9. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

by Anne Lamott

One of the professors here at work recommended this book to me after I was complaining a bit about how little I am writing these past few weeks. She brought in her copy for me the next day. So I obliged.

Well, this is the type fo book that starts by telling fellow writer/readers that they must tell the truth in their writing. Actually, that's exactly what it said: "...good writing is about telling the truth."

As far as useful advice, that's pretty much as useful as it gets. As is usual, the advice often seems to be for someone else. Too often these books are more self serving than giving, even in the desseminating of advice.

Generally, I don't like reading such books by other authors but occasionally when I am finding it hard to focus, when I'm not producing much of anything, I find this type of book to be a useful catalyst. I guess it's a simple matter of "hearing" someone talk about that which I am trying to focus on.

But I did find her "write in you own voice" section - which is another staple of this type of book- very useful. She is carrying on about her characters and how she must tell "their" stories and be fair to them... Anyway, reading this stuff made me realize what my problem is with my novel Soren's Funeral, which has been on the shelf for a while. I've been thinking about scrapping it.

I realized that the problem with Soren's Funeral is how I've laid it out plotwise. The characters- Soren, Sill and Carry- are lives worth writing about. The problem is that I have put them in a situation that is all wrong. Perhaps the very fundamental fact that there is a funeral is the problem...

This has freed me up a great deal. I am now re-thinking what "happens" by exploring the characters more deeply. In a way, I'm trying to let them decide what happens. Of course I know it's still me deciding, but a change of approach to what happens has been making all the difference.

Anyway, for that spark alone, I am glad I read the cheezey little book, Bird by Bird.


Olman Feelyus said...

I agree with you on these "how to write" books. I find the best advice to be techniques and structural advice, rather than creative advice. Like college creative writing classes, they all seem geared towards writing a New Yorker short story.

The best advice I ever got about writing a novel was to write on paper and not look back until the book is done, writing the same amount every day. Then, put it away for a couple months. After it has cleared your mind and you are off on another novel, take it out, read it and the start typing it in. That's the time to do all your editiing and re-arranging and re-writing.

I would strongly recommend Stephen King's book about writing. Totally unpretentious, filled with great little stories (including a really powerful description of two girls he went to high school with who were his inspiration for Carrie) and excellent writing advice.

Lantzvillager said...

I'm glad that this book was able to help you out - if only a little bit.

I was lent this book to read by a girl I started dating very early on in our relationship. I felt that it was so hackneyed and awful that it very nearly killed my will to date this girl. How could she be so into it?!

On the other hand, I've never written anything novel length to completion so what the hell do I know.