Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. For the beginner writer, or for those, like me, who are feeling their way back into writing after a long absence, Lamott offers a mixture of practical advice, hard-nose realism, and friendly encouragement. I like that she emphasises the importance of sitting down and writing - and offers excellent, simple tips on how to make this happen - without romanticising "the writer's life". Yet she also makes what I think is a compelling case for writing as a vital part of life (assuming you want to do it in the first place). This is the second book I have read this year, the first being Richard Mabey's Nature Cure, that has had me reevaluating my life in relation to writing, and vice versa. Lamott stresses writing as a means of being open to the world, which dovetails with Mabey's descriptions of writing as a means of thinking, and therefore a means of connecting with the world. If writing has been a part of how you have thought about and connected with the world, the loss of that is profound. I am so glad to be tentatively regaining that aspect of myself. I have been lost without it.
Purely as a reading experience, Bird by Bird is terrific. I enjoyed even the chapters that I didn't think would interest me, for instance the chapter about writing groups. The book is shot through with Lamott's black humour, stories about her family and friends and experiences as a writer and teacher. Lamott encourages her students to write openly, bravely, with heart, and she demonstrates these ideals on every page.
Bird by Bird is a rewarding, encouraging book. I borrowed it from the library, unsure about how much I would get out of it. My first thought upon finishing it was "I have to get my own copy of this." It's the kind of book I know I will return to for instruction and for comfort. That's rare enough - the fact that it is already making a practical difference to my writing habits makes it indispensable.