On Saturday, during my weekly Visit Barnes & Noble and Spend $50 excursion, I picked up “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott. It’s one of those books that’s kept in the “Writing” section, an entire collection of books up until this year I didn’t think I needed. And then I started writing a book and, well, sometimes it’s like being out to sea and realizing you don’t have legs. Or arms. “Bird by Bird” takes its name from an anecdote about her brother, writing a school report on birds. He was feeling overwhelmed at the task, coming up on the deadline, and their dad sat down with him and said, “Just take it bird by bird son.” This is obviously an applicable metaphor to the writing process as a whole: you can’t sit down and just write a novel. It comes in short bursts, in vignettes, in frustrating starts and stops, in independent lines of dialogue that float into your head while you’re falling asleep that you write down and try to find a context for later. Bird by mothereffing bird. Lamott writes short chapters with poignant bits of information masquerading as reflections on her own creative process. It’s sharp and hilarious. I actually caught myself laughing out loud at these passages: “Novels ought to have hope; at least, American novels ought to have hope. French novels don’t need to.” and “If your intuition says that your story sucks, make sure it really is your intuition and not your mother.”
She talks about the process as a whole, and here are times (like every other page) where I nod my head and say, “Oh my god, that’s so me.” That thing writers do when, after sitting down to write, their brains turn on them and start reading off a laundry list of things that have to be done right then instead of focusing on writing. In the past week alone, I’ve sat down to write and ended up brushing my teeth, vacuuming the floor (white floors + black dog = NEED TO VACUUM NOW), and, in one particularly neurotic streak, unpacked all of the Christmas decorations even though we don’t have a tree yet. Apparently this is common with writers. We’re insane and avoidant. And misunderstood geniuses, too, don’t forget.
I love this book. Love it. It’s short, but surprisingly dense. It’s one of those books that I just want to hug and squeeze and thank it for being there for me. The last book I read like that was “An Object of Beauty.” I recommend both. What are you reading right now?