Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Bird By Bird - When Words Fly...

BIRD BY BIRD is a beautiful, soulful laugh-out-loud book: the sort that you find yourself reading out to friends. Ostensibly, it's about how to write. It's also about motherhood, finding God and dying gracefully; about why we read books and the need to express life's inexpressibly beautiful moments - the ones that change and deepen us.

Written by the American author Anne Lamott - political activist and former Salon.com columnist - was originally published in the United States in 1994 and now released in Australia in 2008.

The daughter of writer Kenneth Lamott, she recalls when she was a child, his friends - all writers - would come over for drinks and then "pass out over the dinner table". Her father's writerly advice was: "Do it as a debt of honour". And make a commitment to finishing things".

Why we write is not so important, neither is being published, Lamott likes to remind us. What is more pertinent is becoming conscious to use writing as a tool, "to live as if we are dying".

By drawing on her own experiences, she illuminates the trials of being a writer and there are many.

There is no secret to her success, although Lamott's own routines are instructive: She sits down around the same time every day - to train the unconscious to kick in creatively - and then tries to quieten her mind to "hear what that character has to say above the other voices (which) are banshees and drunken monkeys". Writing is also about listening - to an inner voice - and she likes to imagine this voice as a "long-necked, good-natured "Dr Seuss" who invents characters.

Chapters are dedicated to all aspects of writing - character, plot, dialogue, set design - and how to move beyond "really shitty first drafts". She hoards ideas and whispers on index cards, stuffed into her back pocket. Occasionally she'll pull out gems such as one about her young son, Sam, looking up at a cold starry night and saying "It smells like moon".

For all her compassionate intentions, Lamott is often at her most hilarious when she's being bitchy about other writers, especially when the green-eyed monster grips her. If she's brutal about some of her friends, she's also brutal about using everything in life as material - just changing it enough so the person won't notice.

At times the book feels like a passionate manifesto. "Tell the truth," she urges. "If you're a writer, you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act - truth is always subversive".

Her words could put off aspiring writers or those foolish enough to think that it ever gets any easier. For the committed, she will INSPIRE!

Kakadu, Northern Territory, May 2007 - Australian Heron ready to fly


jenX67 said...

I really needed to read this today. These lines meant the most:

"to live as if we are dying" and "If you're a writer, you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act - truth is always subversive."

I'll pick up a copy of this.

Another favorite book about writing is Brenda Ueland's "If You Want to Write." It was written in 1930.

Octamom said...

Anne Lamott is such an amazing writer--I've read several of her works and am always touched by her unflinching honesty as she seeks God and tries to understand life--


Gill said...

I am new to this author and her works...but i AM going to the library to check her out :)
Feeling muchus better now..well i'm able to eat and be out of bed without falling down LOL!! Thanks for your comments - they mean a lot :)

Anonymous said...

That sounds a really useful book. I'm always interested in the writing process - I love to see how other writers do it. the thing about writing though is that there is no wrong or right way - although good advice is always welcome so that you avoid the many pitfalls. A book I would recommend is 'On Writing' by Stephen King. yeah - I know he writes in the horror/supernatural genre but he is very successful - and he has some interesting and useful tips in there. (I also happen to love most of his books - I say most as there are some turkeys!!)

Giovanna Garcia said...

Hi Peggy

I have not read the book yet, however, you have got me interested in read it. I love the part about the obligation to tell the truth.
Thank you,
Giovanna Garcia
Imperfect Action is better than No Action

TheChicGeek said...

Nice review. I'm going to check this one out. It sounds fabulous!
You have a lovely blog! I'm enjoying my time here :)
Have a Great Weekend!