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

First published in 1995, Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott is as relevant today as the day it was published. The book has become the definitive how-to guide for new and aspiring writers. The book has been a national best seller and continues to have excellent sales. As of today (5/30/2012), seventeen years after publication it still ranks #512 on Amazon.com’s overall best sellers rank. More amazingly it ranks:

#1 in Books > Education & Reference > Words, Language & Grammar > Speech
#1 in Books > Education & Reference > Writing, Research & Publishing Guides > Writing > Journalism & Nonfiction
#5 in Books > Education & Reference > Writing, Research & Publishing Guides > Writing > Writing Skills

An entertaining and helpful guidebook that covers every step of the writing process, the reading of Bird By Bird has become something of an initiation for hopeful writers. Anne drives home the point of the need for regular writing and facing the fact that getting published will almost certainly not make you more contented, wealthier or good-looking.

Her book’s genesis comes from the notes of the lectures Lamott delivers to her writing classes. The book begins the way all writing classes do – sit down and write. Write, write, and write and the revise and rewrite before you worry about agents, book titles, etc. She reminds us to sit at our computer, bring up our word processing program, stare at the screen and write. She gives practical advice of not looking at the size of the task, but viewing it as a series of small assignments.

Lamott investigates the depths of both the formal elements of writing such as plot, character development, dialogue, setting, point of view and the less concrete but infinitely more injurious obstacles facing a writer, that is acceptance the “shitty first draft” and killing the perfectionist inside you standing between you and your shitty first draft. She talks in practical terms about defeating writer’s block and what to do when you have crises of faith. She talks about finding a sturdy soul to read your “shitty” draft and not being devastated when the reader has more than a few suggestions. She also touches on the subject of learning to deal with professional jealousy, a bound to happen fate “because some wonderful, dazzling successes are going to happen for some of the most awful, angry, undeserving writers you know — people, who are, in other words, not you.”

Bird By Bird isn’t all that ground-breaking a book. I have read similar works providing insights on the writing life by authors Annie Dillard and Natalie Goldberg. Yet, ask anyone in the position to make a comparison and more likely than not they’ll say Bird By Bird surpasses all. “What, then, is it about Bird By Bird that strikes a chord with so many readers and writers?” to quote a question asked by reviewer Sarah Brennan.

Anne Lamott’s advice is all harvested from personal experience. Her guidance is so caring and keen and so good-naturedly explained it’s easily employable. I agree again with Sarah Brennan that “ultimately, it’s her uncanny and self-effacing humor, natural, unaffected tone and anecdote-as-life-lesson adeptness that make Bird By Bird such an effective teaching device. Hers is a refreshingly conversational, approachable, enjoyable didacticism that leaves you with the feeling that 1) if you were to meet Lamott, you’re pretty sure you would be instantaneous best friends 2) however far you descend into the pits of frustration, self-loathing and despair, the writing life is worth it.”

Anne Lamott gives us all hope as she shares, “Even if you only show the people in your writing group your memoirs or stories or novels, even if you only wrote your story so that one day your children would know what life was like when you were a child and you knew the name of every dog in town — still, to have written your version is an honorable thing.” It would be fun to sit down for a day and talk and laugh with Anne Lamott.

Devotional: Heed Instruction

Text: Proverbs 10:17

“Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray.” –Crossway Bibles (2011-02-09). The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (p. 534). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

As Christian writers, our witness is as important as the stories or poems we write. If our private lives don’t match our public lives, our writing suffers. More importantly, we have people tune out the message of Jesus Christ because of our witness. They label us as just another religious hypocrite.

One of the most significant and miraculous things in life is to heed God’s voice. It is when we fully trust and follow in His ways.

I know what you are thinking, how can you know the ways and instruction of God? First, you ask God through prayer. Second, you spend time in His word, the Bible, by reading, meditating on and memorizing Scripture. Third, you listen to God’s herald … this would be listening to sermons as you attend church.

You might be thinking, but you don’t know me. I have really failed. I have broken so many of God’s teachings … how can He ever use me. God is a forgiving God. 1 John 1:9 tells us, “If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Isaiah 55:8-9 KJV teaches, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith Jehovah. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

God has a plan for your life. Never forget that God knows your heart. He even knows your most secret thoughts and feelings. God knows the number of hairs on your head. God knows everything!

Maybe you think you have everything under control. If you think that, you are wrong. Only God has everything under control.

Maybe you are feeling confused and just need direction in your life. Maybe the struggles of daily living and just meeting life’s expenses have you down. You feel spiritually broken.

One thing we can do in times of brokenness and confusion is look and pray for our needs … and don’t forget to thank and praise God when He meets your needs!

An example of God’s provision from my life was recently finding a large package with twenty rolls of toilet paper in the middle of the highway. I stopped, picked it up, and took it home. My wife shared she hadn’t purchased any that week when she bought groceries, but had been looking for some on sale as our finances were tight. God met this everyday need in our life. Another example could be a friend who calls and speaks words of reassurance or encouragement when you feel depressed or hopeless.

As Christian writers, we are God’s provision for others. We are the used to meet needs in other’s lives. We need to heed God’s instructions where others will listen to what God is saying through our writings. When we fail to walk with God, our witness doesn’t point others to Christ, but can actually lead them astray.

Below is a video by Wendy Francisco that reminds us of God’s love.

Devotional: Keep My Words

Text: Proverbs 7: 1-3

My son, keep my words and treasure up my commandments with you; keep my commandments and live; keep my teaching as the apple of your eye; bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart. – Proverbs 7: 1-3 Crossway Bibles (2011-02-09). The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (p. 531). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

As Christian writers, our witness must honor Christ. The world will not read or listen to hypocrisy. Proverbs 7: 1 (ESV) says, “My son, keep my words and treasure up my commandments with you; keep my commandments and live…” If a person follows the Lord, he/she must purposely embrace godly wisdom. Only the Bible has this wisdom. The Bible is God’s divinely inspired Word. It is the final authority in all matters. This includes human thought, speech and conduct. It is hypocritical for a person to say that they are a Christian, a Believer in Jesus Christ, if they deliberately, consistently violate His commandments. Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.”

Proverbs 7:3b teaches one way to keep God’s teachings. It says, “… write them on the tablet of your heart.” When we internalize Scripture through memorization of the Word of God, His Word is in our heart to guide us. God’s desire isn’t to keep us from having fun, but rather to protect.

As Christian writers, we need to know and follow God’s Word. How we live is just as important as what we write.

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Devotionals for Writers: Keep My Words by Jimmie A. Kepler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

The Valiant Papers

The Valiant Papers by Calvin Miller is the story of a life told from the perspective of the person’s guardian angel. The story is written as though it were true.

The book chronicles the life of a businessman who lives a normal, worldly lifestyle, until just before the end when he becomes a Christian. It tells of the changes he attempts to make in his life, both the successes and the failures.

We see the angel get embarrassed at some of the man’s behaviors. It is a fun read looking at things from a point of view that helps if you have a Christian world view. It is written in the style of C.S. Lewis’s “Screwtape Letters”.

Read and reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler.

Review: Write His Answer

I found this wonderful little book while attending a seminar at the Greenlake Conference Center in Greenlake, Wisconsin. The book has 33 short chapters. You can read on a day as part of a daily devotional plan or quiet time. The chapter titles and appendix include Called to Write, Overcoming Procrastination, Seek His Kingdom First, Conquering the Deadly D’s, Driven or Led?, Proclaiming Truth to a Dying World, Laying a Bible Foundation for Your Writing Ministry, Helps for Forming Critique Groups, and From Idea to Published Manuscript.

I have gone through this book about once every year or two since it’s purchased. It reminds me of a few things I need to keep in mind and stay on task. If you are a Christian thinking about writing as a hobby, ministry, or vocation this book will point out some good foundations for you.

You will find wonderful encouragement and ideas from a Biblical point of view.

She also has a website at http://www.writehisanswer.com/.

Review: How to Pray

In How to Pray by R.A. Torrey his practical pointers on prayer clearly unfold the conditions God has established for intelligent, effective prayer that brings His answers, emphasizing the purpose and importance of prayer. He gives principals on:

  • The Importance of Prayer,
  • Praying unto God,
  • Obeying and Praying,
  • Praying in the Name of Christ and According to the Will of God,
  • Praying in the Spirit,
  • Always Praying and Not Fainting,
  • Abiding in Christ,
  • Praying with Thanksgiving,
  • Hindrances to Prayer,
  • When To Pray,
  • The need of Prayer Before and During Revivals, and
  • The Place of Prayer Before and During Revivals.

I own and read the Moody Press “Moody Classic” edition of the book. Read and reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler.

Devotional: Walk In A Manner Worthy Of Your Call To Write

Devotionals for Writer’s: Walk In A Manner Worthy Of Your Call To Write

Text: Ephesians 4: 1 – 6

Focus: Ephesians: 4: 2 – 4

Maybe you are a Christian writer whose drive is sharing Christian themes for the mainstream market. Your goal may focus on writing to develop Christian Believers. Whatever your motivation, “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,” Ephesians 4:1b.

Ephesians 4:1-6 (English Standard Version) says,

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

These verses give five guidelines that will help you: Walk In A Manner Worthy Of Your Call To Write

Guideline One: Humility – “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility” – Ephesians 4: 1b—2a

As a Christian writer you should be full of Jesus, not self. The temptation is to be full of ourselves. When this happens, we are at risk of treating others with contempt.

Guideline Two: Gentleness – “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience,” Ephesians 4: 1b- 2a

As a Christian writer you should be bold, but under control. This does not mean to be a wimp. Just as a powerful racehorse is under the control of the jockey, as a Believer we need to be under the control of the Spirit of the Living God. Share the love Jesus and his teachings without beating the reader over the head with the Holy Bible.

Guideline Three: Patience – “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience,” Ephesians 4: 1b- 2a

As a Christian writer we need to trust God believing His word would come true. We need to keep on keeping on. We need to accept the fact that it takes time to develop our writing craft.  “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but wish patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” — 2 Peter 3:9

Guideline Four: Forgiving Love – “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,” – Ephesians 4: 1b – 2.

As a Christian writer, we need to realize Christian love covers a multitude of sins. We should write with a love that loves no matter what. We have all heard it said “hate the sin, love the sinner.” That is exactly what we must do as writers. After all, as a Christian you are, by grace saved through faith … it is the gift of God.  Ephesians 2:8-10

Guideline Five: Unity If The Spirit In The Bond Of Peace – “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” – Ephesians 4:3 English Standard Version

Guideline five is the sum of points one through four. All four points equal a bond of peace. We are bearing one another in love. Our writing should share and bring people to Christ, not drive them from Christ. “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” – Ephesians 4:4-6 (English Standard Version).

We need to realize it is not a geographical or a denominational thing; it is a Jesus and a God thing.

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Devotionals for Writer’s: Walk In A Manner Worthy Of Your Call To Write by Jimmie A. Kepler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.