An Appreciation of Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Back when the earnest of writing was at an apex following the contract I signed and then mailed back to a publisher, I started looking for books on writing. To learn the craft of writing a book, yes, but mainly for some sanity.

I thought there was really something wrong with my mind. My emotions were everywhere. At once wanting to tell everyone and no one at all. Hope and despair cavorted with animal abandon.

And then out of nowhere I wanted to fade into obscurity. And have no one read anything. Or know me. And then excitement would come back stumbling in like a prodigal son – with a humble desire to have some measure of being read…of contributing to the vast edifice of good writing, whose shadow I’ve taken sanctuary in.

There was a hint of Junior High.

Back to the books, though. There are a lot of them. And some have been helpful. And while my skills needed honing, the heart and mind – the reservoir from which the words spring – needed counsel.

A friend, whose a much better writer, recommended Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. This was six months ago. That very night I spent more than an hour rifling through the language arts section of the local used bookstore. Ironically, nothing is in any kind of order in the Language Arts section.

I want you to stop and think about that for a second.

At least once a month for six months I’d cover my fingers with the dust of unwanted books looking for Lamott’s book on writing. Buying new books had become taboo since this store opened and I couldn’t afford them anyway. So I’d take my unwanted volumes down in hopes of getting some credit to buy more books. And for six months I’d start by looking in the chaos of the Language Arts section.

To make it all the more difficult, the hipsters running the place would peer into the screen of the computer dating back to the Carter administration and tell me it was on the shelf in the back hole of the Language Arts Section.

But I could never find it. For six months.

Finally, a little more than a week ago, it was there. I looked around wondering if this was some nerdy version of Punk’d. Surely this wasn’t it. It was. And just in time because someone I respect had recently recommended it very highly. I would have been very frustrated to not find it once again.

But I did find what I was looking for. And after only a few minutes of looking through the section of the store most like that warehouse in the last scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Bethany and I were on a date. The kids were at the grandparents for the night. So knowing it would only be my own bladder to distract and not those of my offspring, I settled into a chair.

Only five pages were needed of sitting in that chair and digging into this book to confirm, this was the book I think I just might need.

And it was. I was not crazy. All the conflicting positions, emotions and convictions when thinking about writing and publishing and being a person in the midst of it all were sitting on the page in front of me. My soul was laid out in font.

Sure, there’s great advice. But more importantly is Lamott’s own ego and despair and self-hatred and doubt and jealousy and hope and faith and joy. And all was mixed together like some ridiculous stew no one would choose to digest.

But you do when you write. No one had told me till now. I thought I was teetering on the edge of crazy with no way to explain to anyone for fear they would quickly need to catch a bus. I was not crazy, or at least not in an inordinate way. With each turn of the page a brilliant sky of possibility opened up to gaze in. Now I might look crazy to some when looking up into that firmament. But, I knew I wasn’t the only one.

And that’s the sanity I’d been searching for, for six months.

5 thoughts on “An Appreciation of Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

  1. Robin January 16, 2012 / 7:00 pm

    Amen. It set me free to know I wasn't alone.

  2. Ginger Alien January 16, 2012 / 7:33 pm

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Matthew B. Redmond January 16, 2012 / 7:42 pm

    I guess that's a fair question. But I didn't buy the iPad. About 10 people pitched in.

  4. Ginger Alien January 16, 2012 / 8:42 pm

    Sorry, I guess I pulled a Mark Driscoll

  5. Jamie Laslo January 16, 2012 / 9:50 pm

    Last night I was determined to cram a recent writing project (which I had been quite excited about just hours before) through a paper shredder. Instead I read a few pages of Bird by Bird to remind myself that the madness, paranoia, self-loathing, fluctuation and euphoria that appears hopelessly crazed to most folks is just normal fare for writers.

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