Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott is a book that beautifully captures what it means to be a writer. It is a lot of frustration and feeling like you should just give up. It is also incredibly satisfying to craft stories and know this is exactly what you were meant to do.
I turned to this book because I have felt completely and utterly lost when it comes to writing. Since graduating college almost two year ago, I’ve lost my sense of direction. It’s as if even trying to write a single sentence is like staring into the void. Going through this period of intense writer’s block or whatever it is made me want to give up entirely on a career in writing.
Part of this was due to not being able to find a job in my field. I graduated with a degree in journalism and a minor in political science. I had a few incredible internships, including a reporting job in Washington, D.C. So to feel as though even the idea of writing turned my stomach into knots was deeply upsetting. I began working as a barista for a few months and I just had no direction in the world of writing. I stopped writing altogether and could feel myself getting rusty from lack of practice.
Things worked out as I knew they would eventually and now I have a job that is entirely writing blog posts and being the social media coordinator. I love my job, don’t get me wrong. But even with my career launching into writing, I still struggle. I thought being able to do what I love would make the difference, but it didn’t. I feel just as stuck as before. Some days I just stare at the computer screen willing something to magically appear on the screen.
I decided to give this book a shot, because I needed something to snap me out of this funk. Let me tell you, it helped significantly. To hear a well established author describe writing basically as the bane of her existence made me feel instantly better. I’m not alone.
Lamott examines the many facets of the writing process from how to begin to character development, understanding where the plot is going, and even how to deal with constructive criticism. She basically gives you a gentle, but forceful push to just start writing. And don’t stop writing even if it is total garbage.
“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.”
I think what I appreciated most with this book is that it keeps it real. Some people may believe being a writer is some elusive and glamorous thing, but most of the time it’s not. It’s very much just sitting down and trying to get your brain to think something worthy of being written down. And hopefully those words can string together into sentences, paragraphs, chapters, whatever. Sometimes I write a whole blog post and end up absolutely hating it because it goes way off track. So I start over. It’s not necessarily a fun process.
“E.L. Doctorow said once said that ‘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.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice on writing, or life, I have ever heard.”
Bird By Bird gave me a sense that all of my frustration and writer’s block is part of the process and I can’t give up. I just need to keep going and never stop writing. This book returned some of the old joy I felt when I realized I wanted to become a writer. I highly recommend it for anyone else feeling a little lost in the realm of writing.
“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.”