On My

Bird by Bird



“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.'”



Anne Lamott is hilarious. Bird by Bird rejuvenated my creative spirit with its humor and honesty. Having gone a couple of years without investing enough time in writing, getting back into it has been tough. I had heard good things about Bird by Bird from a couple of writer friends, and decided to give it a read. As if by alchemy, Anne brought joy into my struggle.

The chapter “Shitty first drafts” was required reading for a creative writing class I took in college. I wish I’d just gone and picked up the book at that time and read it, but with all the other material I was consuming at the time (English majors have a lot of reading to do), I tossed it under the rug. To make a long story long, I obviously did finally pick it up, and “Shitty first drafts” reminded me that it’s okay to be okay with the fact that the first write through isn’t the finished product.

I love Anne’s ideas and exercises for character, plot, dialogue, and set design. I love her actionable advice on generating ideas and where to find inspiration (you don’t have to look very far for character inspiration, it turns out). She gives real-world examples aplenty and makes the whole process so much fun.

This is an essential book for writers — especially fiction writers. I can’t recommend it enough.