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bird by bird

By jeffmsklar Feb 10, 2014 1220 Words

In the book Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott, the author takes the reader through a crash course in writing a story. I found the book helpful in many ways. However, I also found a plethora of information that I will never use and didn’t need to read. Instead of giving tips on how to write college papers, which is what I was looking for, the author went in depth about the life of an author. The three most important things I took from this book were; the importance of getting things down on paper, the concepts of shitty first drafts and short assignments, and using index cards for note taking. I spent much of my life as a drug addict and have therefore forgotten most of what I learned in school. I remember my first time in rehab, a speaker said that I was going to learn so much about addiction and recovery that at times I would be overwhelmed. Much like I was overwhelmed with all of Anne’s information on becoming a writer. “Take what you need and leave the rest,” the speaker said, and that statement helped me become 11 months drug free today. That statement also popped into my head many times while reading Bird By Bird. There was simply so much information that Anne wrote about that I could never see myself using. So I kept on telling myself to take what I can use and leave the rest. In the book, Anne Lamott covered everything from developing characters, to what to do if you haven’t heard back from your agent about publishing. The beginning of Bird by Bird is all how to improve your actual writing. Anne gave lessons on dialogue, plot, and set design to name a few. Some of this section was helpful to me. However, most of the chapters were aimed at writing stories, not college papers. The second part of the book was about the writer’s mind. She told readers about what goes through her head on a daily basis and how she quiets her mind to allow herself to write. She also explained that drawing from your morals will allow you to write more passionately. Anne writes that “a moral position is a passionate caring inside you… So write about the things that are most important to you” (108). The last part of the book was about the writing community and getting help along the way. Anne stressed the importance of writing groups and having people who will read your drafts. Surrounding yourself with a solid writing community can help you overcome writer’s block and also give you tips on how to improve your writing. After reading Anne’s book it felt like I took an upper level college course in writing. It felt like each chapter was a new day in class. Each class was half lecture and the other half was Anne incorporating her life experiences and how it pertains to the day’s material. Anne’s writing style made the book easy to read, most of her writing lessons had a healthy dose of humor mixed in. However, much of what I read will soon be forgotten, although I did pick up a couple of nuggets that I think will help me. One of the themes that was present throughout the book was the importance of actually getting stuff down on paper. Instead of being a perfectionist about your work, Anne is a believer in writing whatever you have at the moment onto paper. After all, you can and will go back and revise it. This concept resonated well with me. I can remember writing a research paper once, and I took weeks to do research without ever writing anything on paper. I ended up not doing the paper and failing the class because of it. My illusion of the perfect paper ended up crippling me and keeping me from a finished product. If I had just wrote a little bit of what I had each time I sat down without worrying how great it sounded, I would have had something to revise, perfect, and turn in later. Another part of Bird by Bird I found helpful was the concept of short assignments and shitty first drafts. The book explains how doing short assignments every time you sit down to do some work will eventually lead to the completion of whatever you’re working on. I can definitely relate to the anxiety of writing a long paper or doing any task that seems daunting in the beginning. Taking things “bird by bird” (19) can alleviate some of the pressure of completing it all at once. I think the thought of shitty first drafts goes hand in hand with that of short assignments. Shitty first drafts can help you get something on paper for you to revise and perfect later. E.L. Doctorow comparing driving a car at night and writing a novel was great advice, as Anne put it, “You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination…. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you.”(18) The concept of shitty first drafts has already begun to help me. I, like many writers, am always so fixated on getting everything I write to sound perfect that it ends up crippling me. Now I realize that just getting my first draft on paper is the important part, perfecting it comes much later. The other part I found most helpful for me was the chapter on index cards. It wasn’t even the concept of index cards that I found so interesting. Obviously I have taken little notes before and have furthermore had index cards scattered all across my floor as Anne did. The part that set off the light bulb in my head was how I always think I will remember important things. So many times I’ve thought of something for work while I was away from my desk and lost it because I didn’t write it down. I thought the same thing Anne did, “if something is important enough, I’d remember it when I got home, where I could simply write it down in my notebook like some normal functioning member of society” (135). Anne’s solution to this was very helpful. Instead of trying to remember things on the fly, she keeps an index in her back pocket to write things down on throughout the day. Even though Bird by Bird wasn’t filled with secrets on how to get good grades on college papers, I did enjoy reading it. The way Anne incorporates funny personal stories into her chapter long lectures on writing made the book fun to read. Getting whatever you have down on paper, short assignments and shitty first drafts, and using index cards are lessons I plan to take with me on my academic journey. Even though I make my living very differently than her I could relate to many of the things she was talking about. If I ever decide to take a stab at a writing career I will reenroll myself into Anne Lamotts class on how to make a career out of writing by picking up Bird by Bird.

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