Craft Book Recommendation: BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott

By Ruta Rimas

My first post features one of my personal favorite books about writing. Every month, I will recommend a craft book for our wonderful literary group, one that I’ve suggested over the years to various writers with whom I’ve worked on a professional basis. There’s a lot of shelf-space dedicated to the craft and I hope that by offering up books that I’ve found insightful, helpful, practical, and inspirational, they will help you become the writer that you’ve always wanted to be.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott

In Bird by Bird, Lamott, a bestselling novelist and creative writing teacher, invites you to join her for a one-on-one creative writing workshop. She asks that you to put in some work. The point of writing is to write and Lamott shares useful ideas like using short assignments to jumpstart your process. She jokes about the inevitable — and important — shitty first drafts, all while providing encouraging tidbits like this gem: “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.”

The chapters are short and digestible, filled with self-deprecation, writing exercises, humor, compassion, and wisdom. Lamott’s style of narration is relatable and unpretentious as she uses life-affirming and often hilarious anecdotes to relate the, ahem, pleasures of writing (it’s “like bathing a cat”) while also candidly sharing with us her struggles as a human, her failures as a writer, her compulsion to never stop writing. She’s honest and raw about her journey, sometimes sad, but also uplifting and always wry.

Lamott provides practical exercises and writing prompts about developing character, plot, setting, as well as observations on dialogue (“You’re not reproducing actual speech—you’re translating the sound and rhythm of what a character says into words.”). There’s mention of the importance of writing groups and beta-readers, as well as a brief note on publication. But this book isn’t about getting published, it’s about writing, and so not much time is spent on questions like “Do I really need an agent?” because that’s not the point of writing.

Lamott’s book is a good reminder to us all: Take it word by word, writers. Just take it word by word.

Lauree Ostrofsky, of Simply Leap

By Julie Chibbaro

We were lucky to snag author and speaker Lauree Ostrofsky for our April 11, 2018 Get Lit Beacon event. I asked her to answer a few questions for us – we all know how writers are curious about other writers’ processes. In this blog, she does a terrific job of revealing what keeps her coming back to the page. Read her books for more about Lauree and her incredible journey.

Simply Leap Promotional Graphic - Square

1. What keeps you coming back to the page and not giving up (your sources of inspiration)?

Three things help me stay motivated and focused on writing: deadlines, knowing what I want to say, and the desire to articulate a feeling. 1) Working with a writing coach, professor or respected colleague, has been invaluable to making writing a priority. The deadline must be applied to someone outside me, otherwise I can negotiate around it. I don’t want to let someone else down. 2) Knowing what I want to say encourages me to fill the page. I completed the draft of my second book, “SIMPLY LEAP: Seven Lessons on Facing Fear and Enjoying the Crap out of Your Life,” in one month, because I spent valuable time before imagining my audience. I was eager to “talk” to them and felt compelled to share my message, believing it would be useful. 3) It’s a wonderful and frustrating challenge to articulate a feeling to the point that someone else can feel it too. I worry about my vocabulary lacking and it’s tough to sit long enough in pain or sadness to speak from experience. Writing especially the opening chapter of “I’m scared & doing it anyway” was definitely that way. But, it feels so good after! Having moments when I achieved what I wanted as a writer encourages me to dive deeper on new work.

2. Who is your mentor (you mentioned studying with someone – can you tell us more about that?)

One of my college professors has become a good friend and mentor.
David Hicks now runs the Mile High MFA program at Regis University in Denver, but we met when he was teaching at Pace University. Last July we read together at Oak Vino Wine Bar while he was on a 40+ city tour for his first book, “White Plains.” (Also reading that night was Joselin Linderfrom her new book, “The Family Gene.”) Leading up to it we bartered: I coached David on developing his tour and committing to a regular writing practice, and he edited both of my books and blog. Having him in my corner has been invaluable.

3. How does it feel to have written a book, and what made you want to write a second one?

It felt incredible to finish a book, seeing the last line on my computer screen. I never allowed myself to imagine writing one. It seemed like something only “real” writers did, but not me. When it happened and I could see that it was a full story with a beginning, middle and end, I was shocked and then proud. I knew I’d write another book the moment I signed, “I’m scared & doing it anyway,” at my first book party. It felt so good to share this personal story and see first-hand that it was helpful to others. I knew I wanted to do it again, and halfway through that book tour the next book idea came to me. And because I’d already written a book, had proven to myself that I could, I didn’t doubt it as much this time.