Memoir Writers’ Resources Series | Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

Today’s post is the second in a series bringing you a sampling of the memoir writing resources I have uncovered as I write my memoir. The posts in these series will not appear on a regular schedule but randomly as I find time to work them in between a heavier writing schedule for my memoir. I hope what I share will be helpful and perhaps help you in finding a resource that makes a difference in your journey as a memoir writer. 

* * *

The idea of writing my memoir had been occupying certain parts of my mind for a few months. It was an afternoon I had reserved for browsing through a used bookstore nearby. When asked was I looking for something in particular, I may have responded with, “Something on writing, maybe writing memoir.”

Image via Goodreads
Image via Goodreads

The owner took me to an out-of-the-way corner in the back of the shop and pointed to shelves labeled “Everything We Have on Writing.” But he very pointedly said, “I’d recommend this one by Anne Lamott.” He proceeded to pull down Bird by Bird. I trusted his recommendation and bought the book for all of $4.95.

Everything on the back cover is true. I can assure you that each of the endorsements from the LA Times, NY Times Book Review and Seattle Times are true, proof having been found in reading Bird by Bird. And I assume the story about Lamott’s brother and their father is true, but I have no actual proof.

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.’

That was the best $4.95 I’d spent in quite some time. What I found between the covers of this tiny paperback were gems of writing wisdom, stellar advice, plied with a sense of humor often making me laugh aloud. Another resource I keep on my desk at all times. At times, Lamott appears cranky, yet kind in her admonitions of what to do vs. what not to do. But you find yourself liking her style no matter what her attitude seems. She is a generous benefactor of her instructions on getting the words down and understanding that nothing is perfect on that first draft. And, according to Lamott, that’s perfectly okay. She even throws in advice on life and grace and more.

Page 21 offers a chapter entitled “Shitty First Drafts.” The first paragraph gives the best look at writing for the first-time writer I could have found:

Now, practically even better news than that of short assignments is the idea of shitty first drafts. All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts. 

That’s the kind of advice we all want when we’re starting out. And those are the pearls of wisdom that Anne Lamott gives in Bird by Bird, somewhat irreverently perhaps but it makes for easy reading and a fun trip to completing that first manuscript.

If you’re not familiar with Bird by Bird or Anne Lamott, you can learn more about them both by visiting her author page at The Steven Barclay Agency. You can also connect with Lamott via Facebook and Twitter.

Lamott’s books are available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and IndieBound.

Related articles

17 thoughts on “Memoir Writers’ Resources Series | Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

  1. I’m certainly familiar with Anne Lamott but not with this title. The last one I read was the memoir about her son’s first year. Her voice is unique, edgy, and true. I love her work.

  2. This is such a great idea! Yes, it’s a wonderful book. probably the most mentioned by writers and writing instructors–maybe because it talks to “us” as if we are sitting across from each other over coffee, chatting about “writing stuff.” And yet more beautifully.

    1. Definitely, Anne Lamott talks to “us” in Bird by Bird. Why didn’t I think of that while I was writing this post? 🙂 And I’d love to have the opportunity to sit and talk with her over coffee!

  3. I purchased this book soon after it came out and began reading while staying with my elderly father after he had shoulder replacement surgery. Within a few pages I was laughing hysterically over the story of Ann in her young teens reading her father’s latest novel with a sleep-over friend, unaware that the novel was porn. My father was in the other room. He hollered to ask what was so funny. “This book I’m reading …” No way was I about to elaborate. Fortunately he seemed to understand that if it had been fit to share I would have been out there reading to him. I keep going back to this book for fresh inspiration. IMO, although I’ve read nearly everything she wrote, this one remains her flagship work.

    1. Sharon, I loved reading your reaction to Anne’s story about reading her father’s latest novel with a friend! Can you imagine? The woman is blessed with a wonderful wit and writing wisdom. I agree with your comment about this being her flagship work — it can’t be beat although anything she writes I’ll read.

  4. Sherrey,I love the new look of your blog and that you are writing your memoir…Good for you 🙂 And Anne L. is generous with her writing advice…yes, so encouraging that our first drafts can be imperfect…blessings to you and thank you for your kind encouragement over at my blog 🙂

Comments are closed.