decision to begin writing in earnest about Christianity: "Thirteen years ago, I first lurched -- very hung over -- into a little church in one of the poorest communities in California. Without this church, I do not think I would have survived the last few years of my drinking. But even so, I had written about the people there only in passing. I did, however, speak about the church whenever I could, sheepishly shoehorning in a story or two. But it wasn't really until my fifth book [Operating Instructions], that I came out of the closet as a real believer.... I started to realize that there was a great hunger and thirst for regular, cynical, ragbag people to talk about God..."

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    1. Hometown:
      Fairfax, California
    1. Date of Birth:
      November 30, 1953
    2. Place of Birth:
      San Francisco, California
    1. Education:
      Attended Goucher College in Maryland before dropping out to write

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 113 )
Rating Distribution

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(60)

4 Star

(25)

3 Star

(17)

2 Star

(6)

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(5)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 113 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 21, 2010

    A fun read

    Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird initial appeal to me was that it looked like a little book that would be an enjoyable guide for writing. And it IS a very enjoyable read that made me want to grab a pen, or computer, and start writing away. She's wonderful at consoling us all for being regular human beings with all our foibles and quirks, and she has an excellent way of making me feel not quite so neurotic after all. But what she doesn't offer is any particular really helpful writing advice. She's creative and clever, and made me laugh a lot. . . and gave me something to do INSTEAD OF writing. But then, at the end of the book, when I tried to grasp hold of exactly what the solid advice, what the actual recommended writing information might have been. . . . I had nothing. But it sure was fun to read!

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2010

    A great book for any writer!

    I am a college student reading this book for a writing class, and I can honestly say this is one of the best books about writing I have ever read. My entire class loves this book, and we are quoting from it all the time! Lamott does a great job balancing humor and personal advice about the writing process. Experienced writers will be able to relate to the author's opinions about writing, while beginner writers will pick up some great tips on how to improve their writing skills. This is an awesome book for writers at any level, and I highly recommend it!

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 15, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Lamott Heartens Writers Bird by Bird

    Whether you are an aspiring writer, a published professional, or someone with a sense of humor, Lamott's playful wit will entertain you as she vividly and accurately illustrates the inner workings of a writer's mind. If you are not a writer, yourself, you will identify with the nuggets of wisdom Lamott has weaved into her constructive description of an approach to writing fiction. The main nugget of wisdom - to face overwhelming tasks one step at a time or "bird by bird" - is exemplary of how she takes real life examples and applies her concepts not only to the craft of writing, but also to the art of living.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 12, 2010

    The joy of reading about someones life growing up!

    The book is about a girl named Anne who grow up living with her mother and father. Her father was a wrtier for a long time and then he developed brain cancer and told her to take notes so that she was able to write about his cancer and what she went through while he had brain cancer. When she became a writer she started helping younger people how to write and told them her experinces on writing. i thought this book was boring in the beginning but then it got better in the middle of the book.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 7, 2007

    A Writing Life Exposed

    Concerned that my review of Ann Lamott's 1994 book bird by bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life could not begin to do it justice, I kept putting it off. In fact, this book's advice is so excellent and comprehensive, that I sent a copy of it to an actress friend who is facing severe emotional trauma, with none of it having anything to do with writer's block. By page two of the introduction Ann already had me laughing. She claims it was predicted she'd grow up to be a serial killer, while I had a police officer declare that I would surely attain adulthood as either a murderer, or an actor playing a murderer. At page 205 of this 236-paged paperback, she mentions how a writer must be innocent, of which I certainly am. Only after I am once again blindsided I typically label my actions either naive or ignorant and only sometimes innocent. Like me, the 1950s born Ms.Lamott, also felt different from the other kids and also found her refuge in books. While using less precise and far more esoteric thoughts and words, bird by bird, like Making a Literary Life steps the reader through exactly what must be done if she wishes to become a published author. In her book, Ms. Lamott goes from the actual steps of writing the book, to the writer's mindset, to finding free help, to getting published and indeed, why to even write at all. Speaking as a successful, published author, she thoroughly covers the writer's life in both a humble and humorous fashion. In point of fact, I enjoyed this book so much that I transported out of my usual science fiction genre and went and paid full price for one of her down to Earth novels.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 5, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    advice and encouragement entertainingly delivered

    This book gives real advice to real people trying to get some air under the wings of their writing. It is not intended as a practical how-to-write-a-novel instruction book. It is a advice and encouragement, and an inside look at the habits and approaches she herself takes to sitting down to a blank piece of paper and getting going.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 17, 2012

    I Also Recommend:

    Good resource for writers

    I started off a little discouraged by this book due to the way she immediately grounds you about the reality of the writing world. It frankly was a bit depressing. However, your dreams have not been crushed. Once you check your ego at the door and let yourself in, you will discover a bounty of useful information on writing (plot, characters, research, etc.) Stick with it and you will be rewarded with insightful information, encouragement and a look inside of one writer's life.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 19, 2011

    Amazing

    I read this book for my senior year required reading, and I am honestly grateful that my teacher included it on the list. Bird by Bird is full of little jewels of advice that help not only aspiring authors but also the non-writer. Lamott punctuates her points with anecdotes both comical and sobering, relevant analogies, and wonderfully quotable lines, all while injecting humor into a topic that sorely needed it. I even used her ideas about perfectionism to write my college essay. This is one book that I truly think everyone should pick up.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 6, 2010

    slightly helpful

    Lamott offers little help for practical technical problesm of writing. I was looking for help putting the pieces of a complex novel together into a coherent whole. She gives you a little boost if you have a discouraged attitude. That's about it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 11, 2010

    Left Me Pondering

    Bird by Bird is a collected reflection on the writing process. Author Anne Lamott begins with a vignette on the origin of the writer within, then discusses writing styles while adeptly weaving in examples, writing in different instances as a child, for a child, and as an adult reflecting on childhood so her students, er, readers experience the affects of character and narrator on a story. One can appreciate the candor with which the author reveals the realities of a writer's life (although it seems more specific, perhaps a middle-class, sufficiently connected writer's life): the bumps, trips, jealousy, depressions and near breakthroughs and almost made its and little acclaim for all that effort. Though the book attempts to defy categorization, this writer has labeled it a narrative lesson plan for a writer's workshop with real life illustrations. Lamott may be a sweet but determined gangsta issuing a thinly veiled warning to aspiring writers that this is tough work and her turf or she may be a writer with a deadline and a drawer full of notes (on writing?) jotted on index cards that, with her insistence, arranged themselves into this book.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 26, 1999

    I'd really like to meet this person, that can see through darkness.

    I picked up this book one day while working on a faculty's computer at Luther college. I stopped working on the computer and started reading the book. I realized that I was in the midst of a moment that would shape the rest of my writing life. Finally I could let someone into my emotional acre.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 28, 2014

    I love reading Anne Lamott's work. She is funny, irreverent, yet

    I love reading Anne Lamott's work. She is funny, irreverent, yet writes with great truth and wisdom. This is one of my favorites as she writes so well, makes me laugh, and encourages me as a writer.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 3, 2013

    Bird by Bird is a great read for students trying to find their v

    Bird by Bird is a great read for students trying to find their voice in writing. I am currently a college freshman, and this book completely changed my perspective on writing for the best. The book has elements of humor that a writer of any age can relate to such as terrible first drafts! I would definitely recommend this book to any student needing any inspiration for their writing. I am ale a student that does not enjoy to read, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book! 

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 1, 2013

    I just want to start by saying that I am so glad that Anne Lamot

    I just want to start by saying that I am so glad that Anne Lamott wrote this book. Her personality and sense of humor really makes this book a breeze to read. I'ma freshman in college and I found that Anne really knows how to relate to kids like me. She made me feel good about myself as a writer and her book encouraged me to write. Her unique tone and voice made her come off as a very down to earth lady. I am not kidding when I say that this book should be a requirement among high school students because she basically lays out everything it takes to be a successful writer in 237 pages. 

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 24, 2013

    Raechel

    It isn't hard. Someone needs to teach chu to curse. Dx put < 3 > with no spaces in the middle of a curse word. Then you won't get locked out.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 15, 2013

    A Handy How-To

    Lamott writes a realistic review of the trials of the life of a writer and this book is full of helpful tips. I'd recommend it to anyone with the caveat that Lamott gets in her own way too often. A "how-to" book doesn't have to be that entertaining.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2012

    Reviewer

    Holy cow! That story is awesome! I love the action and the way your name connects to the story. You are an incredible writer! At first, I was confused with the //, but I then realized that that was thoughts. This story captivated me, start from finish. Do not repost this story because many cats will love to read this!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 25, 2012

    Goodbye- Contest Entry

    I gasped, air rushing into my lungs as I ran. The dark gray, rough rocks hidden in the soil tore at my delicate pads as I fled, but I ignored the pain, knowing if I stopped now, /he/ would take my life.
    The moon was shining high in the sky, scattering it's light across the forest floor, but I didn't take any comfort in the fact that I could see. Rustles in the bushes made my already tired, aching heart beat faster; shadows flitted across the ground, each black silhouette looking more threatening than the last.
    Just when I thought my torn, bleeding paws would give in, I saw a break in the forest's foliage, revealing a large meadow spread out after it. //Clawstar's afraid of open spaces,// I thought in relief. //If I get there, he'll most likely retreat.// Excitement pumped adrenaline into my legs.
    I nearly yowled in triumph when I sped into the field, but I held my tongue. I had to save my breath. In order for Clawstar to back off, I had to get deep into the field. I knew I had to do that, fast. His hot, rancid breath scorched the fur on my neck, and I could feel his razor-sharp claws slicing through the air, just several beetle-lengths away from my body.
    I yelped as I saw the ground drop away from me several moments later. Desperately, I skidded to a stop. Tiny rocks rolled off the side of the gorge, bouncing off the side of the deathly ledge. I could not hear them hit the bottom. My heart felt just seconds away from exploding, from coating my insides with grief, anger, and blood. //Oh, StarClan, what have I done to receive such a fate like this?//
    "Ah, so we meet again, Chaia." The menacing, dark voice spat the last word out as if he had a piece of crowfood in his mouth.
    Shaking with fear, I turned around to look that my pursuer. Muscles rippled across his lean body, and his mouse-length claws raked at the soft, grass-coated ground.
    "I-I thought you were afriad of open spaces." I tried desperately to add a note of defiance into my voice, but the results were futile.
    "Well, I got rid of that fear." Clawstar's amber eyes glared at me, the red hue around his pupils seeming to spread. He advanced toward me, close enough that I could smell all the horrid aromas in his tooth-cracked mouth. The smell of rotten food. The smell of blood. The smell of death. "Just like I got rid of the remorse for my mate, Nightflower. The cat that you killed."
    "I did not kill her!" I snarled, anger finally spreading through my soul.
    "Oh, yes you did. And now you must pay. Be my slave, or die a painful death."
    My body seemed to go hollow by those words. Fear raced around the emptiness. "No," I finally choked out. "I won't die by your claws."
    Without feeling a trace of regret, I let one of my hindlegs dangle over the edge of the cliff. "I'm not scared of you."
    My other hindleg hung over. "I'm not scared of the pain. I'm used to it. Both emotional and physical pain." My left paw now began its journey to the bottom. Struggling to stay on, I said my final words in a whisper. "I'm not afraid of death."
    The claws that were my only barrier from life and death retracted back into my paws, and I began the long journey down the gorge. Memories flashed before my eyes: Me, playing with my adopted mother, Earthpelt; laughing with my best friend, Glowpaw as we ate prey and talked as the moon shone over us; tears streaming from my eyes as I was exiled from my Clan at a young age of two moons.
    "Goodbye," I whispered.
    Everything went dark.

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 11, 2011

    Is it good enough

    Twelve and my teacher told me about this book...bcause i love to write...but is it good enough for a twelve year old to read? I really need an answer...so....ppl plz pozt!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 22, 2011

    Fun read, not a lot of actual info.

    I found other books better, but it was a fun read.

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