Writing as Habit and Part of Life: Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird

 

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Anne Lamott’s memoir / book on writing: Bird by Bird gives readers and honest look at writing. For one thing, she isn’t afraid to turn the romanticizing of the craft on its head.

The reality is, a writer’s discontentment and vulnerability never truly go away. And, typically, high-level recognition and success in writing are infrequent moments at best.

“My writing friends, and they are legion, do not go around beaming with quiet feelings of contentment. Most of them go around with haunted, abused, surprised looks on their faces, like lab dogs on whom very personal deodorants have been tested.”

Writing, she seems to say throughout the book, is not the answer to our struggles, but rather part of life. The habit of writing and finishing writing projects in itself is the reward. Meanwhile, anxieties of putting what’s in your head to paper and the deep longing for approval among peers are what most often run rampant.

Among all of these truths about writing as a habit, Lamott provides some wonderful advice on the craft. My favorite suggestion connects a writer’s inner mission with that of exposing deep-inner truth.

“If I’m going to read about a bunch of people who drive Volkswagens and seem to have mostly Volkswagen-sized problems, and the writer shows them driving around on top of the ice, I want to sense that there’s a lot of very, very cold water down below. I eventually want for someone to crash through. I want people who write to crash or dive below the surface, where life is so cold and confusing and hard to see. I want writers to plunge through the holes – the holes we try to fill up with all the props. In those holes and in the spaces around them exist all sorts of possibility, including the chance to see who we are and to glimpse the mystery.”

In a way, it’s a challenge to everyone – writer, reader, or otherwise – to dig into one’s life beyond the surface level and discover the bewildering personal thoughts and aspects we possess but keep hidden.

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