There are tons of craft books on the shelves for writers. They can be a great investment–many are written by accomplished authors and writing teachers, and they’re cheaper than a writing course (free if you get them from the library). But with so many books to choose from, how do you know which are best for you?
To help, I’ll be periodically reviewing some of the craft books I’ve come across. I’m going to do my best to give you a good idea of what to expect from a book before you buy it. I’ll be breaking my reviews down into four sections: what this book is, what this book isn’t, how it can help you, and if I recommend it. That way you won’t just hear about if I like a book, you’ll also know how it can help you.
First up, the much-loved classic, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.
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This is a book full of writerly wisdom and camaraderie. It’s broken into four sections with a series of related essays in each section that explore what it means to grow up and live as a writer.
The subtitle of the book reads, “Some Instructions on Writing and Life,” and it’s one of my favorite things about reading this book. Lamott mixes writing lessons with life lessons that are both hilarious and relatable. She also preaches some very important writing philosophies that I adore. Her chapter on Shitty First Drafts is one of her more famous philosophies (odds are if you’ve only heard one thing about this book, it’s Shitty First Drafts), but there are so many more. She talks about the dangers of perfectionism, gives tips on developing the right mind frame, and gives tons of advice on where to look for help.
Lamott also spends a fair amount of time acknowledging and discussing the struggles of writing, which I think is a great comfort for any writer who is under the impression that they’re alone in this. This book offers support and guidance and is written from a place of honesty.
What Bird by Bird isn’t:
This book isn’t a guide to getting published. It doesn’t give career promises or guarantees. This book doesn’t have prompts or exercises. (Lamott does share some exercises she finds helpful, but at no point did I get the impression that they were the main purpose of this book.) It also isn’t a super technical craft book. As in, it doesn’t spend big chapters dedicated to breaking down character, plot, or point-of-view. Those topics are covered, but Lamott’s approach is more gentle and big-picture, as opposed to up-close and nitty-gritty.
How Bird by Bird can help you:
This book can help you if you’ve EVER struggled with any part of writing. The copyright on this book is from 1994 but it’s still seriously relevant! Lamott has tips on finding the right people to read your work, what to expect if you sign up for workshops and conferences, the importance of listening to your characters, managing perfectionism, improving each draft, and how to handle when you just can’t get your book to work. She also gives many reasons to write beyond publication and dispells a fair amount of publication myths.
It can also help you a lot if you feel like you’re alone in this whole writing endeavor. I know, I touched on this earlier, but I think it’s worth mentioning again. Personally, I’ve always been pretty lucky. I’ve always had people around me that either get writing and/or creativity. Yet, there were still sections of this book that had me think, wow, it’s not just me! I can only imagine the power this book may have if you’re someone who doesn’t have people who understand what it means to create.
Do I recommend Bird by Bird?
This book is a classic for a reason. I recommend it if you’re looking for something that expresses solidarity in writing struggles, while still be encouraging. It’s the perfect book for any writer who’s looking for someone who understands what it means to live a writing life.
I also think this would be a really good first “craft book”. Anne Lamott talks about writing and the writing life in a way that is accessible and easy to follow. I will say, I think parts of this book focused slightly more on the unfavorable aspects of the writing life than I usually care to, but those moments were rooted in an honesty of a writing experience that I think is relatable to many.
I hope this gave you a good idea of what to expect from Bird by Bird.
Now it’s your turn: Have you read Bird by Bird? If you have, did it help you? If you haven’t, do you want to? Tell me in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.