The book that changed my life is Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing And Life by Anne Lamott. I first read Bird by Bird in 1999. I was given a copy by Jenn Neiderhauser, a fabulous effervescent American woman I’d met earlier that year. I was already a published author, with eight books under my belt. Jenn was starting out on her journey as a writer. I wasn’t sure that a book about writing could teach me anything I didn’t already know. How wrong I was.
I was captivated by Anne Lamott’s voice from the start. Those books about writing I had read tended to fall into two categories. Their target audiences were either doctorate level literature students or people who believe that plots are delivered by fairies. Lamott writes as though she is writing to a good friend. She doesn’t show off. She doesn’t talk down to you. You can easily imagine her delivering her thoughts across a kitchen table (laden with cake).
There are so many gems in this book. How about: “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.”
Or: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
Or (this is an especially good one): “I don't think you have time to waste not writing because you are afraid you won't be good at it.”
But Lamott really won my heart when she spoke about professional jealousy. Of the seven deadly sins, I’m afraid envy is my poison. It’s a hundred times worse since Facebook and Twitter took off! Lamott’s darkly humorous take on how to keep going when it feels as though everyone else is doing so much better is still useful to me 32 books down the line.
Right now I’m reading Lamott’s Help, Thanks, Wow, which is a book about prayer. Lamott is a committed Christian. If I’m anything, I would say I’m a humanist. However, I am finding as much useful wisdom in HTW as I found in Bird By Bird. This quote in particular is a perfect reminder for a writer:
“Astonishing material and revelation appear in our lives all the time. Let it be. Unto us, so much is given. We just have to be open for business.”
A Proper Family Holiday by Chrissie Manby is out now.