Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott

bird by bird

In her book Bird by Bird Anne Lamott describes how to write a book.

One interesting thing that happens when I read this book, and I’ve already read it about 7 times now, is that I’ll become inspired to write. But, wait, that doesn’t quite get the message across. I mean that I can hardly wait to sit down and write after listening to this Audiobook.

Following her simple rules.

  1. Set aside a regular time to write
  2. Keep index cards, and write down subjects, and story ideas
    • I use a little notebook I carry with me
  3. Write a Shitty First Draft
    • write whatever comes to mind, and don’t worry about how it sounds, just get it down on paper
  4. Only write what I can see within a one inch picture frame
    • don’t try to write down the history of the world in one sitting
    • give yourself short assignments
  5. Tell the truth

The first time I did this I chose a topic from my note book:

  • I am in a waiting room, and there’s another guy in there with me, who isn’t paying attention to me

I had gotten up early on a Saturday morning, where I’d be sure to have some time to myself before my wife and son were awake.

I described the setting, and answered all the questions. Where was the receptionist, described the chairs, described what I was wearing, what the other guy was wearing, described the carpets, the freshness of the air… you’re getting the idea I think.

I still have it, I could transcribe it here… but it is pretty shitty, and it’d be embarrassing to have anyone read it.

But two remarkable things happened. When my wife eventually got out of bed, and listened to what I’d written,

  1. she didn’t interrupt me to ask me how long this was going to take
  2. I began to cry, I mean convulsively cry, at around page 6 of the 8 pages I’d written.

I hadn’t planned on it happening, it just happened. What emerged from my unconscious mind was the identity of that other guy in the waiting room. It was me back when I was just starting to go through my divorce. And I was the me I am now, at 56 years of age. It wasn’t at all unlike having a dream. The story emerged from my writing as I described all the things, and the dialogue between he and I.

What emerges from the unconscious scares me I don’t know I don’t think it scares me It leaves me in awe.

I already am willing to admit that my need to write goes past mere desire or interest. It’s an inner drive to do so. With that little practice session it’s like this younger and older me are yearning to have a conversation. And it’s already difficult for me. That was back in October of 1995, nearly 24 years ago. And the pain is still there.

I want to tell my story, and if I tell it well, I hope and pray others will be comforted, encouraged, and inspired by it. I hope those who are in difficult marriages will give their marriages another chance.