Bird by Bird

A living, breathing, experiential account of what it is to write, to want to tell stories, to struggle through the process, the meandering thoughts, the myriad methods of procrastination – all told in a  fresh, non-academic style. 

Lamott lays out the fundamentals of writing, which will be familiar to most of those who have studied or done it – there’s plot, character, setting and so on. But beyond that, she lays bare the very process of creating these elements and bringing them to life – the circular thoughts, the rapid changes of heart and mind and opinion, the constant confusion. Her anecdotes are funny and profound – a musing on her inability to keep plants alive turns into a metaphor for creativity.

A textbook can tell you that you reveal character by actions and that plot is when there’s conflict between two people, but Lamott will tell you that it’s about making sure that you show up everyday and look through what she poetically calls the one-inch picture frame and write what you can see in just that little space – not worrying about the big picture, or the ending, or the fact that you can’t see past two feet in front of you. 

There is a particularly honest and far-too-relatable chapter on jealousy where she asks a friend, a therapist and an alcoholic gay catholic priest to deliver her from this ugliest of emotions. She ultimately finds a catharsis of her own, as all of us need to find our own deliverance because the shape of our jealousy and what triggers it is unique to each of us. It is a beautiful example of vulnerability and specificity turned relatable and enormously comforting.

If you know nothing about writing, you could read this book. If you know everything about writing and it’s precisely because you know everything that you feel stuck and don’t know what you want to write about, you should read this book. An amusing, honest and uplifting volume that reminds us that ‘perfectionism is the oppressor’ and that you can do this. 

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