Posts tagged ‘onwriting’

June 5th, 2011

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott; Review

by Madeleine Rex

Title: Bird by Bird

Author: Anne Lamott

Published: September 1st, 1995

Number of Pages: 239

Rating: 4/5


Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. [It] was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said. ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'”

With this basic instruction always in mind, Anne Lamott returns to offer us a new gift: a step-by-step guide on how to write and on how to manage the writer’s life. From “Getting Started,’ with “Short Assignments,” through “Shitty First Drafts,” “Character,” “Plot,” “Dialogue.” all the way from “False Starts” to “How Do You Know When You’re Done?” Lamott encourages, instructs, and inspires. She discusses “Writers Block,” “Writing Groups,” and “Publication.” Bracingly honest, she is also one of the funniest people alive.

If you have ever wondered what it takes to be a writer, what it means to be a writer, what the contents of your school lunches said about what your parents were really like, this books for you. From faith, love, and grace to pain, jealousy, and fear, Lamott insists that you keep your eves open, and then shows you how to survive. And always, from the life of the artist she turns to the art of life. [From Goodreads]


There are few experiences as depressing as that anxious barren state known as writer’s block, where you sit staring at your blank page like a cadaver, feeling your mind congeal, feeling your talen run down your leg and into your sock.

Now, you also want to ask yourself how they stand, what they carry in their pockets or purses, what happens in their faces and to their posture when they are thinking, or bored, or afraid. Whom would they have voted for last time? Why should we care about them anyway? What would be the first thing they stopped doing if they found out they had sixth months to live? Would they start smoking again? Would they keep flossing?

…clutter and mess 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.


Despite the fact that many, many were, it’s odd to find out that certain books were written before I was born. For instance, this book was written almost two months before I was born, and now here I am, reading it and understanding it. Isn’t wonderful how time has no hold over literature? And it’s quite fortunate, considering how much this book has and will continue to help me with my writing.

As I’ve said before, it’s always a comfort to read a book on writing by someone who can very clearly write well. If the author can manage to make their nonfiction interesting, I am willing to learn from them! They’re gifted.

Bird by Bird is definitely the… deepest of the three books on writing that I’ve read recently. Anne Lamott ties life experiences of her own and of others into the concepts she’s trying to teach. In many cases, I forgot that I was reading a book on writing at all, because the “on life” factor is so dominant. At the same time, I learned loads about writing, specifically theme, characters, and the lifestyle that a person must adopt to devote themselves to writing. Anne Lamott was born into a literary household (her father was a writer). She learned to love books from her loved ones, and eventually learned to write from them as well. I was inspired by the stories she told of writing books for her dying father and best friend. What could be more worthy of our time, energy, and creativity than the people we love most?

I think the key thing I got out of Bird by Bird was a strengthened appreciation for the writing craft (or art?). It affects everything a writer does in life. The way we speak, the way we read, the way we think of people, and the way we see the world. As I come to understand how to create characters, I understand people far better. The more I learn about intriguing description, the more I appreciate the things around me. Anne Lamott stresses how wonderful – though sometimes brutally difficult – writing is, and it’s evident that she thinks it’s the best sort of life.

And isn’t it?

Bird by Bird is a touching, funny, and informative book that will teach and motivate. You will want to jump right back into your work-in-progress. You’ll remember why you began writing in the first place – it nurtures you.

May 23rd, 2011

On Writing by Stephen King; Review

by Madeleine Rex

Title: On Writing: A Memoir of Craft

Author: Stephen King

Published: July 1st, 2001

Number of Pages: 288

Rating: 4/5


“Long live the King” hailed Entertainment Weekly upon the publication of Stephen King’s On Writing. Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have. King’s advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported near-fatal accident in 1999 — and how the inextricable link between writing and living spurred his recovery. Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, On Writing will empower and entertain everyone who reads it — fans, writers, and anyone who loves a great story well told. [From Goodreads


Some of this book – perhaps too much – has been about how I learned to do it. Much of it has been about how you can do it better. The rest of it – and perhaps the best of it 0 is a permission slip: you can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will. Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.

Drink and be filled up.


I love this book! (That’s my favorite way to begin a review!) Some of the only things in this world that I find more interesting than writing are people. I’m fascinated by them – their loves, hates, motives, what they say – it’s all mesmerizing. I love On Writing because it is a book about a writing and an individual.

I have never read a novel by Stephen King. The closest I’ve gotten is watching Stand By Me on edited television (and oh my gosh that scene with the leeches!). I must confess that I’ve always considered his books… silly pop fiction, but it’s evident after reading his memoir that the dude is brilliant. I can’t wait to read his books now (recommendations are welcome)!

On Writing begins with the man and proceeds to the writer. We start with Mr. King as a child and get to see how he develops into one of the most well-known men of the past century. There’s probably not a single person in America over the age of twelve who would not recognize the name Stephen King. So upon what did he build his fame? His love and appreciation for writing.

I love that he digs into the minute details of writing. The craft of it. He begins by listing the essentials in a writer’s “toolbox”. I was really hooked once he delved into the more delicate aspects, specifically theme, symbolism, and dialogue.

As every one of you knows, I’ve been struggling with the second draft of my book, The Lemonites. Whenever I sit down to work on it, I freeze up and suddenly can’t recall any of the millions of ideas I’ve had. One thing I’m very aware of is the lack of an overall arc. I need to tie the entire book together so that it has that flow and wholeness that a good book has. A key to this is determining the theme of the novel, and Mr. King did a fantastic job of explaining how he goes about this. I finally feel like I can wrap my head around the concept. Here’s a paragraph from the chapter focused on theme:

When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest. Not every book has to be loaded with symbolism, irony, or musical language (they call it prose for a reason, y’know), but it seems to me that every book – at least every one worth reading – is about something. You job during or just after the first draft is to decide what something or somethings yours is about. Your job in the second draft – one of them, anyway – is to make that something even more clear. This may necessitate some big changes and revisions. The benefits to you and your reader will be clearer focus and a more unified story. It hardly ever fails.

That’s what I’m looking for: a more unified story.

Theme is one of the dozens of things I’ve learned from On Writing. It’s such an enjoyable learning experience, too! There’s nothing better than learning and being entertained simultaneously. I know that I retain more information when the delivery of said information is riveting. Stephen King manages to pull you in with his almost brutally honest examination of life and writing, and the load you learn is simply a bonus (and a much-appreciated one at that).

I will never be as intrigued by a hobby, past-time, or job as I am by writing. I love it. It truly is the water of life to those of us who have discovered its value. Writing is fulfilling. It is a way of life – a mentality. Why not read a book that teaches about and glorifies it?