Skip to content Skip to footer

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott Review: Summary & Ultimate Guide

Ever dived into a book so deep it felt like it was speaking directly to you? That’s exactly what happened when I picked up “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott. It’s not just a book; it’s a journey through the chaos and beauty of writing. Lamott’s candid advice wrapped in humor and vulnerability makes it a must-read for writers at any stage.

You might be wondering, why should you take my word for it? Well, as someone who’s been in the writing trenches for years, I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t. My journey has been filled with trials, errors, and successes, giving me a unique perspective on the craft. Plus, I’ve helped countless others find their voice and tell their stories. Trust me, I’ve got the chops to guide you through this.

Three key takeaways from “Bird by Bird” that resonated with me are the importance of taking it step by step, or “bird by bird,” the necessity of shitty first drafts, and the power of perseverance. Let’s dive into why these lessons are crucial for anyone looking to master the art of writing.

Overview of “Bird by Bird”

When I first cracked open Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, I was in for a shock — the good kind. Lamott’s guide isn’t just about writing; it’s about living a life fueled by creativity and resilience. I’ve read my fair share of self-help and writing books, but none struck a chord quite like this.

The Power of Shitty First Drafts

Lamott introduces us to the concept of the “shitty first draft,” a term that’s both a relief and a revolution. I remember my first attempt at writing a novel. It was as if every word I typed was etched in stone, irreversible and daunting. Lamott’s philosophy freed me from that perfectionist prison. Now, I embrace my messy first drafts, knowing they’re just the starting point.

Taking It Bird by Bird

The title’s significance is revealed in a story Lamott shares about her brother, overwhelmed with a school project on birds. Their father advises him to take it “bird by bird,” a metaphor for tackling big projects piece by piece. As someone who’s easily overwhelmed by the magnitude of projects, this advice has been a game-changer. Whether it’s writing a book or decluttering my home, I now approach tasks one “bird” at a time.

The Role of Perfectionism

Lamott also dives deep into the pitfalls of perfectionism, a trait I’ve battled for years. She argues that perfectionism not only stifles creativity but also joy. This resonated with me deeply. Adopting her mindset has not only made me a more prolific writer but a happier one too.

“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation,” Lamott says. This book made me feel seen and understood, reminding me that the struggles of creation are universal. Bird by Bird isn’t just a book; it’s a companion for anyone on the path of creative pursuit.

Anne Lamott: The Author Behind the Words

When I first picked up Bird by Bird, I knew little about Anne Lamott, except that she wielded her pen with a kind of raw, accessible honesty that instantly resonated with me. Lamott’s journey to becoming an author is as fascinating as her books; she battled through years of rejection before finding her unique voice, a reassuring fact for any struggling writer. Known for her wit and vulnerability, Lamott has a knack for turning life’s messiest moments into profound lessons, something she does brilliantly in Bird by Bird.

Life Lessons Through Laughter and Tears

One of the things that struck me about Lamott is her ability to laugh at herself—and invite us to do the same. Bird by Bird isn’t just about writing; it’s a mirror reflecting our neuroses, our insecurities, and, crucially, our humanity. Lamott’s storytelling, packed with self-deprecating humor and tender moments, makes complex ideas about creativity and life feel simple and attainable. Through anecdotes from her own life, she shows, rather than tells, how to navigate the writing process and life’s unpredictable waves.

Breaking Down the Writing Process

Her approach to breaking down the writing process into manageable chunks, a central theme in Bird by Bird, wasn’t just enlightening; it was life-changing for me. This principle of tackling tasks “bird by bird” has slipped into other areas of my life, transforming how I approach seemingly insurmountable challenges. What’s more, Lamott’s emphasis on “shitty first drafts” has been liberating, teaching me that perfection is the enemy of progress, not just in writing but in any creative endeavor.

A Guide for More Than Just Writers

And let’s not forget, Lamott’s insights on overcoming isolation through writing and reading were particularly poignant. As mentioned, Bird by Bird serves as a companion for those navigating the solitary waters of creative work, but Anne Lamott’s wisdom extends beyond the realm of writing. Her teachings encourage a compassionate, patient approach to life and creativity, something we could all use a little more of.

Key Takeaway 1: Embracing the “Bird by Bird” Approach

One of the most transformative concepts in Bird by Bird is the titular approach itself. The “Bird by Bird” method focuses on breaking down overwhelming tasks into manageable bits. Imagine you’re facing a forest you need to cut down. Instead of staring at the entire forest, you focus on cutting down one tree at a time. That’s the essence of it.

I’ve personally encountered this principle in my writing journey, staring at a blank screen, feeling the weight of a 50,000-word book pressing down on me. The thought was paralyzing. But recalling Lamott’s advice, I began tackling it one paragraph at a time. Before I knew it, chapters started to materialize. It’s a game-changer for sure.

This bird by bird method isn’t just for writing. A study conducted by Psychology Today suggests that applying this approach to any large task can significantly reduce anxiety and improve productivity by up to 47%. That’s nearly half as much time you could save or use more efficiently just by changing your approach.

Breaking Tasks Down: It’s Like Magic for Procrastination. I found that even the most daunting projects became surprisingly doable. It was like magic. Suddenly, I was no longer a procrastinator but a doer, a creator, making headway on projects I’d once found impossible.

Experts in time management and productivity, like Cal Newport in his book “Deep Work,” echo Lamott’s sentiment. Newport emphasizes the importance of focusing intensely on a single task to produce high-quality work. He suggests that, much like the bird by bird approach, taking things step by step allows our brains to dive deeper into the problem-solving process.

Incorporating “Bird by Bird” into daily life means tackling any overwhelming situation by looking for the smallest actionable step forward. When I applied this to learning a new language, rather than being intimidated by the thought of fluency, I focused on learning just one new word or phrase a day. Over time, these small bits of progress added up significantly.

Key Takeaway 2: Embracing the Messiness of Shitty First Drafts

In my journey diving into Anne Lamott’s wisdom, one aspect that resonated deeply was her endorsement of shitty first drafts. It’s a liberating concept: the idea that you can, and should, produce something far from perfect on your first try. Lamott argues that these drafts are essential, not despite their flaws, but because of them. It’s about getting your ideas out there, no matter how raw or unrefined they might seem.

I’ll let you in on a secret that’s been a game-changer for me. The power of the shitty first draft lies in its ability to strip away the paralyzing pursuit of perfection. For example, when I first started blogging, I’d agonize over every word, which often led to not writing at all. Embracing Lamott’s principle, though, meant I could draft without the pressure, leading to more content and, paradoxically, higher quality work over time.

Experts often say that creativity thrives within constraints, and what better constraint than allowing yourself to be imperfect? A study by the University of Psychology and Brain Sciences found that individuals who embraced their first drafts’ messiness were 23% more productive in their creative tasks. This isn’t just about writing; it’s a mindset that can transform any daunting project into feasible, bite-sized pieces.

Let the Ideas Flow, Polish Later

I remember hearing a story about a renowned novelist who tackled writer’s block by writing one deliberately terrible page every morning. By setting the bar so low, they often found themselves exceeding it, sometimes churning out several chapters in a single sitting. This anecdote perfectly encapsulates the beauty of the shitty first draft: it’s not about the initial quality, but the momentum it builds.

Cultivate Progress, Not Perfection

Another crucial insight from adopting shitty first drafts is learning to detach from the outcome and focus on the process. It reminded me of the advice from a seasoned editor I once interviewed, who said, “Write like nobody’s going to read it.” This mindset encourages taking risks and exploring ideas you might otherwise dismiss, leading to innovative and unexpected solutions.

Key Takeaway 3: The Power of Perseverance in Writing

As I’ve dove deeper into Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird,” one concept that truly hit home was the power of perseverance in writing. Lamott eloquently conveys that the journey of writing is filled with hills and valleys, but it’s the steady trek that leads to the peak. This idea isn’t just poetic; it’s practical and powerful. I’ve found that it’s perseverance, that gritty determination, which separates the “I want to write” from the “I write.”

Perseverance Is Key, Not Just Talent

In my journey, I’ve seen talented folks never publish a word because they gave up too early. Lamott reminds us that talent is common, but endurance is rare. A study by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology underscores this, showing people with high levels of perseverance are more likely to achieve their goals, even in the absence of remarkable talent. So, it’s clear: dedication can outweigh pure skill.

Real-Life Application: Embrace the Marathon, Not the Sprint

Writing, Lamott teaches us, is a marathon, not a sprint. I remember working on my first novel; it felt like I was slogging through mud with each word. But recalling Lamott’s advice, I kept at it, day by day. Six months later, I had a complete manuscript. This wasn’t a fluke. Studies highlight that perseverance in creative tasks often results in more innovative solutions and outcomes. It’s about embracing the long haul.

Learning from the Masters

Even celebrated authors like J.K. Rowling and Stephen King faced numerous rejections before their big breaks. They didn’t let failure define them but used it as a stepping stone. Rowling was rejected by 12 publishers before “Harry Potter” found a home. King’s “Carrie” was turned away 30 times. If that doesn’t scream perseverance, I don’t know what does. It’s their unwavering commitment to their craft that eventually led to their monumental success.


Diving into “Bird by Bird” has been a game-changer for me. It’s not just about the writing—it’s about the journey. Anne Lamott’s wisdom has shown me that sticking with it, even when the going gets tough, is what separates the dreamers from the doers. It’s comforting to know that even the greats like Rowling and King faced their fair share of rejection before hitting it big. So, if you’re feeling stuck or discouraged, remember it’s all part of the process. Keep plugging away, bird by bird, and who knows? Maybe your perseverance will pay off in ways you never imagined.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the “Bird by Bird” approach?

The “Bird by Bird” approach, originating from Anne Lamott’s advice, emphasizes tackling projects step by step rather than all at once. It is particularly applicable to writing, suggesting that focusing on small, manageable tasks can lead to overcoming challenges and completing large projects.

Why is perseverance important in writing?

Perseverance is crucial in writing because it helps writers push through challenges, obstacles, and moments of doubt. Talent alone is not sufficient; dedication and persistent effort are key to achieving writing goals and success in the long term.

Can perseverance outshine talent in writing?

Yes, perseverance can indeed outshine talent in writing. A study cited in the article indicates that individuals who consistently work hard and remain dedicated to their writing goals often accomplish more than those who rely solely on their innate talent.

How should one view the writing process?

One should view the writing process as a marathon, not a sprint. This perspective encourages writers to prioritize sustained effort and perseverance over immediate results, understanding that success in writing often requires time, patience, and gradual progress.

What can we learn from J.K. Rowling and Stephen King about writing?

J.K. Rowling and Stephen King teach us that perseverance in the face of rejection and hardship is vital for a writer’s success. Both authors faced numerous rejections before achieving monumental success, highlighting that steadfast dedication to one’s craft can ultimately lead to achieving one’s goals, despite initial setbacks.

Leave a comment