Bird by Bird

I am a big believer in learning about something before I jump in with both feet — or at least while I am jumping in.

I did it when I used to work for a company that made navigation maps, which is why I can sound a whole lot more proficient than you’d imagine while discussing links, nodes and APIs.

navigation map

I did it when I learned to surf, which is why I own three books on surfing (my favorite being Surf Diva: A Girls’ Guide to Getting Good Waves) and watched countless hours of Point Break, Endless Summer, Blue Crush, and the like.


I did it when I decided I wanted to open an import business for my favorite purses from Argentina (which is why I quickly realized I should not open an import business for my favorite purses from Argentina).

So, it should come as no surprise that when I decided I seriously want to be an author (beyond just my junior high wish list of jobs), I started doing my homework.  I researched the industry and the craft.  I joined associations like SCBWI, I took classes (with Mediabistro), I continue to attend numerous workshops and conferences, and I am (go figure if you know me at all by now) reading books.

A book that just blew me away is Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott.  It is informative, funny, well-written, enjoyable and inspiring.

bird by bird

“Bird by Bird” refers to advice Lamott’s father gave to her brother, who was overwhelmed with a report on birds he needed to write for school…

“He was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said. ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’ ”

Lamott offers this kind of simple advice related in a compelling, emotional, accessible way throughout the book.  She does not get into the nuts and bolts of style the way Strunck & White do in The Elements of Style (another favorite of mine from college that I recently reread).

elements of style

Instead, she focuses on how to be a writer, and the actual process of writing.  Her direct honesty is offset by her effusive humor, so I found myself laughing aloud at her stories, even as I was wincing inside at her warnings.

Starting something new, like being an author, is exciting.  But it is also scary.  Having Lamott to look up to as a woman ahead of me on the trail, and not only surviving, but thriving, is reassuring.