Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott [Book Summary]

Chris Lovejoy

One sentence summary

A heart-warming account of the human experiences associated with writing, scattered with practical advice as well as humorous and relatable anecdotes.


Some key ideas

Author’s brother, at age 10, was writing a report about birds for 3 months. The day before it was due he hadn’t started, immobilised by the size of the task. Then my father told him: “Bird by bird buddy – just take it bird by bird”

Little window – if having difficulty starting, just look at a small section of something and write about that.

Writing is like developing a polaroid – gradually things will come into view in patches.

KFKD radio – constantly going on in your mind telling you that you are fucked.

Index cards – for writing down anything good that you think of, at any time.

A writing group can be extremely useful.

Want someone to read your drafts who will be honest about what you have written.

Can write letters to someone to help start.

If writing a story, let the characters speak to you. Rather than try and think what they want to do, imagine them vividly then listen to what it is that they would do. [if writing a story and trying to think of characters, worth re-reading this chapter]

(listen to your broccoli and it will tell you how to eat it)

Use other experts – if need to write about something that you are not very experienced in, find someone else who does and ask them as many questions as you can.

You get your intuition back when you silence the chattering of the rational mind – the latter is worshipped by our cultures but removes that which is juicy and fascinating. So don’t try and control your mind too much.

In all your work, give as much as you can (don’t save anything for later projects). If you give freely there will always be more. Think of everyone you meet as a patient in the emergency room. Think of writers who have given a book to you, and write a book back to them.

Story of boy who gave blood to his sister, then asked ‘how long until I start to die?’ – example of the innocence required as a writer giving everything.

Publication is not the be-all and end-all and will not solve all of your problems. Cool Runnings quote: “if you’re not good enough before you win the Gold medal, you won’t be good enough with it”.

Ram Dass on somebodyism: trying to be somebody is a no-win game as there will always be people more somebody than you and it will drive you crazy.

(bold corresponds with chapter title of the same name)