Bird by Bird book review – Some Instructions on Writing and Life

May 14, 2013

Time for a book review.

Let’s talk about Bird by Bird, one of those famous books about writing that “everyone” needs to read.

Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird was recommended by Tim Ferriss over at fourhourblog, and, well, Tim Ferriss obviously knows a thing or two about writing, what with his 3 bestselling books and his massively popular blog.

I thought I’d give it a shot, because, while I’m not a “real writer,” I do spend a lot of time writing. And here’s my opinion:

Let me start by saying that the writing advice given in Bird by Bird is great. Sit down to write every day. Give yourself a small assignment, breaking large projects into bite-sized chunks. Allow yourself a shitty first draft, knowing that all great authors write them. Don’t give up.

So far, so good.

(Update, 2018: I’m a real writer now, and I still stand by that advice. Also, I stand by what follows…)

Why I don’t like Bird by Bird

Here’s why I don’t like Bird by Bird…

In order to reach the good writing advice, you have to get through so much of the author’s personal misery and neuroses that it’s almost not worth it.

We learn, among other things, that she was very shy and unpopular at school, that she always worried that her family wasn’t normal enough, that she secretly hates most of her friends and anybody more successful than her, and that she’s neurotic enough to make Woody Allen look like a pretty chill guy.

I kind of hope, for her sake, that she’s exaggerating: that the misery is just sort of a persona she gets into in order to write.

But I suspect not.

bird by bird book review
Here’s a bird. Millennium Bridge, London. (Photo by Mr Chorizo.)

Perhaps the reason I stopped writing literature is that there are way too many “You must suffer to create” types hanging around, focused on their own misery and self-hate.

The whole be-miserable-now-for-some-future-payoff ideology is the hallmark of hateful Calvinists and, in my opinion, it’s better to avoid those people.

In any case, why take life advice from somebody who’s miserable? Would you take financial advice from a homeless person? Relationship advice from a 32-year-old virgin? Health tips from somebody who always feels terrible? (Diabetic aunt Doris sure spends a lot of time at the doctor… she must be an expert on health!)

Maybe you would, I certainly wouldn’t! Give me Pressfield and The War of Art any day. Pressfield is a badass… He did the suffer-to-create thing for a couple of decades and came through with a message that’s inspirational and makes you feel better about life and the whole process.

Also, read Gates of Fire. The detail he goes into about the Spartans and their warrior culture is fantastic. Then read his blog at

Don’t read Bird by Bird unless you’re ready to hear about a lot of different ways to feel bad.

Oh yeah, and check out Big Publishing, Kiss Your Ass Goodbye! and the 5 best books for writers. I mention bird by bird there too – but in the meantime I’ve forgotten all about her good advice and remember only her neuroses.

Oh well.

I’m out.

Daniel AKA Mr Chorizo.

P.S. If you like Bird by Bird, you’ll love my book about writing and the pro blogger lifestyle. It’s here: The Zen of Blogging.

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About the Author Daniel

How did I end up in Spain? Why am I still here almost 20 years later? Excellent questions. With no good answer... Anyway, at some point I became a blogger, bestselling author and contributor to Lonely Planet. So there's that. Drop me a line, I'm happy to hear from you.

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