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Word by Word on Bird by Bird – Instructions on Writing and Life

by | May 28, 2013


You will find neat stuff when you clean out your stuff.

Normally I do not do book reports for my blog; but, these notes on Annie Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird – Some Instructions on Writing and Life, surfaced when going through an office pile.

Here’re the notes I wrote on her phenomenal book that can help you on writing and life.

P. xxvi: It’s like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.

p. 3: Telling the truth in an interesting way turns out to be about as easy and pleasurable as bathing a cat.

p. 9: Learning what you aren’t writing helps you find out what you are writing.

p. 19: Write bird by bird. By one-inch picture frame at a time. Try not to get overwhelmed.

p. 25: All good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Begin with “shitty first draft”.

p. 26: Quieting these negative voices is at least half the battle I fight daily. Voices – mice – mason jars!

p. 28: Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor. It will cramp and insane your whole life.

p. 40’s: Think of writing as a Polaroid. Point camera at what grabs your attention and shoot. The final pic will be different and you don’t know what it will look like. It emerges.

P. 59: Drama holds readers attention. Setup – build up – payoff. Payoff answers why we are here. Setup – tells the game. Build up – puts in all the moves.

p. 62: Plot = A B D C E   A – Action. B – Background. D – Development. C – Climax. E – Ending.

p. 67: Dialogue – The way you nail character – work on getting voice right.

p. 74: Set design – details!!

p. 80: False starts – excellent story about nursing home.

p. 100: There is ecstasy in paying attention.

p. 103: If you abort a project there is nothing at the center about which you care passionately. “The core, ethical concepts in which you most passionately believe are the language in which you are writing.”

p. 110: You need your broccoli in order to write well. When I don’t know what to do, you get quiet and try to hear that still small voice inside. It will tell you what to do.

p. 112: You get your confidence and intuition back by trusting yourself. By being militantly on your own side. You get your intuition back when you make space for it, when you stop the chattering of the rational mind. You need a voice you are not trying to control.

p. 121: K-FKD – K F… radio station. K – LUV – the other radio station. The K-LUV station is in one ear saying good stuff. K-FKD is the other ear that’s self-loathing. Annie’s K-FCK is ON every morning. Try lowering the volume!

p. 136: Put index cards everywhere. When you give yourself permission to start writing, you start thinking like a writer.

p. 156: Some conferences can be cut throat and competitive and you need to be ready for fierce critique.

p. 174: Can’t write? Do it as a letter!

p. 181: Mark Twain said, “Adam was the only man who, when he said a good thing, knew that nobody said it before.” Life – recycling center. You have to offer your OWN sensibility, your sense of humor, or pathos, or meaning.

p. 192: “Something to be said for painting portraits of the people we have loved.” Later – delete self-indulgence.

p. 215: Real payoff – writing itself.

p. 218: Cool Runnings: “If you’re not enough before the gold medal, you won’t be enough with it.”


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