Lamott (Operating Instructions, 1993, etc.) gently explodes the fantasy that writing will solve all of a fledgling author's problems--an ailing bank account, low self-esteem--and at the same time argues that writing "does turn out to be its own reward.''
Beginning with her first exposure to the writing life through her father, Lamott introduces some practical points: shaping credible dialogue; thinking of a first draft as a Polaroid photograph that slowly develops beneath one's fingers. Her cardinal truth is that there is no secret to writing well other than sitting down to do it every day; she also encourages by noting that even the best writers produce "shitty'' first drafts. Offering time-tested tips, such as carrying around index cards to jot down fortuitous phrases and observations and focusing on plot as an outgrowth of character, Lamott intersperses stories and prose from her own experience that delight with insight and descriptive acumen. The incident from which the title and folksy aesthetic have been taken is typical: When, years ago, her 10-year-old brother was panicking, unable to write a report on birds for which he'd been preparing for months, their father calmed him with the advice, "Just take it bird by bird.'' While she suggests finding a writing partner for feedback and describes her own traumatic escapades in taking a novel through several drafts, Lamott offers no advice about revision--the most important skill a working writer must master. Still, paragraph by paragraph, this humorous, insightful, no-nonsense approach will remind novices why they are writing: to tell the truth, to live from the heart, and to share their gift with others.
A writer's guide that is bound to teach and inspire by example.