Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott: Summary & Notes

Front cover of Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.

In short

Bird by Bird is a light and playful take on the how to write genre. At the same time, the book is also partly a memoir with a lot of self-deprecating humor from the author. It’s a quick read that is supposed to be more inspirational than a step-by-step guide, so don’t expect a huge amount of instructions.

Still, there’s a reason Bird by Bird has been a bestseller for more than 25 years, so if you’re interested in writing there is bound to be something in the book for you.

Book Summary & Notes

All text that is quoted & italicized is taken directly from the book.


“Almost every single thing you hope publication will do for you is a fantasy, a hologram – it’s the eagle on your credit card that only seems to soar. What’s real is that if you do your scales every day, if you slowly try harder and harder pieces, if you listen to great musicians play music you love, you’ll get better. At times when you’re working, you’ll sit there feeling hung over and bored, and you may or may not be able to pull yourself up out of it that day. But it is a fantasy to think that successful writers do not have these bored, defeated hours, these hours of deep insecurity when one feels as small and jumpy as a water bug. They do. But they also often feel a great sense of amazement that they get to write, and the know that his is what they want to do for the rest of their lives. And so if one of your heart’s deepest longings is to write, there are ways to get your work done, and a number of reasons why it is important to do so.”

Some tips for writing:

Short assignments. Don’t focus on a huge project all at once, since it will seem completely overwhelming. Instead, take it “bird by bird” by breaking it up into small, manageable parts.

Shitty first drafts. The first draft is for getting it all down on paper, regardless of the quality. Lamott calls it the child’s draft, “You just let this childlike part of you channel whatever voices and visions come through and onto the page. […] Just get it all down on paper, because there may be something great in those six crazy pages that you would never have gotten to by more rational, grown-up means.”

Another way of looking at it is to see the first draft as the down draft, just put it down on paper. The second draft could be the up draft, where you try to correct and fix it. Finally there is the dental draft, where you need to check every tooth to see if it’s ‘loose’ or healthy.

There are no original stories. The dramas and stories of mankind are constantly recycled, but this doesn’t matter. It means that they can be told in a fresh way; your own rendition.

Becoming conscious. “When you’re conscious and writing from a place of insight and simplicity and real caring about the truth, you have the ability to throw the lights on for your reader. He or she will recognize his or her life and truth in what you say, in the pictures you have painted, and this decreases the terrible sense of isolation that we have all had too much of.”


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