Blink Book Review #5: “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott

Reba Campbell

Posted July 6, 2022

By Reba Campbell

I recently reread Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird” for the umpteenth time in anticipation of a class I’ll be teaching. And while “Bird by Bird” might be the ultimate guide to writing, it’s also chock full of life lessons.

Anne is a prolific writer on uneasy life topics like coping, death, disappointment, illness and addiction. But that’s not to say her work is a downer in any way. Her writing is hilarious, brazenly honest, quirky, genuine and just plain fun to read.

The book’s title itself if a life lesson I invoke frequently. “Bird by Bird” reflects a story of her brother who, as a child, was overwhelmed by the enormity of an assignment to write a report about birds. Anne’s father, a prolific writer himself, just advised her brother to take it “bird by bird.” What simple, yet powerful, advice to guide us through most of life’s trying times.

Anne shares many practical lessons about writing including how she organizes thoughts using good old fashioned index cards and forces herself past writer’s block by accepting the first draft will meet no one’s eyes but her own.

Her chapter on perfectionism is particularly helpful. She writes, “Perfectionism means that you try desperately not to leave so much mess to clean up. But clutter and messes show us that life is being lived. Clutter is wonderfully fertile ground – you can still discover new treasures under all those piles, clean things up, edit things out, fix things, get a grip.”

This book is a must-have for any aspiring writer reminding all of us that writing can’t be constrained by a single practice, a series of rules or edicts from others. Writing is about voice and heart and truth and expression.

“We write to expose the unexposed,” she writes in the chapter about finding your voice. “If there is one door in the castle you have been told not to go through, you must. Otherwise, you’ll just be rearranging furniture in rooms you’ve already been in.”

If you’re into reading about writing, I’ve got lots of other suggestions. Read on here for some favorite books about writing and writers.

Reba Hull Campbell is president of the Medway Group, a big word nerd and avid summertime reader. This review is part of her summer reading discipline to get off the screen and back to books in a dozen or so “Blink Book Reviews.” She’s challenging herself to keep them to 300-ish words so readers can skim them in a couple of blinks. Reach Reba at

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