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Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

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4.22  ·  Rating Details  ·  47,918 Ratings  ·  4,296 Reviews
"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 ourfamily 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 ...more
ebook, 200 pages
Published December 18th 2007 by Anchor (first published January 1st 1994)
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Debbie I started this book while I was on vacation in Maui and took a tip right out of the book about how to get your writing started (take a 1" view of what…moreI started this book while I was on vacation in Maui and took a tip right out of the book about how to get your writing started (take a 1" view of what you can see and write about it). I was amazed at how effective this was at focusing on where to start. It was fun and I enjoyed the exercise even if I didn't have a particular goal in mind. Her advice applies well to life with writing as the form, and I love the concept of "bird by bird" i.e. one small thing at a time. (less)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jane
Feb 06, 2012 Jane rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: about-writing
Where I got the book: purchased from Amazon.

Perhaps I'm reading this, one of the writing community's most referred-to books, too late in life. Perhaps as a 20-year-old English major (which I never was) I would have loved this book. That could explain its popularity; it seems like the kind of writing-advice book that will be invariably set as a mandatory read in an MFA program. And that, in turn, could explain why a certain type of writer will, if asked to give writing advice, sound exactly like
...more
Will Byrnes
Feb 11, 2015 Will Byrnes rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. - Ernest Hemingway

One writer I know tells me that he sits down every morning and says to himself nicely, “It’s not like you don’t have a choice, because you do—you can either type or kill yourself.” - Ann Lamott
I have not always felt much like writing. My writer’s block, if that is what it was, and not merely the tardy development of some creative muscles, occupied a large portion of my youth. Writing papers for scho
...more
LeAnn
Oct 07, 2007 LeAnn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Writers and serious readers
I'm getting to the point where I've read a handful of books on the writing life by authors and I found this one to be particularly resonant at this point in my writing career. I actually found myself underlining things that Anne Lamott wrote and thinking, "I need to reread this so that I can absorb its message better."

Perhaps the one thing that I'd like to pass along from her book that I wholeheartedly believe is her assertion that novels should have hope in them. I've spent several years thinki
...more
Jason Koivu
Jun 27, 2012 Jason Koivu rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing
Not new-agey, hippie-esque or nearly as self-help guide-like as I feared it would be when I started listening to the audiobook version as read by its author. Anne Lamott's monotone voice set off the "OH NO! SHE'S TRYING TO HYPNOTIZE ME!" alarms in my head, while her occasional allusions to faith had me ready with my own form of holy water (urine) to dash upon any self-righteous pulpits. However, Lamott is more grounded than that, and her dry delivery provides the perfect vehicle for her Tina Fey ...more
Nicky
I love that she doesn’t shy away from the dark stuff, all the shitty feelings, angry rants, and suicidal episodes. I also love that she's funny. Not just amusing, but actually funny. I love that she curses. I love that she can be (and seems to enjoy being) spiteful and sarcastic. I love her and wish I could call her up when I'm feeling miserable. Luckily, I have this book.
Nick
Jan 17, 2008 Nick rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Writers and other crazy people
After so many books about how fun and easy writing can be, it's great to have a book that shows how painful and difficult it really is. Lamott puts a premium on discipline, the discipline of writing every day at a set time and trying hard to get the first draft out, no matter how bad it may be. This message may not be news to most, but along with the added info that neurosis and writing go hand in hand, Lamott is not here to inform, she's here to encourage. She's a real teacher, someone who isn' ...more
G
Dec 04, 2013 G rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: not-my-thing
Ugh. I used to write and then I took some time away from it, and someone suggested this book to me to inspire me. It did exactly the opposite. Lamott makes writing sound like passing a kidney stone, and it doesn't have to be that way.
Bonnie
I recommend this book to everyone, writer or not. It is Anne's most classic, I think. You will laugh and maybe even cry.

I pull it off the shelf now and then and read whatever page I land on -- and always find my way back to my own writing.
Amanda
Oct 14, 2013 Amanda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: blog
A surprisingly hysterical book about writing and, as the title implies, life. The hype surrounding Lamott's book is definitely well-earned and I can't wait to read more of her work. Much of her advice on writing is practical and no-nonsense as she addresses the difficulties of writing and getting published.

If I had one complaint it would be that I wasn't as inspired to write by the end of the book as I was to be Anne's (see? I'm already calling her by her first name as if I know her) friend. I
...more
Jillian
Oct 28, 2009 Jillian rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Any writer
Recommended to Jillian by: Janet Evanovich
This was fantastic, and I wrote a million notes. For example:

I love the description of throwing rats in a jar and watching them scratch. This was a tool for the mind to silence distractors in your life that block you from writing. Also having an acre of land with a fence, and if people come in and mess it up-you simply kick them off.

I like the idea of creating a book from characters, and letting the plot follow what the characters desire.

I liked the idea of moving forward bird by bird, (readin
...more
Douglas
Mar 31, 2014 Douglas rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this to try to understand and learn the craft of writing. With great apprehension, I’m trying to figure out if this is something I want to do. I’ve been a musician and songwriter for many years, so it’s not like it’s a stretch. I think I’m mostly intimidated by the sheer volume of work by so many great writers before me, writers that have given their entire lives to the craft and some sacrificing even more. What do I have to add? Who am I to swagger into the Sistine Chapel readied with pa ...more
Nikki
Nov 13, 2008 Nikki rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Bird By Bird is less a book about writing techniques and more a writer speaking to other writers and telling them that it's okay. All of it. All their neuroses and hang ups and setbacks. It's okay. Just take it word by word (bird by bird). I don't think I learned much from it, but just having someone say it's okay to me for two hundred and thirty-seven pages was good. There is some good advice in there about how to start writing a scene you don't know about, how to let your characters develop, h ...more
Rebecca Foster
I don’t necessarily aspire to write fiction, but I loved this book all the same. Along with step-by-step advice on dialogue, plot, characterization, etc., it has Lamott’s trademark wry observations about living life somewhere between faith and failure.

If you feel compelled to write, write, Lamott urges; “I don’t think you have time to waste not writing because you are afraid you won’t be good enough at it.” Accept that you’ll produce “really shitty first drafts,” and move on from there. At its w
...more
Brian Foley
Dec 15, 2007 Brian Foley rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
when i finished my undergrad, i received 5 copies of this book.
I eventually sold them all for swill.
Zenmoon
Apr 28, 2013 Zenmoon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People like me who have wished more than once for the paranormal transmission of writing skill
Shelves: craft-of-writing

There was a time when I used to consume books like this in the hope that I might learn to write through osmosis. What saves this from being just another writing guide is Anne Lamott’s irreverent humour, and self-deprecation. I loved lines like: ‘I worry that Jesus drinks himself to sleep when he hears me talk like this’ . For the most part, however, it's hard to even quote her, since she takes off on long comedic runs of writing tuition. The book is pretty well pitched at the beginning writer bu
...more
Aditi
Feb 27, 2012 Aditi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If I could give this book a 6 star ratings, I wouldn't.
I would give it a 10 star rating.


My first Anne Lamott and first on writing. And the first is always special, no?
No. this book would have been special even if I'd have read it after reading a whole library on the art of writing. You know why?
Ofcourse you don't. You haven't read the book.

Well. Because this book made me cry. It made me cry because I laughed too hard and the tears leaked out of my eyes and became a perfect cliche.

There are so m
...more
Leah
Oct 12, 2008 Leah rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book offered an interesting perspective on life and writing fiction. She was preaching to the converted, however; didn't really open my eyes to anything I wouldn't expect/already know. I happen to think jealousy is the ugliest human emotion. Kudos to her for shamelessly admitting to her shortcomings, but I honestly wanted to close the book during this chapter. I'm glad I toughed it out though because it was decent well-laid out writing advice, nonetheless. Can't hurt for beginners.

Lamott c
...more
Thomas
Bird by Bird is my new bible. Not just for writing, but for life - it is my favorite work of nonfiction so far. Stephen King's On Writing impressed me, but Anne Lamott's book had me tearing up and laughing at the same time. Her self-deprecating sense of humor and her harsh yet realistic approach to writing won me over. If I could, I would throw this book at every student at my college studying English or Creative Writing. Lamott tackles topics ranging from the neurotic mentality of writing to th ...more
Steve
Feb 28, 2008 Steve rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I can see why this is a popular book. Lamott is funny, self-deprecating, and encouraging even in the face of cold, hard realities. She means what she says in the title, too. It really does set out to be instructions on writing and life. There are undoubtedly better books covering particulars of the craft, but this may be one of the best at construing a writer’s perspective. I liked her advice about making incremental progress (the meaning of “bird by bird”), about getting something/anything down ...more
Greg
Nov 03, 2012 Greg rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
So with this one I'm going against the grain. I think I understand why this is a writing classic. It has practical advice with a lot of examples and metaphors and analogies to help you understand it. However, it didn't teach me anything. Maybe the lessons it imparts have become so ingrained that the original becomes superfluous.

The writing seemed overwritten to me. The many examples and metaphors and analogies really started to irk me. Tell me in the simplest way. I don't need you to write me m
...more
John Woodington
Oct 26, 2009 John Woodington rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-on-writing
I didn't enjoy this book, simply because it didn't inspire me to write. I got the strong impression that Ms. Lamott has horrible self-esteem issues, and her overusage of self-deprecating humor really wore on me after the first chapter or two. She didn't give the reader the inspiration to go out and achieve the greatest thing possible in their writing lives, but instead said basically "it's okay to suck, and you shouldn't worry about never getting better." Maybe that's a message some people need ...more
Jesse
As I am not an aspiring novelist or creative writer of any kind it seems only fair to admit upfront that I might not exactly be Lamott's ideal audience, though I am interested in other forms of writing and hey, the title itself claims that this is as much about "life" as "writing," right?

And there were sections and even whole chapters that I will continue to carry with me, that inspired me or made me pause for a moment in consideration or even made me guffaw out loud (no easy feat). I took this
...more
Patrick O'Neil
May 15, 2013 Patrick O'Neil rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the book that made me want to be a writer. I read it while incarcerated, doing time on armed robbery charges. It was handed to me by a rather large tattooed neo-nazi. He said, "ya gotta read this. It hella beautiful." I didn't know then that I wanted to be a writer. There just wasn't a lot to do locked up. Contrary to popular belief, jail time is mostly long stretches of boredom, punctuated with bits of extreme violence. There were months confined to a cell for twenty-three hours a day. ...more
Naomi
5/31/09:



This may be the single best book I have ever read in my entire life. It is helping me get my work done, on a daily basis; it helped me see where I do fit in life (my niche); and it helped me see how utterly not alone I am. It's a wonderful thing.



All of which I had inklings of prior to reading this book, but Lamott confirmed it. Validation is such a sweet quality.



If you want to understand me, read this book, and then you will. Seriously.



I usually write favorite quotations from a book in a
...more
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
I'm glad I finally got to read this in print. I had previously only listened to the abridged audio version a couple of times.

Anne Lamott is a great cheerleader for would-be writers. I was surprised at how entertaining she can be. She has a gift for dryly delivered overstatement that had me sniggering and laughing out loud.
Beth
Nov 30, 2007 Beth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book got me motivated to try a career as a fiction writer, and look where I am now!
Dorothy
Dec 17, 2008 Dorothy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: on-writing
Lamott takes the title for her book from a piece of advice that her father, a writer, once gave her brother. It seems the brother, a school-child at the time, had to write a report for class about birds. He had waited until the last minute to do it and was despairing of being able to complete it on time. His father told him just to write "one bird at a time." It seems like pretty good advice for any writer.

The book is full of observations like that. Observations that may seem self-evident - like
...more
Caroline
This book is very much a combination of memoir/personal musings and writing instruction. Anne Lamott has quite a gift for comedic writing, and you will laugh many times while reading Bird by Bird. If you’re looking for a straight-up guide to writing a good story and getting published, though, this isn’t the book for you. Lamott possibly spends too much time discussing her son, her friends, her childhood, and her own feelings of inadequacy as a writer. She has an enviable conversational writing s ...more
Lisa Vegan
May 12, 2007 Lisa Vegan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: writers and readers
This is an enjoyable read and a lovely book. Anne Lamott is a very engaging writer and she is very funny, honest, and heartfelt. Although I don’t desire to be a writer, like most readers I’ve wanted to be a writer at times in my life. I took to heart her advice that at some point one has to decide whether to be a reader or a writer, a choice I’d made but it solidified my decision for me. The “bird by bird” philosophy espoused in this book can apply to all endeavors, not just the one of writing.
Anthony
Aug 06, 2014 Anthony rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
If you've ever considered or given a thought about writing, or if you just want to know how a writer thinks and processes - you need to read this book!

Anne Lamott writes an honest and funny read on the life of a writer. Breaking the book up into 5 parts: writing, the writing frame of mind, help along the way, publication and other reasons to write and finishing up with The Last Class. And chapter titles like Shitty First Drafts, How Do You Know When You're Done? and Broccoli (there really is a c
...more
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Anne Lamott is an author of several novels and works of non-fiction. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, her non-fiction works are largely autobiographical, with strong doses of self-deprecating humor and covering such subjects as alcoholism, single motherhood, and Christianity. She appeals to her fans because of her sense of humor, her deeply felt insights, and her outspoken views on topics such ...more
More about Anne Lamott...

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“For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.” 1740 likes
“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won't have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren't even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they're doing it.” 860 likes
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