A few months back I had an opportunity to see Anne Lamott speak in Madison. I was familiar with her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, but I wasn’t sure I ever read it. It was lumped in my mind with other texts, such as Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones and Julie Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, both of which I had read.
These are books I classified as being about the writing practice. They were more inspirational than instructional, providing encouragement for writers to begin the practice of writing. I had been fortunate enough to take a workshop with Natalie Goldberg once and had done a longer seminar about Cameron’s book, where we worked through her suggestions week-by-week. I continued meeting with some of the women I met in the class for almost a decade after.
But I knew less about Anne Lamott. I followed her on Facebook as any “good” writer should, and attended her talk out of curiosity and I suppose duty. My friend and I were surprised when we arrived at the theater and the line wound down the street. The event didn’t even start on time because people were still taking their seat in the packed 1,500-seat theater long after she was supposed to begin.
When she finally did speak, I knew why she had been such a star for so long. She spoke of ordinary things, but in a way that made them seem fresh. Lamotte read and talked from her new book Almost Everything: Notes on Hope and in doing so provided advice to the audience about how to be a human in trying times.
She talked about writing, but also our troublesome government, loving difficult people, losing the people we love, and the struggles we face, such as her own past alcoholism. I was somewhat embarrassed to find myself crying through much of her speech. I needn’t have been, as I believe she was touching something deep inside me that needed attention.It was not a complex message, and I tend to be a cynic, but I guess it was exactly what I needed to hear at that moment. Click To Tweet
It was not a complex message, and I tend to be a cynic, but I guess it was exactly what I needed to hear at that moment. I have since read the book and found the messages there to be similarly helpful. I was even moved throughout to write down many of her quotes.
The book is broken up into sections based on the type of advice she is giving, such as Hope, Death, and Food. She also includes a chapter on her advice on writing in which she paraphrases the lessons she gives to young children as well as adults. I am not sure how much of this section is similar to Bird by Bird, but I felt as if I was copying almost all of it into my notebook.
We also learn the origin of the phrase “bird by bird” which was something her father told her brother when he was stressing about writing a report about birds. He reportedly told him to just take it bird by bird.
I even pulled out some of my favorite inspirational quotes from Anne Lamott’s Almost Everything book. I’ll be interested to hear from you if you’ve read this book, Bird by Bird, or any of the other books I’ve mentioned. Have you ever been moved by something that surprised you?