Book Recollection: Bird by Bird

True to my word, I am starting to dig into my stack of reading material. As of right now I have shaved off about 2 inches based on today’s book and another one I finished a few days ago (future post).  After some validation with a ruler and some highly technical math it doesn’t bode well for getting through all of the material by the end of the year.  It is too early to give up and my vacations generally provide a lot of reading catch up time so the game is still on.  The first book this year is titled “Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life” and was written by Anne Lamott.  This was an interesting pick for me primarily because I am not really a writer in the true sense of the word.  A Photography blogger mentioned it as one of his favorite books and I noticed a few other book recommendation sites I follow had it on their top ten as well.  All those recommendations mentioned it was beyond a basic writing book and more of an interesting outlook on life.  Now the latter part of that is right up my alley and a few tidbits on writing just might help out on this blog.  Let me give my recommendation on this particular novel…. BUY IT AND READ IT.  I went into it with minimal expectations, however, I soon found myself captivated by Anne’s ability to paint a picture with words, provide imagery to a feeling and cause me to literally laugh out loud through her dark wit and straight forward delivery.  Anne has been through some tough moments in her life that she has been able to internalize and reflect on those experiences in manner that everyone can relate to.

The vehicle of the book is a writing seminar that she puts on for eager writers looking to be successful in the field.  During this seminar she conveys her writing wisdom learned over the years while creating and publishing her works.  Although I am not a subject matter expert, she seems to give a lot of good advice on how to drive through writer’s block, providing characters with real emotions, learning how to  establish a relationships to the reader and advice on keeping their expectations of success in check.  Actually, this concept of expectations was a big theme in her book whether it was intended or not.  When the last page was turned, I put the book down thinking two things; how hard professional writing must be and how glad I was I picked a different career.  I wonder how her students felt after getting a dose of reality like this.  There is a since of sincerity and openness from the author that helps lend credibility to her outlook on life.  It is evident that faith plays a an important part in her life, however, she doesn’t hammer you with it our try to influence your perspective on this front.  So, yes, it is a book geared to writers, but there is plenty non-writers can take away from reading Anne’s excellent work.  Even now I am seeing the impacts of her writing suggestions on my blogging efforts and probably more noticeable is the writer’s eye  that I’ve been applying to the written works of others I read or listen to… are the character’s believable, can the author create the vision and feeling of being part of the story etc.?  With that benefit, her viewpoints on life put the cherry on top of a sweet read.

Hit the jump to see some of my recollections from this!

Recollections:

  • She feels writing motivates you to look closer at life.  I can relate to this 100% but got to this point in a circular manner – I was witnessing life and wanted to share with others.  This desire to share led to my blog which has made me even more aware of my surroundings.
  • If you are in print, therefore you exist.  From a personal perspective, I spent a significant amount of time creating a book on our dogs for my wife.  I think there was a smile of satisfaction on my face for a week after opening the packaging and seeing the results of all that hard work… it also helped knowing Linda appreciated the work as well.  It wasn’t a published book like my brother’s masterpiece, but it was my little contribution to the writer’s world.
  • The act of writing turns out to be it’s own reward.  From a personal perspective I can agree, but again, holding a final product is pretty rewarding too.
  • The inner voices of anxiety, judgment and doom are the works of banshees and drunken monkeys.  I think it is important to identify those demons and deal with them appropriately.
  • Words I had to actually look up: excrementitious (could guess what this meant, but my new favorite word), onomatopoetic, epigrammatic, aggrandizement, desiccated
  • Her boy has a good grasp of adult words
  • Her concept of narrowing scope to a one inch picture frame really resonated with me seeing as it mirrors my own interests in looking a life one tiny bit at a time.
  • I read this line a couple of times attributed to a priest she knows.  “You can safely assume you’ve created god in your own image when it turns out that god hates all the same people you do.”  As of right now, this is in my top 10 lines of all time.
  • To say Anne is blunt is probably to soft.  Take for example her comment that you always have a choice, you can either write or kill yourself.  I often find myself rereading this line in my head every time an assignment comes up that I might not want to do.  Having a choice always makes me feel better and the truth is, doing the assignment really isn’t that bad in the context of life.
  • If you are having problems, at least get started and just consider it a “shitty first draft”
  • Anne gives a mental strategy to deal with unwanted voices – envision them as mice that you pick up by the tail and drop in a glass, put the lid on it and turn down the volume control button on the bottle.  Her friend recommends opening the jar and shooting them in the head… did I mention she was direct and to the point?
  • She is pretty liberal on her interpretation of god and truly considers it a compassionate (non-roasting) concept
  • Bad things happen to good characters.  I like this advice and often find myself bored by characters that never do the wrong thing or their behavior is always predictable by viewing it in a single role.  We all make mistakes and characters that distinguish the same traits have always felt more believable to me.
  • The French take another slam for their inability to win wars, but she does give them credit for “hiding more Jews than many other countries”.
  • Her Golden Rule: I don’t want to be lied to.  I concur and will point that comment to our current administration
  • If someone isn’t profoundly changed what is the point of the story
  • Writers spend their day, listening, observing, storing things.  Maybe I was meant to be a writer for these comprise almost my entire day as well.
  • Due to Anne’s experiences, she has been able to captured the bare essence of death and is capable of articulating it in a unique perspective that is direct yet soothing, sad yet joyous, final yet optimistic.  It is an exceptional gift that likely comes from her faith, but you would not know that unless you put it in context with her other comments elsewhere in the book.
  • Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor.  This might have to go on my credenza at work.
  • The mind typically has its head up its ass … presenting a colo-rectal theology – wow
  • Beware of the KFKD station in your head (K … you figure out the rest).  Just calm yourself if it does and turn the station
  • Live as if you were dying (we’re all terminal on this bus).  This is difficult to get comfortable with.  I understand what she is getting at (enjoy life and get the most out of every day), but something tells me I might not be at my happiest in this state
  • I get up, I walk, I fall down.. meanwhile I keep dancing.  Now that is just a perfect sentence
  • Preparing her students for disappointment, she uses an example of getting a review response telling them they should never write again, not even their name.  Her dark humor is right up my alley
  • After making a coarse statement, she comments that she worries Jesus drinks himself to sleep when he hears her talk that way.  If that is so, he probably needs something a lot stronger for me.
  • At some point Anne mentions an artifact existing beyond her friend’s life which would be a part of her immortality.  I paused for a long time on that paragraph, thinking about what things will be left after I pass away… the programs I’ve written, the many projects I’ve created for myself and others, my book, these random thoughts I call a blog….in truth it is really quite sobering if not amazingly motivating.
  • One of her reviewers responded with “You have made the mistake of thinking everything that has happened to you is interesting”  This could be the most damning statement ever to a blogger on life’s little nuances.  The good news is I think her other review might be worse … You are the treadmark on the underpants of life … per her interpretation.
  • Libel is defamation by written or printed word.  This is a dangerous word to bloggers, but I take comfort in the fact that it includes “knowingly malicious” and since I stick to actual experiences I’d be happy to debate with anyone that might be unhappy with a unflattering account in this blog.  Interesting enough, her advice is to give any nasty characters based on real people a teenie little penis so he isn’t willing to come out in public that the character is based on him.. hehehehe

Wow, that was a lot of takeaways from a 237 page book on a subject that I really questioned whether I would like or not.  I really can’t do this book justice and if any of this sounds interesting you, please go buy it for yourself.  You just might find yourself reading it more that once!  Oh, and if you are a young eager writer looking to make your fortunes in the publishing world, go to the store, buy yourself a nice bottle of Jack and get to reading this book immediately.

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