Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Progressive Book Club #1

Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott.  Note: this is not a review.  This is a book club discussion.  It may be hard to tell the difference.

I recently joined a group of writers in The Progressive Book Club, founded by M. L. Swift.   Monthly readings of books on writing result in monthly posts about the books we read.  Sort of like a progressive dinner but without the extra calories.  We move from blog to blog and nibble at the literary goodies.  Bird By Bird is the first book for discussion, and I am almost certainly the last one to post on it.  The list is at the link above, if you want to see what others have to say.

Now for the true confessions: this isn't the first time I've read Bird By Bird.  That doesn't matter, because truly good advice and insights are worth reading over.  That goes double for someone who will give a writer a swift kick in the seat of the pants, because heaven knows we need it.

So I love Anne Lamott's take on writing, and I have totally embraced her policy of writing truly rotten first drafts (like I have a choice about that).  But the more I write the more I realize that ANY book about how to write boils down to an idiosyncratic take on the way the writer of the book does it.  That's not necessarily bad.  All we can ever do when asked for advice about anything is ramble a bit about what we do, or what we would do if we weren't too lazy to do it.  And Lamott has proven that she does it and the end result is good.  It's worth considering how she does it.

I think that the number one bit to take away from this funny and inspiring book is the thing everyone says: sit your backside down and write.  Just do it, as Nike used to (annoyingly) say.  Do it every day.  Even if you only manage to squeeze out a few really bad words (in whatever sense of that you want to take it), you will make it a habit. Habits get done without you thinking about it.  That can be bad, but it can be very, very good when it's a habit of brushing your teeth or writing for 20 minutes before bed.

Many of the details of how Lamott gathers ideas and holds them inside and eventually pulls them out and uses them, though not necessarily how and where she thought she would, are just too individual for me to copy.  My process does not look like hers.  Your process will not look like hers.  At least, not precisely.  But she will make you think until you figure out what IS your process (and then she will mock you until you do it).

But you know, even if all I take from Bird By Bird is the affirmation that rotten first drafts are not only okay but desirable (because they mean that you just did it, and you turned off your inner editor/angel of death and didn't get all hung up about the exact right word so that after a month of writing you only have one sentence), and the idea of carrying a pen and index card in your pocket at all times (though I usually have the means to carry a whole notepad, the pen and index card are going into the pocket of my biking jersey), that's a pretty good pair of thoughts to take away.  I ought to apologize for that sentence, but I won't.

If you write, or think you might like to write, or sometimes sit down and stare at a piece of paper and wish you were a writer, read Bird By Bird.  If you don't write, go ahead and read it anyway.  It will make you laugh and help you to understand your friends who do write.


  1. Very insightful non-review. I agree that one of the charms of the book is Anne Lamott. She walks the walk, if you'll excuse the cliche, and she does it with style and wit.

    A writing habit, like brushing your teeth. Now that's a attitude worth adopting.

  2. I thought this was a fantastic take on the book. I certainly didn't want reviews, per se, but more our interpretations on the book. What we took away from it. That's why I picked more of a non-how-to-how-to book.

    And like she said, truth only comes out in your own voice. You nailed it when you said your process is not hers, hers is not mine, mine is not Erica's.

    I think we run into trouble when we try to be someone we're not.

  3. Thanks. ML. I think that especially when new at something, whether writing or backpacking or whatever, we tend to want someone to tell us exactly how to do it. But in fact pretty much anything requires to some degree that you figure out your own approach, even things that are pretty formulaic (and writing is not that, we hope!). Anything creative is going to force you to take a chance and do it your own way. But a look at someone else's technique can be pretty helpful!

  4. After reading other PBC posts on BBB, I've decided to get it from the library and read it. Thanks for visiting my blog. :)

  5. :)
    If nothing else you can read it purely as humor!


We want to hear from you! Tell us your reactions, or whatever's on your mind.