Truth: Anyone who loves to write also loves to read.
And anyone who loves to read has at least one book that they share time and time again. One book that shifted how they see the world, their work, or themselves. One book that they can’t wait to give to others–so they do, over and over.
Mine is Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. I count nine times I’ve given it to friends and family, and I’m certain there have been more.
This weekend I left one on a new friend’s front stoop. Kara is my daughter’s age, and she writes with a voice and a viewpoint I think is fresh and powerful–as a young mom, a university student, and a new homeowner…in a trailer park, with very real concerns and experiences about social justice, the working poor, and treating each other with compassion. She lives, and knows, both sides of the track. I want Kara to keep writing and I hope Bird by Bird will inspire and encourage her, even with the demands and distractions of toddlers and course work, and 105 degree summer days without AC in her doublewide.
My husband and I bought our first copies of Bird by Bird in 1995 and read them side-by-side. It had been reviewed as a design book and we interpreted it as a book about living an intentional, creative life. And it is. But it’s about writing and life and seeing and being. It’s about owning your story. Over the past 19 years, and over many, many readings, these are the lessons (and my takeaway) that have influenced my writing, my thinking, and even my marriage and my parenting:
Shitty first drafts. Just start. Don’t worry about the outcome, just start and know that a shitty first draft is the first step.
Be prepared. You won’t remember the fine details, the texture, the nuanced phrase or image that will give life to your story. Have a stack of index cards or a notebook and a pen with you always. Be ready, wherever you are.
Good things take time. And work. So sit your butt down and do the work. And keep doing it. In time, it will be good. By the way, “time” could mean years, not hours or days.
You have to care. Care about character, and the plot will come. Care enough to wait and learn what happens next. Care enough to be vulnerable, to ask for help, and to keep going, even when it’s hard. Especially when it’s hard.
The one-inch picture frame. Come in close. Even closer. And closer still.
Perfectionism is the enemy. It will make you crazy. Art is made of clutter and mess. Get comfortable with the mess, and art will eventually emerge.
Your story is your truth. Even the smallest memory is a story worth writing. You own it, so share it.
I’ve given this book with almost every college graduate I love, though I am not sure all have understood it. But someday they might. And every time I read it, I discover something new. The words were there all along, but somehow a new lesson is revealed when I am ready to receive it.
So I will keep buying Bird by Bird for everyone I think might be inspired and learn from it. Because it’s raw, brilliant, funny, hopeful and truthful, and I can’t wait to share it.
578 words without the quotes below. The quotes add another 353 words. The piece works with and without the additional quotes, or just one or two could be included.
Here are a few quotes from Bird by Bird. But buy your own copy, and discover the words that speak to you.
“One of the gifts of being a writer is that it gives you an excuse to do things, to go places and explore. Another is that writing motivates you to look closely at life, at life as it lurches by and tramps around.”
“Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do—the actual act of writing turns out to be the best part. It’s like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony.”
“Perfectionism means that you try desperately not to leave so much mess to clean up. But clutter and mess show us that life is being lived. Clutter is wonderfully fertile ground–you can still discover new treasures under all those piles, clean things up, edit things out, fix things, get a grip. Tidiness suggests that something is as good as it’s going to get. Tidiness makes me think of held breath, of suspended animation, while writing needs to breathe and move.”
“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.”
“I used to think that paired opposites were a given, that love was the opposite of hate, right the opposite of wrong. But now I think we sometimes buy into these concepts because it is so much easier to embrace absolutes than to suffer reality. I don’t think anything is the opposite of love. Reality is unforgivingly complex.”
Read more from Kim Tackett on her blog, Fifty Fifty Vision
Thursday 21st of August 2014
Love this book, I agree with your choice. Have you read any others of hers? I also really like "Right to Write" by Julia Cameron.
Wednesday 20th of August 2014
I do have one book I often share, it is related to nutrition and marketing however. I'll have to look into reading this as a late summer book. Thank you for sharing.
Andrea B (@goodgirlgonered)
Tuesday 19th of August 2014
I love this book. It's been quite some time since I've read it, but I did hold onto my copy ... I think! Now I want to dig it up. :)
Tuesday 19th of August 2014
You always grab me somewhere Kim. Today you got me here.... "Art is made of clutter and mess. Get comfortable with the mess, and art will eventually emerge." I read that line three times and loved it more each time... Thanks Kim!
Tuesday 19th of August 2014
I have a copy of this wonderful dogeared book sitting right on my night table...time to pick it up yet again!!