I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember. At first I typed my stories on a little portable Brothers typewriter. I remember that it was blue and that you had to really hit the keys hard. When I graduated from high school, my parents gave me an electric typewriter that weighed at least 50 pounds. At the time it was state-of-the-art, honest.
I have always wanted to be a writer, a published writer and I guess I am. I’ve written and had things published and even been paid for what I’ve written.
Of course the writer’s carrot is the novel and I’ve been slogging away at one – never with the dedication and determination to actually finish it, of course, just enough to say that I’m writing one – for over a decade.
Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird speaks to writers who care more about the craft and less about the imagined glory. This is not a how-to book. It’s not a book filled with prompts and practical advice about how to write pithy dialogue or set the scene. Still, it’s a wonderful book.
The very first thing I tell me new students on the first day of a workshop is that good writing is about telling the truth.
Bird by Bird offers “some instructions on writing and life.” It’s Lamott’s love letter to the written word – and she clearly does love them – the words, I mean. It is laugh – out – loud funny and tender, too. Lamott navigates the writer’s world with a great deal of affection and a healthy dose of tough love. She’s honest about her jealousy when faced with the success of writers she believes to be less talented than she is; she discusses the pitfalls of the blank page; she talks about how to negotiate with your characters. But mostly she talks about why we write (and why we read). She says:
Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul.
Writing, says Lamott, is important work. Writers should write, not for the notoriety which they assume comes with publication (and Lamott tells some funny stories about the so-called status of the published author) but because they have to. They want to. They must.