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Bird by Bird

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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 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.'"

With this basic instruction always in mind, Anne Lamott returns to offer us a new gift: a step-by-step guide on how to write and on how to manage the writer's life. From "Getting Started,' with "Short Assignments," through "Shitty First Drafts," "Character," "Plot," "Dialogue." all the way from "False Starts" to "How Do You Know When You're Done?" Lamott encourages, instructs, and inspires. She discusses "Writers Block," "Writing Groups," and "Publication." Bracingly honest, she is also one of the funniest people alive.

If you have ever wondered what it takes to be a writer, what it means to be a writer, what the contents of your school lunches said about what your parents were really like, this book is for you. From faith, love, and grace to pain, jealousy, and fear, Lamott insists that you keep your eyes open, and then shows you how to survive. And always, from the life of the artist she turns to the art of life.

237 pages, Paperback

First published May 5, 1994

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About the author

Anne Lamott

78 books8,864 followers
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 as her left-of-center politics and her unconventional Christian faith. She is a graduate of Drew College Preparatory School in San Francisco, California. Her father, Kenneth Lamott, was also a writer and was the basis of her first novel Hard Laughter.

Lamott's life is documented in Freida Lee Mock's 1999 documentary Bird by Bird: A Film Portrait of Writer Anne Lamott.

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Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,310 reviews120k followers
February 2, 2023
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.” - Anne 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 school was not merely a chore but a horror. I am not sure when chips were first broken from that large mass but I do recall actually having some fun as a high school sophomore, in otherwise weak report on Midsummer Night’s Dream, describing the play as “Shakespearean Slapstick.“ Writing did get easier, but was never less than challenging. I have had occasion to write a bit of this and that in my working life, but my employers have all been consistent in finding no use at all for what writing ability I may possess. That impulse found its way into letters, and, for disparate periods, journaling. I managed to crank out a newsletter for the baseball and softball teams I managed, but those days are well back in the rearview. For the last fifteen years or so, I have been cranking out reviews here on Goodreads, and seem to have found a rhythm. This is by no means automatic. Every one of these things, well, with one or two exceptions, takes real effort. But it is possible. It is not horrifying. I am comfortable in knowing that when I read a book I can definitely produce a review, not always a good review, but at least one that is not completely embarrassing. At the very least, it is not cadged from the kid sitting in front of me, or helped along by ChatGPT. I have developed my own system, an approach to how to go about it. I could probably keep at this until my ashes are strewn, but there is a piece of me that would like to take on something larger, something less reactive. And so the horror returns. It is quite clear that just because a person can write book reviews, that does not mean a person can necessarily write an actual book. My inner child begins to whine, “but I wanna, waaaaah.”

So here we are. No shortage of ideas, but massive supplies of anxiety, fear, ignorance, and self-doubt. What’s an aspiring writer to do? I may not be able to tamp down the emotional/psychological impediments, but I can try to address the ignorance piece. And one way to begin this process is to look for some advice. Which brings us to Anne Lamott. My Christmas list for 2014 included Stephen King’s On Writing and Santa came through, but his assistant, my elfin book goddess tossed in another, Lamott’s Bird by Bird (or as it might be referred to in some parts of my home borough, Boid by Boid) as well. I will be getting to King’s book in time. I had read BbB many years ago. My ambitions were different then. I expect there are times when certain books and certain readers converge. You can read a great book and not appreciate it because of where you might be in your life, but connect with it totally if you catch it at the right time. I may have incorporated a bit of this book way back when but now was definitely a propitious time for a refresher.

Ann Lamott - image from Salon

Of course, you will be at diverse stages in your writing interests, if you indeed have such urges at all. Not everyone does. There are many ways to transport the inner to the outer and writing may not offer the right means for most. But, as you are reading this, I expect there is a good chance you like to write, and maybe want to kick it up a notch. If so, Lamott’s book is a wonderful place to find a helping hand. In fact, it is a masterpiece of the genre, rich with wisdom, offering a host of ideas about how to get from not-writing to writing, in manageable, small pieces. One thing about this book is that it is very funny. I laughed out loud a lot while reading it, which can be awkward on crowded subway cars. Hopefully some of the techniques here will provide some bandages for the Hemingway quote at the top.

She offers advice on how to get moving when you are stuck, provides cheerful, uplifting support for trying times, and permission to allow your creative process to work through its issues, up to a point. She lets us all know that Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts, which is very, very good to know. There are chapters on plot, character, and dialogue. Some explanation of technique. Lamott is echoing in print the writing class she teaches.

The book is eminently quotable. My personal favorite, however second hand it might be, is
E.L. Doctorow 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.”
Although this does ignore the obvious, that in making that trip one already is aware of the destination, and the route, still, it gives me hope. Maybe an inability to see the entire picture from the beginning does not condemn my efforts, or yours, to failure. One concern I have is that whatever I write, as seems to be the case for every idea I have ever had, has already been done, probably multiple times, and probably better. Lamott has a quote for this:
Mark Twain said that Adam was the only man who, when he said a good thing, knew that nobody had said it before. Life is like a recycling center, where all the concerns and dramas of humankind get recycled back and forth across the universe. But what you have to offer is your own sensibility, maybe your own sense of humor or insider pathos or meaning. All of us can sing the same song, and there will still be four billion different renditions.
If you are considering writing more generically, as opposed to having a specific project in mind, Lamott offers a wealth of assignments designed to get the wheels turning. And for those who dabble in analyzing books, there is plenty of intel on structure, and the dynamics of story-telling, all of which are relevant to reviewers of books.

If you harbor no aspirations to writing, Bird by Bird offers a warm, illuminating and entertaining look at some of the things writers go through, provides some insight into the process of writing, and some of the challenges writers confront. If, however, you are a writer, aspire to be a writer, or indulge in analysis of writing, Bird by Bird will feel like a kindly mentor, an older, wiser sibling maybe, who can take you by the hand and offer a gentle nudge in the right direction. Your writing may or may not soar, but Lamott’s excellent tutorial will certainly add a few feathers to your wings. Maybe those will be all you need to finally take that step away from the nest and let your creativity take flight.

Review first posted – 2/6/15

Publication date – 1994

=============================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s Twitter and FB pages. She does not appear to have her own site.
Profile Image for Jane.
Author 11 books844 followers
February 6, 2012
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 Anne Lamott.

Maybe that's the problem: familiarity. I've heard so much of this before that it felt, well, stale. Write every day. Write from the heart. Find your own voice. Or maybe it's because I'm a 52-year-old recovering cynic and I'm a little less EMOTIONAL about the whole writing process. The notion of going on a 3-day alcohol (or later, eating) binge because your editor didn't like your book seems a bit excessive. Paying a therapist to help you get through your jealousy of your successful writer friends? Mmmmmkay.

And Lamott's overwrought prose style made me think of Anne Rice, for some reason. Perhaps it's just because they're both called Anne.

There were moments when I was moved and made to think about writing, so maybe one day I'll read Bird by Bird again and see if I can revise this first impression. It could be that the gems contained within the neurotic twaddle are what make the book shine in the memories of so many writers. But I ended up feeling that I'd learned a lot more about Anne Lamott than I'd learned about writing.
Profile Image for LeAnn.
Author 5 books73 followers
October 7, 2007
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 thinking about what turns me off in much of the "literary" fiction that I pick up and it's that most of it is bleak and hopeless, albeit written with exquisite feeling. As an adult and as a writer, I'm past the need for escapism that drove me to read as a child and young adult but I'm not past the need for hope. I really don't have any more time to waste on stories that make me feel depressed and dark at the end.

Ms.Lamott also talks about writing as a spiritual activity and that I also believe in. If not done as a form of "candy making" (her phrase, not mine), then writing satisfies the soul like nothing else and that this is what matters most, not some illusory, nigh impossible, success in terms of publishing, fame, and fortune.
Profile Image for G.
884 reviews54 followers
December 4, 2013
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.
Profile Image for Dream.M.
506 reviews90 followers
December 17, 2021
خیلی جالبه!
این کتاب رو یکی از دوستانم چند وقت پیش بهم پیشنهاد کرد (چون تصور میکنه استعداد نوشتن دارم)؛ بعد من گشتم و نسخه ارزان قیمت ترش رو پیدا کردم و سفارش دادم. پولش رو هم پرداخت کردم؛ اما سفارشم کنسل شد چون فروشگاه دیگه چاپ ارزان قیمت رو نداشت. منهم دیگه منصرف شدم و خریدش رو فراموش کردم. تا اینکه دوست دیگرم، بدون اینکه از قضیه مطلع باشه، چند کتاب برام هدیه فرستاد و اینهم بینشون بود.‌ نمیدونم! شاید اونهم فکر میکنه من توا��ایی نوشتن دارم.

یکبار هم توی روزهای خیلی بدم، دوستی بهم گفت درد دلها و غم هات رو بنویس. بهش گفتم کسی علاقه نداره چیزایی که مینوسم رو بخونه. اونم گفت اصلا اهمیت نداره. برای خودت بنویس.‌ فقط سعی کن بنویسی. و من شروع کردم به نوشتن و پاره کردن. انقدر نوشتم و پاره کردم که دیگه سبک شدم. البته این کار به پیشرفت نوشتنم کمک نکرد، اما حالمو کمی بهتر کرد.
الانم وقتی دلتنگ میشم، برای اونها که دلتنگشونم نامه مینویسم. وقتی هیچ ایده ای برای نوشتن نداری میتونی نامه بنویسی، و بعد میبینی کلمات خودشون سرریز میشن، اشک هات هم همراه��. مهم نیست که این نامه ها هیچوقت خونده نمیشن و به دست کسی نمیرسن؛ مهم اینه که یکاری با کلمات بکنی تا جلوی ترکیدن قلبت رو بگیری. نوشتن میتونه از مرگ نجاتت بده.

این کتاب به ��بان ساده نوشته شده و راهنمای گام به گام برای نوشتن عه. لزوما مخاطبش کسانی نیسن که میخوان نویسنده شن و یا حرفه ای به دنبال نویسندگی میرن؛ بلکه هرکسی که فکری و استعدادی برای نوشتن هرچیزی در هر سطحی داره، میتونه از این کتاب سهم خودش رو برداره و نصیب ببره. نویسنده توی کتاب دستورالعمل‌های ساده و کاربردی ارائه داده و مهمتر از اون خیلی لحن صمیمی و انگیزشی طبیعی که داره، حس مثبت به خواننده القا میکنه.
خب من فکر میکنم اگر کسی به نوشتن علاقه داره و آماتوره، و یا کسی رو سراغ دارید که توی شروع راه نوشتنه، این کتاب میتونه خیلی مفید باشه و راهنمایی کنه.
ممنون از دوست خوبم برای هدیه باارزشش
Profile Image for J.L.   Sutton.
666 reviews927 followers
June 29, 2019
Ann Lamott's Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life reads like a collection of anecdotes on writing. The book is easy to read and some of the suggestions are worthwhile, especially the advice that inspired the book's title.

Image result for bird by bird

I did get a little tired of Lamott complaining about all her students wanting to get published, but I understand her points. More disturbing to me, however, was her advice to students who wanted to write about people from their own life. To dissuade this real person from coming forward and claiming to be said character, Lamott tells students to make the character distasteful: 'throw in a tiny penis' and 'make him an atheist.' The advice is written as if it should be amusing. I know Lamott often writes on her faith, but this doesn't seem like the right place to slam those who don't share her beliefs. Maybe it's just me, but it feels jarring. These kind of interjections are largely absent from the first two thirds of the book so I still did find parts of Bird by Bird useful.
May 14, 2019
... 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, which 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." (c)

Perfectionists swear by it. A must read for every sufferer of this malady. A manifesto for healthy life out of the hamster's wheel of self-deprecation, self-sabotage and deadline-butchery. "Bird by bird".

My father wrote an article for a magazine, called "A Lousy Place to Raise Kids," and it was about Marin County and specifically the community where we lived, which is as beautiful a place as one can imagine...
He could take major events or small episodes from daily life and shade or exaggerate things in such a way as to capture their shape and substance, capture what life felt like in the society in which he and his friends lived and worked and bred. People looked to him to put into words what was going on. (c) Actually, I'm sure that's where the problem with the media reliability is. For fiction this is perfect. But when one takes real life and twists it out of shape, that's where the crazy elections (Trump vs Clinton) happen. Imagination shouldn't hijack reality and its proportions.
I loved them, but every so often one of them would pass out at the dinner table. I was an anxious child to begin with, and I found this unnerving. (c)
Every morning, no matter how late he had been up, my father rose at 5:30, went to his study, wrote for a couple of hours, made us all breakfast, read the paper with my mother, and then went back to work for the rest of the morning. Many years passed before I realized that he did this by choice, for a living, and that he was not unemployed or mentally ill. (c)
He could go anyplace he wanted with a sense of purpose. One of the gifts of being a writer is that it gives you an excuse to do things, to go places and explore. Another is that writing motivates you to look closely at life, at life as it lurches by and tramps around. (c)
I looked at him quizzically. "I am so, so sorry," he said. "But it still doesn’t work." He didn’t understand why certain things happened the way they did, or why some things happened to begin with, and most importantly, why so little happened at all. (c)
"Listen. I want you to write that book you just described to me. You haven’t done it here. Go off somewhere and write me a treatment, a plot treatment. Tell me chapter by chapter what you just told me in the last half hour, and I will get you the last of the advance." (c)
But I was funny. So the popular kids let me hang out with them, go to their parties, and watch them neck with each other. This, as you might imagine, did not help my self-esteem a great deal. I thought I was a total loser. But one day I took a notebook and a pen ... it ended up being included in a real textbook. This deeply impressed my teachers and parents and a few kids, even some of the popular kids, who invited me to more parties so I could watch them all make out even more frequently. (c)
This is wonderful, I thought, throwing back my head to laugh jovially; my father writes pornography. (c)
Later that summer I came to know how they felt, when I read Catcher in the Rye for the first time and knew what it was like to have someone speak for me, to close a book with a sense of both triumph and relief, one lonely isolated social animal finally making contact. (c)
... I could make the story happen. I could make it vivid and funny, and even exaggerate some of it so that the event became almost mythical, and the people involved seemed larger, and there was a sense of larger significance, of meaning. (c)
Throughout my childhood I believed that what I thought about was different from what other kids thought about. It was not necessarily more profound, but there was a struggle going on inside me to find some sort of creative or spiritual or aesthetic way of seeing the world and organizing it in my head. I read more than other kids; I luxuriated in books. (c)
Some people wanted to get rich or famous, but my friends and I wanted to get real. We wanted to get deep. (Also, I suppose, we wanted to get laid.) I devoured books like a person taking vitamins, afraid that otherwise I would remain this gelatinous narcissist, with no possibility of ever becoming thoughtful, of ever being taken seriously. I became a socialist, for five weeks. Then the bus ride to my socialist meetings wore me out. I was drawn to oddballs, ethnic people, theater people, poets, radicals, gays and lesbians—and somehow they all helped me become some of those things I wanted so desperately to become: political, intellectual, artistic. (c)
So I dropped out at nineteen to become a famous writer.
I moved back to San Francisco and became a famous Kelly Girl instead. I was famous for my incompetence and weepiness. I wept with boredom and disbelief. Then I landed a job as a clerk-typist at a huge engineering and construction firm in the city, in the nuclear quality-assurance department, where I labored under a tsunami wave of triplicate forms and memos. It was very upsetting. It was also so boring that it made my eyes feel ringed with dark circles, like Lurch. I finally figured out that most of this paperwork could be tossed without there being any real ... well ... fallout, and this freed me up to write short stories instead. (c)
Say to yourself in the kindest possible way, Look, honey, all we’re going to do for now is to write a description of the river at sunrise, or the young child swimming in the pool at the club, or the first time the man sees the woman he will marry. That is all we are going to do for now. We are just going to take this bird by bird. But we are going to finish this one short assignment. (c)
Now, practically even better news than that of short assignments is the idea of shitty first drafts. All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts. People tend to look at successful writers, writers who are getting their books published and maybe even doing well financially, and think that they sit down at their desks every morning feeling like a million dollars, feeling great about who they are and how much talent they have and what a great story they have to tell; that they take in a few deep breaths, push back their sleeves, roll their necks a few times to get all the cricks out, and dive in, typing fully formed passages as fast as a court reporter. But this is just the fantasy of the uninitiated. I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. (c)
Profile Image for Valeriu Gherghel.
Author 6 books1,442 followers
December 11, 2022
Am citit cartea de multe ori, am privit (pe YouTube) și un mic discurs despre scris și viață, ținut de Anne Lamott în fața unui public pios, dar cu simțul umorului (Anne Lamott este o activistă în cadrul Bisericii reformate), și am sesizat mereu seninătatea și buna ei dispoziție. E o plăcere s-o asculți.

În Bird by Bird (titlul original al acestei cărți), găsim o sumedenie de sugestii cu privire la scris și viață, unii le-au sistematizat și au descoperit 5, 10 sau 12. Nu sînt deloc precepte obligatorii, sînt exact ceea ce spune subtitlul românesc: sugestii. N-ar mai trebui să spun că aceste „instrucțiuni” nu te fac scriitor, totul ține de practică și de perseverență. Geniul e o formă de încăpățînare.

Cartea lui Anne Lamott nu-ți garantează succesul. De altfel, dorința de notorietate (de zarvă) (firească pînă la un punct) nu este cel mai nobil motiv de a scrie, de multe ori e toxică. Cazul scriitorilor care au publicat un bestseller și apoi s-au întors în cel mai negru anonimat e grăitor. Marii scriitori nu au redactat cărți cu scopul de a fi arătați cu degetul pe stradă, deși o capodoperă poate face pînă și din omul cel mai cumpănit un soi de exponat gata de pus în vitrină. Shakespeare a avut norocul ca gloria (bardolatria) să izbucnească la un secol și mai bine după moartea lui. Tolstoi, în schimb, nu s-a bucurat de acest privilegiu, tot mai rar în modernitate.

În opinia mea, sugestia cea mai înțeleaptă oferită de Anne Lamott se referă la puterea de a te privi cu un ochi critic. De îndată ce scriitorul nu mai are îndoieli, posibilitatea lui de a progresa devine egală cu zero. Asta explică repetiția și rutina care survin în cariera celor mai mulți scriitori. Faulkner a fost creativ în deceniul cuprins între 1929 și 1939, tot ceea ce a scris după această perioadă de extraordinară fertilitate e caduc. În tagma literatorilor, imunitatea la elogii e o însușire extrem de rară. Umilința e rarissimă.

Anne Lamott afirmă (și are perfectă dreptate) că nici un scriitor nu ar trebui să se bazeze pe așa-numita „inspirație”. Nu spun că inspirația nu există (uneori, scrii mai bine, alteori, mai prost), dar mult mai importante sînt tenacitatea și rutina zilnică. „Scrie! Scrie oricît de prost („shitty first drafts”), dar nu te opri din scris, vei avea tot timpul din lume să corijezi!”, exclamă autoarea. Și asta mi-o face extrem de simpatică... (4 noiembrie 2022, vineri)
Profile Image for Hilda hasani.
125 reviews139 followers
May 11, 2020
این روزها درگیر نوشتن متن سنگینی هستم و خواندن پرنده به پرنده مانند مراقبه ای اساسی بود که چیزی را در وجودم ارام کرد. اصلا کاری با جنبۀ آموزشی کتاب ندارم، چون زبانش انقدر شیرین است که گزندگی حس آموزش را از خواننده می گیرد. این کتاب با جهان و با جریان زندگی و با واقعیت و با خودتان رو به رویتان می کند و شما را به آشتی با حقیقت هایی فرا می خواند که احتملا یک عمر از آن ها فرار می کردید.
در جایی از کتاب آن لاموت خصوصیات خودش را بر می شمارد و من پیوسته چیزی در دلم وول می خورد که با حس و حالی کودکانه به او بگویم :«می آیی با هم دوست بشیم؟»
او بلد است در روایتش از کجا صعود کند و به کجا فرود بیاید. وقتی صحبت می کند خیالتان راحت است که در دست انداز نمی افتد، در عین حال اوج های بسیار شیرینی را نصیبتان می کند. او خاطراتی می گوید، تجربه هایی از خودش را با مخاطبانش در میان می گذارد. به نظر من به خواننده اش اعتماد می کند، او خیالش راحت است که خوانندۀ کتابش منظورش را می فهمد و نیازی به توضیح اضافات نمی بیند.
نکتۀ دلپذیر دیگر دربارۀ این کتاب ویرایش درست و به جا و ترجمۀ تا حدود زیادی خوبش بود. تا به حال نامی از مترجم این اثر «مهدی نصراله زاده» نشنیده بودم، حتی به نظرم جاهایی کاملا مشخص بود که مترجم کم تجربه است اما نکتۀ بسیار مثبت تر این بود که او تمام تلاشش را کرده بود! اگر تلاش مترجم نبود لحن طنازانۀ نویسنده انقدر روان منتقل نمی شد، ویرایش خوب و دقیق نشر بیدگل هم به این ترجمه الحاق می شود و در نتیج�� دلایل کافی برای لذت بردن از متن کتاب تکمیل می شود.
لحظات زیادی بود که بخش هایی از کتاب در دید من خواننده مثل عبور شهاب سنگی از دل آسمان شب تابستانی بودند و خب طبیعتا تجربۀ خواندن پرنده به پرنده می شود مانند تجربۀ یک شب شهاب باران خنک تابستانی دردل کویر.
شور و ذوقم دربارۀ پرنده به پرنده را با سخنی از پاراگراف پایانی ماندگار می کنم :
«+ اصلا چرا نوشتن ما اهمیت دارد؟
-به خاطر روح، به خاطر جان، به خاطر دل. نوشتن و خواندن حس انزوا و جداافتادگیِ ما را کاهش می دهند. نوشتن و خواندن به حسِ زندگی ما عمق داده، آن را درجمیع جهات وسعت می بخشند: آن ها روح را تغذیه می کنن��».
Profile Image for Nikki.
494 reviews124 followers
December 9, 2010
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.
Profile Image for sAmAnE.
583 reviews87 followers
July 21, 2021
این کتاب در مورد نویسندگی و نوشتن کتابه، اکر علاقه داره میتونه اطلاعات خوبی بهتون بده و همینطور تحربیات نویسنده از کودکی و درگیر شدنش با نویسندگی هم در کتاب آمده، خوندنش برای من خیلی طول کشید ولی در کل کتاب خوبی بود.
Profile Image for J.
1,965 reviews
October 28, 2009
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, (reading the book will explain what this means), and the informal prose.

Other great advice is not just researching subjects you know nothing about, like gardening for example, but calling local nurseries and spending time with gardeners. Asking questions, like: "what would the fruit be doing? Would there be leaves?"

Calling friends with antique furniture, and letting them describe a lamp to you, taking your articulate friends with you to a restaurant, and writing down the funny things they say and descriptions they give.

Also using movies for settings-trying to describe the scene, city, landscape with as much detail as possible.

Advice for Characters: when your out in the world listen to people talking, play with what you hear, edit it in your minds eye and see how it would look on a page.

Also-you should be able to identify a character by what he or she says. It's a given that each should sound different, look different, and have different backgrounds and mannerisms-but this simple advice hit home b/c I thought, "if I didn't write-he said/she said-after this quote, would they know it was from this character?"

Also, ABDCE, for Action, Background, Development, Climax, and Ending. You begin with action that is compelling enough to draw us in, background to know who these people are, what happened before the story began, then you develop these people so you know what they care most about. The plot-drama, actions, tension-come out of that. Move them along-til it comes together in a climax, after which things are different for the characters in some real way, and then the ending-what is our sense of who these people are now. What are they left with and what does that mean?

I loved the description of rewriting and tucking the octopus in bed. The legs that keep popping out from the bed sheets, and just when you think you have them tucked in, another pops out.

I'm also interested in reading E.M. Forster and John Gardner's advice on plot which Lamott mentions as great reads and thinking about joining a writing group.

And...ok-(I love so many things about this book!)-the advice on having someone read your first drafts was really good-it helps to know if you're on the right path.

And I liked the advice on how to find people for writing groups and to help you edit. How to approach them, and how to laugh at the rejection you might encounter meeting them in a writing class and they perhaps, not wanting to help you:)

One of the life lesson tips I loved was on page 170, about not wasting your time on people who doesn't respond to you with kindness and respect, or wasting your time with people who make you hold you breath. "You can't fill up when your holding your breath, and writing is about filling up, when you're empty. Letting images, and ideas, and smells run like water."

I'm laughed at the beginning writer things-the writing about yourself, and making yourself the main character and trying to throw EVERYTHING in your first book, short story, whatever. Yup-I'm doing all of that, and at least I'm learning I'm not alone:)

Letters is an amazing idea as well-writing a part of your history-a part of a characters history-in the form of a letter-that the informality might just free you from the tyranny of perfectionism, and even address it to someone. I loved this idea and I can see how several of my favorite articles or essays could have been written using this method-at least as a first draft or to brainstorm.

Ok-just adding to this again, I like the idea of carrying an index card and pen in your back pocket when you walk your dogs, and that the idea of writers block is really-being empty-and that you need to write 300 words on anything for however many days until it passes.

That being out with nature-living life like it was your last day and re-filling your imagination can fill back up. "Any of the things you love to do will fill you with observations, flavors, visions, ideas, and memories."

Also-thinking of what you want to say and if anything else has been written on the subject.

But tell your story-or someone else's-free someone from bondage, or risk freeing yourself.

I loved the quote by Toni Morrison on p. 193 that Lamott uses, "The function of freedom is to free someone else." On p. 198 Lamott says, "We write the unexposed. If there is a door in a castle you've been told not to go through you must."

She says that you need to discover your true voice, and you can't do that if you think your parents are reading over your shoulder.

Think about who your writing for-dedicate it to your favorite author as a gift to give back to them for influencing you.

I'm also wrote down the name of a book Lamott talks about called Intimations of Mortality that I think I need to read, and remember to suggest to anyone dealing with cancer-it sounds wonderful.

And...I love the idea of writing a present for someone.

The last note I'm going to add that really impacted me was Lamott message not to worry about what people think of you, but to worry about not finishing your writing. Good advice.
Profile Image for Diane.
1,081 reviews2,718 followers
March 2, 2019
This is a fantastic writing guide!

"Bird by Bird" is one of those books I have been meaning to read for years, and I finally got around to it thanks to the audiobook, which was marvelously performed by Susan Bennett. I think this is the first Anne Lamott work I've read, so I was pleasantly surprised by how funny it was. I laughed out loud several times by her stories of writing, teaching and family life.

I especially appreciated how kind Anne is, and how she truly tried to make an inspiring writing guide. She answers common questions she gets asked from writers, she gives details on what strategies work for her, and she gently nudges the reader to keep writing, keep writing, keep writing.

Five magnificent stars to Anne Lamott.

Meaningful Passage

The very first thing I tell my new students on the first day of a workshop is that good writing is about telling the truth. We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are. Sheep lice do not seem to share this longing, which is one reason they write so very little. But we do. We have so much we want to say and figure out. Year after year my students are bursting with stories to tell, and they start writing projects with excitement and maybe even joy — finally their voices will be heard, and they are going to get to devote themselves to this one thing they've longed to do since childhood. But after a few days at the desk, telling the truth in an interesting way turns out to be as easy and pleasurable as bathing a cat. Some lose faith. Their sense of self and story shatters and crumbles to the ground. Historically they show up for the first day of the workshop looking like bright goofy ducklings who will follow me anywhere, but by the time the second class rolls around, they look at me as if the engagement is definitely off.

"I don't even know where to start," one will wail.

Start with your childhood, I tell them. Plug your nose and jump in, and write down all your memories as truthfully as you can. Flannery O'Connor said that anyone who survived childhood has enough material to write for the rest of his or her life. Maybe your childhood was grim and horrible, but grim and horrible is Okay if it is well done. Don't worry about doing it well yet, thought. Just start getting it down.

Profile Image for John Woodington.
Author 2 books9 followers
October 26, 2009
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 to hear, but for me, it didn't do it. Her actual writing advice centered around one uniquely-stated idea, her acceptance of "sh*tty first drafts." These first drafts are very important, and I often see them as getting the clay down on the counter in order to begin the real molding of the story. If she had said that only her first drafts were "sh*tty" then I maybe could've overlooked her self-hatred, but when she said that draft upon draft upon draft was terrible, and that she spent numerous days consoling herself like a sensitive person after a disagreeable breakup, well at that point the book became too much of a sob story for me to give it any respect.
Profile Image for Jason Koivu.
Author 7 books1,256 followers
June 27, 2012
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-styled, kooky sense of humor. The meat and potatoes of Bird by Bird doesn't really say much that hasn't already been said about writing and how to get it done, but her advice is solid and she adds a nice touch with some highly personal stories. So I rate this a strong Much better than expected.5!
Profile Image for Sawsan.
1,000 reviews
November 20, 2022
تكتب آن لاموت بخفة وسلاسة عن الكتابة والحياة
تمزج سيرتها الذاتية وتجاربها الشخصية مع كل التفاصيل الخاصة بفعل الكتابة
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,520 reviews8,994 followers
March 6, 2014
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 the woes and joys of publishing; I would recommend Bird by Bird to literally everyone, especially to those who possess even a remote interest in the writing life. Here are a couple of passages that portray her voice and wisdom, the first pertaining to books and the second concerning perfectionism:

"Because 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."

"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."

Read this book. You will not regret it.

*review cross-posted on my blog, the quiet voice.
Profile Image for Kogiopsis.
772 reviews1,498 followers
February 27, 2014
I'm of two minds about this book.

As an autobiography, it's actually quite good, especially the latter half. Lamott is good at talking about her own life in a way that feels genuine and touching, and when she recounts anecdotes she is, for the most part, really engaging.

The problem is that this... isn't an autobiography. It's not even in that weird in-between place that a lot of science writing often is, where stories of discovery are intertwined inextricably with stories of life. This is first and foremost a book about writing and therefore it's unfortunate that that's where it fails.

I should add a caveat here: I'm sure this is a functional writing book if you're more like Lamott. If, for instance, you're interested in writing semi-autobiographical fiction (or true autobiography), or 'literary fiction' - which I'm not; and as someone who prefers 'genre' fiction I'm perpetually frustrated at writing books which claim to be universal only because they assume their subject is all that's important. It probably also helps if, like Lamott, you're privileged and comfortable with it: comfortable enough to use phrases like 'ethnic people', or 'like a huge autistic child', or you think generalized insecurities qualify as 'mental illness' (and refer to them as such over and over and over), or toss out jokes about lobotomies, or describe people with a list of ways they're different from you first and foremost. I'm sure it's liberating to be able to describe South American writers as 'like primitive art' and not have any second thoughts, or to know so little about autism that you use the word to refer to an emotional state.

What I'm saying here is that Lamott, as a writer addressing me as an audience, made me feel profoundly alienated. As a person with actual diagnosed mental illness - as the only non-autistic person in my apartment - as a queer person - as a white person who makes a conscious effort to be aware of race in society and in my life, there's something in the casual way she treads all over these things that was incredibly uncomfortable to read.

That's made worse by the fact that once you get past all the casual ableism and racism and heterosexism, the writing advice really isn't that good. The first 95 pages of this book are pretty much all just 'keep writing no matter what' in different phrasings, substantiated by anecdotes. Very little of what Lamott says will be new information to anyone who's been writing for a while, especially if they've read other books on writing. Some of her information is (by dint of the book being 20 years old) irrelevant by dint of being out of date. Most of it is just banal. (A very small portion is plain bad, as in this: "Mondays are not good writing days. One has had all that freedom over the weekend, all that authenticity, all those dreamy dreams, and then your angry mute Slavic Uncle Monday arrives, and it is time to sit down at your desk. So I would simply recommend to the people in my workshops that they never start a large writing project in any Monday in December."

I was also struck by how derisive Lamott is towards her own former workshop students. The phrase that stood out to me most is this: "Sometimes when a student calls and is mewling and puking about the hopelessness of trying to put words down on paper..." That's the most egregious example of a general trend throughout the book: she seems to look down on her students and especially on their attitudes towards writing, treating them as if they're pathetic, ignorant, and care only about publication. It was uncomfortable to read, and I can only imagine how it would feel to be one of her former students and see onesself categorized in such a callous, dismissive way.

At the end of the day, what good there was in this book is far outweighed by the amount of it which is useless. You'll get about as much out of the full 200+ pages as you do from reading the anecdote on the back, which pretty perfectly encapsulates what Lamott goes on about ad nauseum. If you're looking for something with actual writing advice, look elsewhere. I suggest this podcast, which covers everything from getting over block to specific subgenres to getting published, and is funnier to boot.
Profile Image for Bonnie.
169 reviews288 followers
October 27, 2009
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.
Profile Image for Nick.
183 reviews145 followers
January 17, 2008
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't just trying to show you how to get to where you're going, but also to help you restart if you've missed a step. She's also very funny and a good writer to boot so the book was an absolute pleasure to read. Pick it up when you're feeling down (about writing.)
Profile Image for Hanna.
41 reviews
August 28, 2011
I deeply dislike Anne Lammott and all her idiotic statements on writing. This book was torture to read and I cannot figure out how my English teacher could have possibly assigned it. This woman, with all her lengthy words, does not seem to have any sort of understanding about writing at all.
I'll even use a quote from her own book to explain exactly why this book was so awful:

"One thing I haven't told you about my famous short story 'Arnold' is that besides sending it off every few months to my father's agent, I also send it off to an important magazine editor. He sent it back with the following note: 'You have made the mistake of thinking that everything that has happened to you is interesting.'"

I think so too, Lammott- you have made the mistake of thinking that everything feeling of frustration that you get from your writing experience, is absolutely enlightening, surreal and makes you obviously, a much more authentic writer than everyone else- causing you to write this book and expecting tunnels of praise for it. I'm so happy she got famous because otherwise, she would probably been dead at least ten years from all those 'writer' activities that she so eagerly partook in (i.e, drinking, self-deprecation, drugs, depression, self loathing, vanity, jealousy etc etc). Drinking and self deprecation cannot make you a writer. It does however, make you look like a silly and very devoted poser.

Profile Image for Douglas.
111 reviews156 followers
March 31, 2014
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 paint?

Anne Lamott’s book is a necessary book for someone like me. She tells you to do it. Despite your assumptions or the assurances you may expect, none of it will matter in the end. In order to write, you have to write and practice writing. It’s that simple.
Here’s a few other things I learned, which I’m sure I’ll have to go back to again and again:

• Write every day. Ok, that seems easy enough. I’m already doing that, anyhow.
• Observe life and write it down. This also seems easy, but not something I’ve been in the habit of doing. That’ll be my first and foremost challenge.
• Don’t expect to get published or earn fame, because you probably won’t. This is actually reassuring to me. I don’t want that thought hovering over me or preventing the truth from emerging.

For these ideas alone, this book has been very helpful and encouraged me to take the leap. Towards the end, I was wondering how I could summarize the main theme of this almost emancipating guidebook, but then Lamott does it for me in the last chapter:

“Becoming a writer is about becoming conscious. When you’re conscious and writing from a place of insight and simplicity and real caring about the truth, you have the ability to throw the lights on for the reader. He or she will recognize his or her life and truth in what you say, in the pictures you have painted, and this decreases the terrible sense of isolation that we have all had too much of.

Try to write in a directly emotional way, instead of being too subtle or oblique. Don’t be afraid of your material or your past. Be afraid of wasting any more time obsessing about how you look and how people see you. Be afraid of not getting your writing done.

If something inside you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward your vulnerability. Don’t worry about appearing sentimental. Worry about being unavailable; worry about being absent or fraudulent. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer, you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act – truth is always subversive.”

I love when the act of telling the truth is foremost, because that is something we can all do, right?
Profile Image for Jeanne.
537 reviews297 followers
May 13, 2018
I'm sure the advice in this book will be useful for some, but I couldn't get past the use of a casual jokes trivializing the genocide of Native Americans and mocking autistic children. I'm not interested in learning writing from an author who hasn't progress passed humor and metaphors founded on ignorance and bigotry.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews603 followers
July 2, 2012
"Wonderful book". I read it awhile back when I took a class. (I still own it --and look through often)--
I was inspired when I saw my Goodreads friend here reading it!

NOTE: I still never want to 'write' (as in serious) ---but I feel 'free' to express myself. Anne Lamott' book is filled with wisdom.
Profile Image for Anne .
455 reviews376 followers
January 23, 2022
Very inspirational reread of a book I remember loving many years ago. This time I listened to it in audio. Susan Bennett did such a good job I believed I was listening to Anne Lamott. I love Lamott's authenticity, her personal anecdotes, her humor and her advise. I simply like her. Lamott puts so much of herself into this book that I feel like she is a friend whom I could meet for coffee and start gabbing with. I imagine that she has this effect on many of her readers.

I'm not a writer but it was interesting to hear what she had to say to writers. Her advice and philosophy can be applied to anything in life. I read this book for the first time while overwhelmed working on my doctoral dissertation. Lamott's father's advice to his overwhelmed grandson to work on his project one bird at a time, or, "bird by bird, " was very calming and useful advice for me at that time. I've never forgotten that anecdote or the advice.

My only somewhat negative thought which isn't a reflection on the book, is that some of the advice felt old. I'm older by about 25-30 years so my "maturity" may account for that. :))
Profile Image for Leah.
37 reviews3 followers
October 12, 2008
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 comes off as the kind of girl that talks a LOT, almost too much. She seems quite smug with her writing and tries to pass it off as humble. I don't fall for it, sorry. I'm almost inclined to say it was a mistake to reveal all her secrets. I'm not too fond of her self-proclaimed sense of humor... But I admire her ballsiness in teaching what she knows best.
Profile Image for Perry.
632 reviews532 followers
June 18, 2017
Swell Songs Sung So Well

This little book sings so sweetly. You've probably read in other books some version of the optimism, pointers and warnings that are covered here. Yet, you've probably not read one as practical or as well-written as this.

Anne Lamott's book is a virtuosic "Best of" LP, for writers and other creative artists, from which one may choose among many tracks of anecdotes, experience and hope. It's something you can pull out from time to time to put you on the right track, get you unstuck and, in all cases, on to conjuring magic from your imagination onto the blank screen or sheet of paper sitting in front of you.

I highly recommend this book.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,671 reviews2,664 followers
June 4, 2019
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 worst, writing is confidence-crushing torment. At its best, writing is like a sacred duty to convey a message of hope and contribute to a better world. She’s not advocating polemic or agenda-driven fiction, but voices against nihilism:

There’s no point in writing hopeless novels. We all know we’re going to die; what’s important is the kind of men and women we are in the face of this. ... To be a good writer, you not only have to write a great deal but you have to care. You do not have to have a complicated moral philosophy. But a writer always tries, I think, to be a part of the solution, to understand a little about life and pass this on.

She characterizes writing as a form of meditation: a means of both understanding the self and transcending it. “To be engrossed by something outside ourselves is a powerful antidote for the rational mind, the mind that so frequently has its head up its own ass—seeing things in such a narrow and darkly narcissistic way that it presents a colo-rectal theology, offering hope to no one.”

• “writing motivates you to look closely at life, at life as it lurches by and tramps around.”

• “hope is a revolutionary patience; let me add that so is being a writer. Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work; you don’t give up.”

• “John Gardner wrote that the writer is creating a dream into which he or she invites the reader, and that the dream must be vivid and continuous.”

Lamott’s strongest warning is against the siren call of publishing: “I tell you, if what you have in mind is fame and fortune, publication is going to drive you crazy.” Writing must be its own reward, so fulfilling that it doesn’t matter what kind of reviews or advances you get. “No matter what happens in terms of fame and fortune, dedication to writing is a marching-step forward from where you were before, when you didn’t care about reaching out to the world, when you weren’t hoping to contribute, when you were just standing there doing some job into which you had fallen. ... Even if you never publish a word, you have something important to pour yourself into.”

My apologies for all the long excerpts, but this is a very quotable book. I’ll finish with her summation of the writing life and the literary community:

There are a lot of us, some published, some not, who think the literary life is the loveliest one possible, this life of reading and writing and corresponding. We think this life is nearly ideal. It is spiritually invigorating ... It is intellectually quickening. One can find in writing a perfect focus for life. It offers challenge and delight and agony and commitment. We see our work as a vocation, with the potential to be as rich and enlivening as the priesthood. As a writer, one will have over the years many experiences that stimulate and nourish the spirit. These will be quiet and deep inside, however, unaccompanied by thunder or tremulous angels.

Essential reading for any writer.
Profile Image for Nicky.
4,138 reviews1,015 followers
November 14, 2008
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, how to deal with criticism, how to pull ideas out of the melting pot that is memory. There's a piece of advice that I just love and might have to try some day: write a book for your favourite author. I don't know what I'll write for Susan Cooper or Ursula Le Guin or Guy Gavriel Kay, but I know I want to try writing for them.

Anne Lamott writes understandingly, in a way that will make you smile wryly and -- in places -- probably make you want to cry. It may not teach you anything beyond it's okay, and you might find that even that you know, but her writing is lovely and worth reading anyway. I've never read any of her novels, but I definitely recommend reading this.
Profile Image for Lisa Vegan.
2,802 reviews1,234 followers
July 4, 2022
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.
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