I never used to read writing craft books. I don’t know why. Maybe it was a combination of hubris and being afraid to see that I was doing everything wrong. Or maybe somewhere along the line I read one that was completely not the right book for me. Because there is such a thing as the right and the wrong writing craft book for any given person. I’ve been reading a lot of craft books this year and I can tell you which ones are the right ones for me (Stephen King, Donald Maass).
Well, I can tell you right now, Bird by Bird is not the right writing book for me.
That doesn’t mean that I didn’t think it was a good book, by the way. In fact, I think it was engagingly written, honest in its tone, and probably the perfect book for several writers who I know who are just starting out.
Anne Lamott is what I guess I would call a touchy-feely writing teacher. Now before you recoil in terror at my description, by that I mean that she is cognizant of the emotions and nuances that characters need to be effective. She is in touch with the impact that plot needs to have in order to draw a reader in and keep them glued to the page for the duration. She knows her stuff.
I would definitely recommend this book to a beginning writer, especially if that writer has a lot of angst about getting started or whether they should even be a writer in the first place. Lamott has a way of reaching out to those students through the pages of her book to let them know that it’s okay, it’s going to suck, but write anyhow. She’s comfortingly honest that way. She comes right out and says that writing is not going to make you rich or famous and it will probably drive you crazy, but you should write anyhow, because it’s in your soul.
See, for me, I already knew that. I know that I have to write the same way I have to breathe. This revelation on Lamott’s part was old news to me. I have fully embraced the fact that I will be writing—profusely—for the rest of my life, whether anyone ever reads it or not. If I were to end up as a quadriplegic, unable to communicate with the outside world, I would still be telling myself stories and looking for a way to move at least one finger so that I could type. I am a writer.
The advice and lessons in Lamott’s book are not so much for people who stand tall and state “I am a writer!” but for those anxious, fluttering souls just gaining the courage to raise their hand and say, “Am I a writer?” For those people, I think this book would be a breath of fresh air.
The other observation I had is that this is a craft book that was written primarily for literary fiction writers. I just got that feeling. Along with that, I got the feeling that Lamott might just be the kind of literary fiction writer who scoffs at genre fiction as plebian drivel. Just a feeling I got. It might not be true at all. It’s just that so much of her advice was of the visceral variety, asking her students to dig deep into the emotional quagmire of their childhoods. I think that genre fiction writers do that too, but we’re also in it for the special effects and entertainment value.
Again, this could all just be me. Which is why, as I stated at the beginning, some writing craft books work for some people and others don’t. Who knows? This might just be the book you were waiting for!
Next up, a book I’ve wanted to read for a long, long time.