Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, a self-described book of instructions "on writing and life," is ideal for writers and those who are intrigued by the writing process. Lamott, an author and creative writing instructor herself, aims to share almost everything she knows about writing in the two hundred plus pages of this book. However, the book is neither technical nor rigidly didactic. In a decidedly lighthearted, humorous way, Lamott shares her general strategies and steps to creating and perfecting a great piece of writing (with an emphasis on fiction). Chapter by chapter, she structures the book almost as a writing class syllabus--or an actual class that she's teaching--and invites us in as students who are willing to hear what she has to say.
Lamott doesn't focus solely on the writing process but also details the different aspects that writers need to consider when working on a literary project. These include finding a support network for feedback and criticism of one's work; dealing with inner demons and issues like low confidence, writer's block, and jealousy; and the pitfalls of publication. She's realistic in conveying the myths of publication and aptly points out the flaws in writers' thinking when they equate publication to fame, fortune, and happiness. One of the many points I loved in the book is Lamott's argument that the ultimate goal of writing shouldn't be publication, since there are many writers who never get published. To her, writing is about expressing the truth, or at least one's truth. It's something noble and important to pour oneself into. And as she so eloquently states on the last page of her book, "writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul." I'm not a fiction writer by any means but found myself moved by her belief in, and passion for, writing. Lamott also speaks of her faith in the role that great writing--and those who produce it--play in our society and lives.
Much of Lamott's information is conveyed through anecdotes and personal experiences in the writing world. What makes reading Book by Book such a pleasure is the hilarious way in which she tells her stories. I even found myself rereading certain passages and parts just for the comedic effect, and it did not disappoint. I was recommended this book as a good read and not so much for the writing advice, so naturally I found certain parts less relevant and enthralling (eg, the chapters on plot, dialogue, etc.) But other chapters are basically universal to all kinds of writing, and her advice in certain chapters is applicable not only to writing, but life itself.