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Book Summary: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

My Personal Summary

The only way to become a better writer is to write more. Nobody writes a perfect first draft. All good writing starts with terrible first efforts. 

Book Notes

  • “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.”
  • “‘But how?’ my students ask. ‘How do you actually do it?’
    You sit down, I say. You try to sit down at approximately the same time every day. This is how you train your unconscious to kick in for you creatively. So you sit down at, say, nine every morning, or ten every night. You put a piece of paper in the typewriter, or you turn on the computer and bring up the right file, and then you stare at it for an hour or so. You begin rocking, just a little at first, and then like a huge autistic child. You look at the ceiling, and over at the clock, yawn, and stare at the paper again. Then, with your fingers poised on the keyboard, you squint at an image that is forming in your mind — a scene, a locale, a character, whatever — and you try to quiet your mind so you can hear what that landscape or character has to say above the other voices in your mind.”
  • The best way to figure out what you’re thinking is through writing.
  • Anyone who is a writer questions whether or not they’re really a writer at some point. This is normal.
  • “I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much. We do not think that she has a rich inner life or that God likes her or can even stand her.”
  • “I don’t think you have time to waste not writing because you are afraid you won’t be good at it.”
  • “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people.”
  • “If you are a writer, or want to be a writer, this is how you spend your days–listening, observing, storing things away, making your isolation pay off. You take home all you’ve taken in, all that you’ve overheard, and you turn it into gold. (Or at least you try.)”
  • “All you can give us is what life is about from your point of view.”
  • “This is what separates artists from ordinary people: the belief, deep in our hearts, that if we build our castles well enough, somehow the ocean won’t wash them away. I think this is a wonderful kind of person to be.”
  • “Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul.”
  • “We write to expose the unexposed. If there is one door in the castle you have been told not to go through, you must. The writer’s job is to turn the unspeakable into words – not just into any words, but if we can, into rhythm and blues.”
  • “I took notes on the people around me, in my town, in my family, in my memory. I took notes on my own state of mind, my grandiosity, the low self-esteem. I wrote down the funny stuff I overheard. I learned to be like a ship’s rat, veined ears trembling, and I learned to scribble it all down.”
  • “Oh my God, what if you wake up some day, and you’re 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written; or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy; or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life, of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid? It’s going to break your heart. Don’t let this happen.”
  • “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

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