Saturday, December 13, 2008

BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott

Bird by Bird is a 1994 book on writing and life by novelist and writing instructor Anne Lamott. This is partly a book on writing and partly a memoir – obviously, when writers write books on writing, this is not an infrequent combination, although Lamott more or less melds them inextricably together – there is no "writing" section and "memoir" section.

There is relatively little in Bird by Bird on craft. Lamott gives a few tips on plotting, character and dialogue, but by and large she's more concerned with the writer's mindset (and telling her little stories). Lamott talks at length here about the writer's mindset, and this is where Bird by Bird makes good. She gets writing and the writing process, and she discusses it empathetically. Writers who experience anxiety, frustration and writer's block will relate to her, although she does seem to be more schizophrenic than most.

Lamott's style will turn some readers off. She is mildly humorous, but she tends to ramble on frequently, and readers who do not think she's particularly funny will find her writing style tiresome. Lamott talks often about God and spirituality, but she ascribes to an annoyingly vague and general mysticism.

Bird by Bird is going to be hit or miss with most people. If you're a writer looking for tips on craft, look elsewhere. If you're a writer looking for someone to sympathize with your travails and encourage you to keep at it, Lamott is it.