We all know we’re going to die; what’s important is the kind of men and women we are in the face of this.
I recently finished reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. The book is a cut-throat, face the truth and find your own voice approach to writing that I enjoyed. It has a personal blurt-my-gut-out style chatty writing. While maintaining this tone, the author manages to get her point across about the largely psychological struggles and challenges of writing and make it relatable throughout.
A sort of buoyant, self-deprecating humor, full of hope, runs throughout the book despite numerous episodes of bleak events being related to us from the author’s life. The author turns a mirror around on these events and writes with a fervor to capture them and tell the truth like it is. An undergirding religious framework seeps through all of this and you can find Anne finding inner peace no matter how many curveballs life throws at her.
That parts about writer’s block and finding your personal style were some good parts. The author mixes her conceptualizations about the unconscious forces that drive the writing process and tries to give sense of this by using witty metaphors such as portraying the writer as a bug in the water spotted by a trout. But there are a few places where she goes on her quirky whims and prescribes things you can’t write about, but if you learn to take them light-heartedly and make your own judgment about these, they become easy to navigate around.
A chapter I loved was the Broccoli. It is about listening to your inner spirit animal/object. For Anne, it is a Broccoli! As absurd as that sounds, she makes it a riveting read about how her broccoli facilitates the beautiful writing she produces.
There are some cool ideas throughout the book. Some remarkable ones are as follows:
Pursue the truth and listen to the characters in the story as it unfolds; don’t force too much to march them to the tempo of your beat. The approach is to go where the story leads you and follow the path of evolution of life of the characters and not to force anything.
“A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.”
Find your voice. In the part about finding your own voice, she encourages you to expose what is at stake and let the characters fall through the thin ice to the ice-cold water for a revelation. You can hear an echo of a Kafkaesque sort of ax breaking the snow in these words. It stands testimony to the temperance of someone who has been through a lot and emerged victorious at the other side. The lesson stressed here is to find a style that fits your personality. Finding this voice is told to be something close to having arrived as a writer.
Relentless commitment. You figure out that the real payoff is the writing itself. That a day when you have gotten your work done is a good day. That total dedication is the point. Devotion and commitment to work are said to be its own reward.
Write to feed the soul. This is felt throughout the text and towards the end wherein she asks you to write to deepen, widen, and make sharper the sense of life. She sees writing as an act in grounding oneself, an activity you can find intrinsic pleasure in. Publishing and establishing a name for yourself in her view are secondary concerns that just replaces your current problems with a set of more expensive ones.
All in all, Bird by Bird is an engaging read on the challenges a writer finds along with the other challenges they find in life. Anne as the story of the title goes produces a book that assures the reader to deal with it bird by bird.