Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

4.1 117
by Anne Lamott

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"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…  See more details below


"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.'"

Editorial Reviews

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.
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.
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

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
4.13(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.58(d)

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Bird by Bird (SparkNotes Literature Guide Series) 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 114 reviews.
Angela2932ND More than 1 year ago
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!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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!
a_heart-writer More than 1 year ago
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.
SW-RALCC More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
DearReader More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have to read this book for my Fiction Writing course. Anne Lamott gives long-winded explanations that lose the reader's interest before they can get the information they need. It is hardly worth the time, or money.
Wendy_Strain More than 1 year ago
Anne Lamott exposes the writing process for what it is in Bird by Bird. She does not try to romanticize it or break it down into a purely academic set of exercises. As told in her own words, through stories and revelations, deep personal investigation, and brutal honesty, she offers inspiration, hope, and encouragement sprinkled with helpful tips and advice she uses herself and shares with her students. Because of the way it’s written, I also see it as inspiring for creatives of multiple stripes — painters, sculptors, crafters, etc. I go into more detail on my blog, but overall, it was a highly enjoyable read that I plan to keep nearby for all those dark moments of doubt. 
TracyCA More than 1 year ago
Encouraging and funny.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Practical, witty and fun!
DoranneLongPTMS More than 1 year ago
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 More than 1 year ago
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! 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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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Opps did it wrong
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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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