Patton's Picks from the PMA Library: Bird by Bird

September 2020

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


If you're looking for book recommendations in the productivity and professional development genre, Patton offers a weekly summary of some of the essential and emerging titles from the PMA Library. 

Anne Lamott's "Bird by Bird" explores the mechanics of writing but also the emotions and vulnerability the process requires, even from the most seasoned writers. She makes it quite clear that the goal of your process cannot be fame and fortune, but instead should lead to the reward of embracing a lifestyle devoted to writing.  Just as this book makes a case for finding meaning through writing, most of Lamott's work deals with bringing humor, comfort, and purpose to difficult situations, specifically the deaths of her father and of her best friend, Pam. For those interested in writing professionally or simply for personal exploration, Bird by Bird is a relatable and inspiring introduction to the task. 

  1. Dealing with Obstacles. One of the most satisfying and entertaining components of this book is the way that Lamott captures the extreme, hyperbolic reactions writers feel when facing criticism, jealousy, and self-directed frustration. Lamott lets the reader into the club of writers by explaining that no one sits down to write overjoyed and flowing with passion for writing, no one cranks out flawless first drafts, no one has been making good work forever. 

  2. Success of the Routine/machine. Lamott instructs readers that persistence and consistency is key to living a life with writing for the most obvious of reasons: you have to write to be a writer. Deal with pushing through writer's block by sticking to a routine, cranking out specific daily word counts, and perhaps using others (via a writing partner/group) to push yourself. One must come to terms with the fact that though your first draft will be bad, the forward thrust of improvement will make it worth it, and the fact that you have written it at all is a great starting accomplishment.

  3. The process. Lamott offers many tips for going about the slow and steady writing process, even comparing it to the slow brightening process of a polaroid developing: demanding patience and time. Lamott suggests ways that writing can come easier to you; perhaps by writing about your childhood (when memories/senses are most vivid) or by writing on small contained instances, "within a one inch frame," and working out from there. She also suggests using index cards throughout the day to record and collect day to day occurrences, quotes, and happenings for utilization in one's writing. 

Anne Lamott makes a case for writing as something that is distinctly human; reflective of the insecurities and frustrations that plague daily life. Through seasoned yet playful wisdom, she insists that writing serves as a reflection of one's life in that persisting through difficult situations must be done with humor and patience, and above all, persistence despite all obstacles.


Anne Lamott is an American novelist and non-fiction writer. She is also a progressive political activist, public speaker, and writing teacher. Lamott is based in Marin County, California. Her nonfiction works are largely autobiographical.