Loving Your Work: Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird

This month, Ideasmyth’s Ideablog is exploring all angles of the theme “loving your work”–a topic that comes up very often with our clients. Especially as in: “How the hell can I start loving my work?!”


When my mind made the transition from precocious young whippersnapper who writes because sometimes she enjoys wrestling the characters in her head onto paper to miserable teen looking to not only write, but to become a writer (props to S.E. Hinton for giving my fourteen-year-old self the necessary delusion that being a writer was possible for someone so young), naturally, I turned to my second favorite occupation for help—reading. After all, there are how-to books for everything else, so there must be a how-to book that cuts right through the maze to publication (to say nothing of the even more elaborate maze that leads to minor success).

 Thankfully, there isn’t one. I trekked through bookstore after bookstore, tore apart blog after blog looking for the one, the writer—or agent, or editor, or generous creative saint—who knew and was willing to give away the secret to getting published. Thankfully, I didn’t find any gold-plated book that shined a direct light down the path of success; instead, what I found was Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.
In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott is everything a young, foolishly optimistic writer could ask for—snarky, observant, poignant, honest. She tells it like it is, devoting an entire chapter to the unavoidable, yet vital stage in any manuscript’s long life—the “shitty first draft.” She tells you that there will always be “wonderful, dazzling successes” happening to people who are not you—and that those success will make you “want to throw yourself down the back stairs, especially if the person is a friend.” And she states it very explicitly—“Publication is not going to change your life or solve your problems.”

In other words, Lamott is there to warn you—writing is a treacherous life. As a writer herself, however, she understands the imperative to write, and offers whatever realistic advice she can—not to discourage the foolishly optimistic young writer, but to keep that writer’s expectations at a realistic level. What Lamott offers is not a step-by-step guide to what she calls “the myth of publication,” but a sometimes stern, sometimes loving, but always honest consolation. She’s been there. She’s seen writing friends go through it. She knows what it’s like to be young and sure of a J.K.-Rowling-esque future. She knows what it’s like to face dream-destroying rejection. And she knows what she and other friends have done to cope with that failure.

Reading Bird by Bird, this foolishly optimistic young writer has learned that publication is, indeed, a myth. But I’ve also learned that I’m fortunate to be what Lamott calls “one of those people who wishes to build sandcastles with words.” I’ve learned that even if publication is a myth, it is still possible, and I’ve received, from Lamott (actually from Lamott’s older brother), the most important writing how-to I’ve yet to encounter: “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

~~~Kim Kaletsky is an Ideasmyth intern and an NYU student studying English, creative writing and web programming. She runs the social media literary magazine, Brouhaha Magazine. Although she’s still a foolishly optimistic young writer, she hopes to become a foolishly optimistic young writer with a published book (or at least a day job) sometime in the near future.

Posted in Book Biz, Book Ideas, Ideasmyth Teams, Inspiration, Loving Your Work, Writing, Writing Education and tagged , , , , .

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