Tom MacWright

I read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott on


I don’t think I’ve shared online the fact that I regularly watch videos of cars being repaired and exotic animals being turned into food. I’ve never owned a car and am fully convinced that they are the cause of most problems in cities. And I’m vegan.

But there’s something about how it’s made that’s even more alluring when it’s something you’ll never do, whether out of ethics, ability, or access.

In the furthest reaches of things that I’ll probably never do, there is writing a novel. The last time I did creative writing was in the fourth grade when I wrote a story about a misidentified butterfly. It sucked, I could tell, the adults were lying.

I’ve read a bunch of books about writing - Spunk and Bite, Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, and a bunch of others - but those are mostly about the microscopic details of word choice and grammar. They never touch on the substance and creative process.

Bird by Bird is a book about writing fiction, and it’s absolutely incredible - so great that I would recommend to other folks who are probably never going to write a novel.

Lamott really shows how you make a story, which was surprising and amazing to me. I always imagined novelists being like master planners, creating paths and arcs for characters to follow and then creating the people to traverse them. The reality is the opposite: starting from imaginary people first and kind of just letting them roam. It’s less impossible but still a really amazing magic trick.

And, Lamott is a really, really good writer. This made me very eager to read her books. And what a talent for quotations and anecdotes: every single one was perfectly chosen, meted out at the right interval, never breaking up the flow of her thought. I took lots of notes from this one.

I love how gritty and honest her take on writing is: it’s all about the work of getting better, the daily struggle, the grappling with your mind and spirit. She somehow tells you about the long odds and the isolation and dread but never in a way that sounds discouraging or patronizing: if you want to write, you’re joining her people, and she’s going to show you how to start.