Titles are important. I probably wouldn’t have read a book entitled Some Instructions on Writing and Life, but I was captivated by one titled Bird by Bird. What could such a book tell me about life and writing? Whatever it was, the title itself held the promise of something fun, a little offbeat, and yes, instructive too. I wasn’t wrong. This, to me, is one of the best books I’ve ever read about writing. Although I’m not a fiction writer, Lamott’s wit and wisdom applies to me and to anyone else who’s ever felt the desire to put pen to paper…or fingers to keyboard.Everyone who reads Bird by Bird will find something to appreciate. I like the way Lamott shares such wonderful advice while sharing experiences from her life. Her love for her father, Sam, and Pammy are there; so are her impressions from the nursing home, the Special Olympics, school lunches, and the death of a five-month-old child. Sad but funny is the experience with her agent who said, “I’m sorry.” Read it and you’ll see what I mean.
Are there secrets to writing? Yes and no. Lamott credits the “secret” to Natalie Goldberg who, when someone asked her for the best possible writing advice she had to offer, held up a yellow legal pad, pretended her fingers held a pen, and scribbled away. When Lamott’s students ask her that question, she picks up a piece of paper and pantomimes scribbling. In other words, just do it. Oh, and when you’re scribbling away, remember that “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor.”
To give you an idea of Lamott’s sense of humor, she quotes a friend who says that the first draft is the down draft because you focus on getting it down. The second is the up draft, the one that you fix it up. “And the third draft is dental draft, where you check very tooth, to see if it’s loose or cramped or decayed, or even, God help us, healthy.” Gotta love that!
For anyone tired of reading about dangling modifiers and pronoun agreement, read something refreshing like Bird by Bird. You’ll be glad you did. And if you’re curious about the title of this post, then you’ll have to read the chapter called “Broccoli.”