Friday Firesmith – Bird By Bird

Back in 1994, I was barely able to complete a sentence on my desktop computer without it spitting up blood and smoking. It was also the year a woman named Anne Lamott wrote a book called “Bird by Bird, Some Instructions on Writing and Life.” 

Lamott is the embodiment of most of the writers I have known. An early life filled with both positive experiences and train wrecks. Exposure to people from all walks of life, alcohol, drugs, and a lot of creativity. 

Two books stand at the top of the pile when it comes to those I’ve handed out without flinching. The first is the Peterson Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America. I haven’t handed one of those away in years because you can easily look up any creature, large or small, on the internet more quickly than trying to figure out if the snake terrorizing your pool is a Graham’s Crayfish Snake by looking in a book. I rather use the book, but that’s another story. 

The other is Bird by Bird. Lamott is a writer and has been, and likely will be, but she also has a perspective on life in general that is worth a hard look. She has been married, divorced, raised a child, lost a parent to a brain tumor, lost a close friend to breast cancer, and all the while has written beautifully. Lamott has also had an alcohol problem, as many writers will have. Her journey through addiction is faced unflinching and with stark honesty. 

Mostly, the book is about not giving up, not quitting what you know has to be done, and forgiving yourself when you are human. It’s about writing, how to write, and the philosophy behind the idea of being a writer, but it’s a lot more than just that, too. 

Lamott talks about death a great deal. Her father’s death, the death of a close friend, the death of a child who’s parents she knew, and she talks about how she wrote about each death. 

Writer’s Block, which I think is largely mythical, Lamott offers the cure of writing letters, which I think will work when a writer gets stuck. But it’s still writing, which I think is the only way to end a dry spell. 

Most people I meet, and who discover I write, tell me they would like to write, also. Yet at the same time, they are convinced they cannot. I was likewise sure of this until I read “Bird By Bird.” I was not wholly convinced I could write after reading the book, but I did think the worst thing I could do was not try. 

I’m easy to find. I’m easy to talk to about writing. I’m enthusiastic about new writers, even if they are older writers who haven’t spilled a word in decades. If you aren’t open to talking about writing and are unsure what to do about it, I can also recommend a book. 

Take Care,


Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.

Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

8 thoughts on “Friday Firesmith – Bird By Bird”

  1. Checking Petersons’ Field Guide for Graham’s Crayfish Snake is more warm-&-fuzzy than the internet. There’s solace in knowing between the pen and the printing press the information has been vetted at least once. When passing what you read to someone who questions it you can give them Petersons’ chapter and verse with confidence. Saying you saw it on the net equates with I overheard it at Moe’s Bar.

    I suppose for lack of inspiration you could describe your day, the room you’re in, or the one you’d rather be in. I suppose that’s why people write in coffee shops.
    Practice, so when the Angel brings you the outline for the Great American Novel, you’ll have developed the chops to complete the task.

  2. You never know what guide books will send you. For instance, Ian Flemming was in the Caribbean (Jamaica, I think) and had the idea of writing stories based on his job at MI-6 (British military intelligence).

    He was trying to come up with a name for the main character; he wanted a basic, simple name. He looked at a guide book and found the name. The book was “Birds of Jamaica” by James Bond.

  3. You’re the second reference to Anne Lamott I’ve seen in a few days. I live Anne’s work. She has been a huge influence in my life. I’m glad to know you like her too. Must be why I like your writing so much. Bird by Bird


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