Ann Lamott (1994) Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.

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I loved this book and read it in one breathy go, thankful for the nourishment. If you’re a scribbler like me that tries to pour himself into himself, writes something down, always comes up with less than a quart-measure, and that’s on a good day, read on. I loved this book so much I’m going to start standing beside the Jehovah’s at the bridge in the Shopping Centre in Clydebank and handing it out to would-be-writers like me and asking them to come for a chat.

I recently wrote a novel, did all the right things, made the right connections, edit, edit, edited it, blah, blah, blah. Hundreds  of thousands of other folk are just like me, pecking away on their computer, coming up word blind and carrying on. But I’m only a writer when I write. My first love, like Lamott’s was reading.

I love books. Books to me are holy things. But you know that some of them you read are just shite. And Lamott has got the answer to that big existential question what is the purpose of me continually doing what I do? Why him or her and not me? Get over yourself is the answer. I already knew that because I’m smart that way. I’m not interested in cars or houses or all that other stuff. Fuck them. I want readers.

Good writers tell you stuff you already know. A Biblical passage resonates within your heart because it’s true.  Remember when we used to read those articles about when work would become a leisure pursuit? Aye, too fucking right, I do. But writing really is work and pleasure –and it’s not always the pleasure of achievement – and Lamott gets that. It’s the pleasure of doing. Of being. Not a writer, but somebody that writes.

Lamott quotes E. L. Doctorow: “writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you.’

And when Lamott’s wee brother was struggling to finish a school assignment about birds, her dad, also a writer, put his hand on his son’s shoulder and gave him the wisdom of age. ‘Just take it bird-by-bird.’

That is our life. That is our writing. And she quotes Vonnegut: “When I write, I feel like an armless legless man with a crayon in his mouth.”

And makes me wish I felt that good, or that competent. But the great thing about Lamott is although it’s not all about winning, or winning at all, she makes space in her heart to hate, fucking hate, those that succeed. Those without merit.  And they’re not as good as you and you know it. Yeh, yeh, I get that too. The world is not a fair place.

I love Lamott for her honesty. If you can’t be honest don’t fucking bother writing. Stick to being a middle-class charlatan who has a hobby and wants to tell the world how interesting you are. I can shut the book on you. But reading Lamott is like an epiphany. Do yourself a favour. Read on.


3 thoughts on “Ann Lamott (1994) Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.

  1. I’ve had to come back, Jack. A beautiful piece that resonated loudly with me. I like how you own your feelings and so many writers don’t. What you’ve done and you often do, is, you’ve made me go back to Lamott’s book and read the bits that make me motivated. I’ve opened my laptop and I’m gonna sort the shit out of a story that’s been bugging crap out of me. Thank you. I don’t use Abc now but I miss your work and your presence and your wise.

    Liked by 2 people

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