Highlights from Bird by Bird - instructions on writing and life - Anne Lamott
Updated: Jan 10, 2022
I know you all have a pile of books, teetering on the brink of collapse like a literary game of Jenga, but I make no apology for recommending another one.
And here’s why. I loved this book. Alot. It’s a relatively quick read, beautifully written with humour and humanity and is full of really helpful advice. The main reason I really love it though, is because it supports all I try and tell everyone I come into contact with about writing. That you should do it for its own sake; for the joy of it, because you can, regardless of its quality or value.
Here are a few excerpts closest to my heart, which support the act of writing and the joy of writing, just because you can.
Writing is its own reward
“Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do – the actual act of writing – turns out to be the best part. It’s like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.”
Write because you want to
“My students at the wiring workshops have this gift of loving to read, and some of them are really fast, really good with words, and some of them aren’t really fast and don’t write all that well, but they still love good writing, and they just want to write. And I say, “Hey! That is good enough for me. Come on down.”
The voices in your head
“Close your eyes and get quiet for a minute, until the chatter starts up. Then isolate one of the voices and imagine the person speaking as a mouse. Pick it up by the tail and drop it into a mason jar. Then isolate another voice, pick it up by the tail, drop it in the jar. And so on. Drop in any high-maintenance parental units, drop in any contractors, lawyers, colleagues, children, anyone who is whining in your head. Then put the lid on, and watch all these mouse people clawing at the glass, jabbering away, trying to make you feel like shit because you won’t do what they want – won’t give them more money, won’t be more successful, won’t see them more often. Then imagine there is a volume-control button to the bottle Turn it all the way up for a minute, and listen to the stream of angry, neglected, guilt-mongering voices. Then turn it all the way down and watch the frantic mice lunge at the glass, trying to get to you. Leave it down, and get back to the shitty first draft. A writer friend of mine suggests opening the jar and shooting them all in the head. But I think he’s a little angry.”
Give all you have
“Annie Dillard has said that day by day you have to give the work before you all the best stuff you have, not saving up for later projects. If you give freely, there will always be more.”
What you bring forth will save you
“But when you open the closet door and let what was inside out, you can get a rush of liberation and even joy. If we can bel
ieve in the Gnostic gospel of Thomas, old Uncle Jesus said, “If you bring forth what is inside you, what you bring forth will save you. If you don’t bring forth what is inside you, what you bring forth can destroy you.” And the truth of your experience can only come through in your own voice.”
I love all of these excerpts and especially this last one. I was delighted to see her quote a favourite quote of mine on the subject of finding your voice. It’s a bit biblical and dramatic – one of those I’m more keen on than the other - but I just love the sentiment that whatever is inside you can save you. Beautiful.
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