Bird by Fucking Bird

Author: Matthew I. Wanner

I have several books about writing populating my shelves and desk space. Stephen King's On Writing, of course, and John Gardener's The Art of Writing, still impenetrable, and Strunk and White. These are all good, solid books that I found extremely helpful over the years. On Writing being a particular favorite. I bought these books when I came to terms with the idea that it was ok for a writer to read books about writing, and that it may even be beneficial. I also bough Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, and it more than any other confused me.

Some backtracking may be necessary.

I've been writing for most of my life, literally since before I can remember. I, however, never had any formal education in the matter. I never even made it past 9th grade English, which I took a total of three times.

Most of what I learned, I learned writing what was basically Star Wars fan fiction. I learned by writing and by having people around that were never shy about telling me where I was deficient. That group may not have always been the kindest place to learn, but I was stubborn and for some reason I liked the people there. I, eventually, got pretty good. I could tell a story people seemed to enjoy with characters that people got attached to. I understood these things. I understood stories.

To put it another way, I understood the artistic side of writing.

My main deficiencies were in the mechanics, the craftsmanship. Fitting all the parts together, along with grammar and punctuation, always elluded me. Part of this was the format I learned in. We called it a "play by post RPG", but it was really more of a chain story, with multiple participants, anywhere from two to twenty, sometimes more. Each person wrote between 250 and 2000 words, usually just a scene or two. Average post was probably about 500 or so words. Either way, it doesn't really matter, my deficiencies were where they where.

I, much later, took my first college level creative writing class, and I loved every minute of it. So I took a second. Then I started learning about all the background framework behind writing, I started devouring things like Brandon Sanderson's excellent lectures on YouTube, and books like On Writing, things that focused on these mechanic aspects of writing. The craftsman's side of writing.

Somewhere, in all that, I feel like I lost the artistry of it. I've had a hard time writing for a few years now, and I know part of it is my inability to get out of my own way, the fact that I think about writing more than I used to when I would just sit down and write.

Tonight, I was cleaning up some of my stuff. I'm currently facing a housing crisis, and was trying to figure out what I can toss if I have to. In the process I came across Bird by Bird and, in true Matt fashion, I picked it up and started reading it at my last bookmark and suddenly I understand this book and what it's for. Last time I picked it up, I didn't get the necessity of it, it seemed extraneous, but having lost sight of the artistic side of my chosen craft, I can see why this book is needed. It doesn't give practical advice like Sanderson or King, but it gives a much less tangible, and in some ways more important, kind of advice.

This has gone on somewhat longer than I intended it to. I guess welcome to Of Lesser Evils. Face it, you've read worse today.

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