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Bird by Bird

Some Instructions on Writing and Life

By Anne Lamott
  • Read in 19 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 12 key ideas
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Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Told from the personal perspective of author Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird is a guide toward becoming a better writer and improving your life along the way. Lamott’s distinctive approach, honesty and personal anecdotes make this book a must for writers or anyone who wants to become one.

Key idea 1 of 12

Becoming a good writer means writing about everything that happens to you and around you.

While there’s no secret formula to becoming a good writer, there are some essential steps.

The first step is learning how to relax, stand apart from people and observe closely.

You know the kind of people you notice standing in the corner at a party, watching everyone? Good writers are a similar breed: they often choose to distance themselves from the crowd, observing everything they see, and take notes.

The writer’s job is to articulate what she sees and experiences. This requires an ability to relax and focus so that nothing escapes her notice. It’s important not to rush the process, or force anything.  

In other words, you have to learn to pay attention. Take time to observe everything around you: the curious gait of a stranger, the unique way the morning light catches a lover’s profile, how thinking about a childhood memory makes you feel.  

There’s another reason that observing and noting your world is critical in becoming a good writer. The best writing is about conveying the truth; the observations you collect will help you to tell it.

Whether you believe that your observations will make good material isn’t important. Your main task is to try to find the truth in what you’ve observed, and figure out how to use those observations in the story you want to tell. That way, the truth will naturally find its way into your writing.

Don’t be afraid to draw on past experiences as your main material. For example, take the time to reflect on and write about childhood and other memories. After all, as a writer, you’re lucky enough to look at life in any way you want to. You can turn over events in your memory like fallow earth, digging for the truth that is buried deep within them.

Taking a trip into your own memory bank is justified as long as you make sure to look carefully and write from your own viewpoint as truthfully as you can. Thus you need to examine your self in the same way you examine everything around you.

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