Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott is a book on writing. And what it means to being a writer.
- Bullet Summary
- Full Summary
- Real Life Applications
- Being a good writer is also about forming strong habits of daily writing
- Learn to become a great observer life
- Writing is about feeling good and connecting with yourself and the world, so stay relaxed and don’t put writing pressure on yourself
Bird by Bird is not an easy book to summarize. It’s a mix of life advice, writing advice and a lot of anecdote and life stories.
Traits of a Good Writer
Anne Lamott says there is no surefire formula to become a writer. But there are a few essential traits, including:
- Learning to relax
- Stand apart from people
- Learning to observe
She says indeed that good writers are a bit like those people who sit away in a party and watch the crowd.
Similarly, a good writer needs to relax because that’s the best way to take in the world.
Find Your Voice
Most of all, it’s important that you find your own voice.
Critics loves it when a writer has his own voice.
What does it mean having your own voice?
Anne Lamott says you can find your own voice when you are honest with yourself and you are open about who you really are to your readers.
To be a good writer, you have to inquire about your own emotions and find the truths that are hiding behind them.
Once you are comfortable with your own emotions and feelings, that’s when you will also be able to find your own writer’s voice.
Don’t Worry About Being Good
The author says that good writers don’t worry too much about being good.
Just write, and if writing is your passion, being good will come with time and practice.
Believe in What You Write
Similar as for salesmen who should believe in the product they sell, Bird by Bird makes the case that writers should believe in what they write.
That mans you should write about things that light a fire within in and things that are important to you. When you do that you will write better and more easily.
Anne Lamott says you should write daily, not just when inspiration strikes.
Writing should become a habit.
The author recommends that you write:
- At the same place
- Same time
It’s commitment and discipline that make the difference, says the author. This made me thing of what Jocko Willink said: “but, in fact, discipline equals freedom”.
Embrace Your Shitty Drafts
Your first drafts don’t have to be good. As a matter of fact, most of them will not be. That’s why they are first drafts.
Know Your Characters
Another big step in writing well is to know your characters inside out.
Their wants, drives, needs.. Their quirks.
The author suggest you can model them from someone you know in real life.
Make sure they are not perfect and don’t protect them from bad things happening, otherwise your story will be dull.
Pay especially good attention to dialogues. Dialogues often reveal more than long description. To make your dialogues more “real” it helps if you read them aloud to double check they are realistic.
Look at The World for Inspiration
The surroundings of our characters tell a lot about who they are. How they interact with them, or small details that pop up later in the story.
The author recommends to notice things that most people wouldn’t notice. For example, how long it would take to go from one end of a big mansion to another, or exactly how many steps an internal staircase has.
Dealing With Writer’s Block
To deal with writer’s block:
- Admit it
- Step back and relax
- Stick to your routine, even when writing a single page will be difficult
- Know that soon you’ll be able to write again
- Listen to your intuition if the chapter or story is not good enough
Don’t Get Too Isolated
Writing can become a bit love story between your and your fiction… Until you lose track of reality.
Don’t let that happen and do check in or talk to real people every once in a while.
More Resources on Writing
If you’re interested in more tips on writing also check:
And if you are interested in being an artist in general, I highly recommend The War of Art.
Real Life Applications
You Likely Won’t Get Rich Publishing a Book
I like that Bird by Bird states clearly that most people who dream of “publishing” do so hoping for riches. But publishing often means just a handful readers and good reviews but no riches (contrary to some marketers who say publishing a book is an easy way to passive income).
Lots of Biting Sarcasm
The sarcasm was a bit too much for me at times.
Too Much Life Advice
The combination of life advice with writing advice didn’t strike a chord with me. I was only looking for writing advice.
Some Great Tips
I have read a few books on writing, and Bird by Bird had quite some new and good wisdom to share.
There is no pep talk, no ” you can do it”. It’s very realistic and grounded.
I liked most about Bird by Bird that is very realistic and grounded. It says that sometimes you’ll stare at a blank page for hours with no idea how to fill it.
And getting published often means just a handful of readers.
I liked that.
I don’t consider myself a literary writers -of course I’m not-, but I still took something out from Bird by Bird.
And if you’re a literary writer, this is definitely a good book for you.