There are a lot of books out there about how to be a better writer. The best ones are books by writers, for writers.
Most dedicated writers have their favorites. My mom like’s Sol Stein’s On Writing, for example; I actually have your copy on my coffee table right now, Mama.
Lots of writers — myself included— admire Stephen King’s book, also called On Writing, for his warmth and simplicity. My most treasured advice on writing comes from an essay by Orwell (“Politics and the English Language”) and without Strunk & White Elements Of Style, I’m sunk.
And there’s one book I think even the dilettante writer has come across: Bird By Bird, by Anne Lamott. (I can hear some people cheering from here.)
The book, though written primarily for the fiction writer because fiction is Anne Lamott writes, gets its title from a story in the book. That story contains some of the best advice, writing or otherwise, I have ever come across.
Tonight, I texted Mariano that advice. He’s studying for a huge test on Wednesday that has absolutely nothing to do with writing. But the advice Lamott gives in Bird By Bird is perfect for any occasion.
She tells in the book of a night when she and her younger brother were in grade school and he had a huge project due that week on “The Birds Of North America.” The little guy was beyond stressed. He was frustrated and becoming increasingly panicked about the scope of the assignment. Anne’s dad, a professional writer, came in and patted his son on the shoulder.
“Just take it bird by bird, buddy,” he said. “Just go bird by bird.”
That’s all any of us have to do. Equation by equation. Paragraph by paragraph. One at a time. First this one, then the other.
Bird by bird, buddy.