My Favorite Quotes from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird

I  laughed, cried, learned, and loved while reading Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. Lamott’s book left me thinking about myself as a writer, educator, parent, and person.

My favorite quotes when thinking about being…

A parent

“Perfectionism means that you try desperately not to leave so much mess to clean up. But clutter and mess show us that life is being lived. Clutter is a wonderfully fertile ground–you can still discover new treasures under all those piles, clean things up, edit things out, fix things, get a grip. Tidiness suggests that something is as good as it’s going to get (29).”

Actually, this chapter about perfectionism speaks to many areas in my life, but I’m also find as I grow older it’s easier for me to set aside a quest for perfection in everything. Writing and creating are messy and allowing myself, my children, my students to muck around in it is well worth forgoing the quest for tidiness.  When it comes to housework, well, anyone who knows me well knows I long ago I gave up on the idea of keeping our house perfectly clean and tidy (there are better things to do in life).

“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 on my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird'”

I just love the story from which Lamott derives the title of her book Bird by Bird. The depiction of a father comforting a child and the wisdom and reality of chunking a big assignment into smaller pieces–relevant to all of us.


A writer

“For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really, shitty first drafts (22).”

From a chapter titled Shitty First Drafts, a quote reminding us that nobody is supposed to read our first drafts anyway, so it’s really important to get all our thoughts recorded. I totally agree with Lamott and would never get anything written, ever, if I didn’t let myself “pour it all out and romp all over the place.”

“This is our goal as writers, I think; to help others have this sense of–please forgive me–wonder, of seeing things anew, things that can catch us off guard, that break in our small boarded worlds (100).”

Ah, wonder! I’m a big believer in the sense of wonder and if being a writer means I might helps someone else cultivate a sense of wonder, then I’m all about it. Especially, when I think about not only being a writer but being an educator.

“Still, I believe in lists and I believe in taking notes, and I believe in index cards for doing both (133).

Practical tip, of course, and Lamott shares the use of index card. Personally, I keep a small journal and if I’m out and about, I typically use the notes app on my phone.


An educator

“On a bad day you also don’t need a lot of advice. You just need a little empathy and affirmation (157).”

A good reminder in many aspects of life, but especially a good reminder for a teacher providing feedback on student writing.

“When we listened to our intuition when we were small and then told the grown-ups what we believed to be true, we were often corrected, ridiculed, or punished. God forbid you should have your own opinions or perspectives (154).”

Another good reminder as educators–we need to listen to students.

A person

Really, the whole book spoke to me as a person, so I selected several of my favorite quotes to share with you here.

“Anyone who wants to can be surprised by the beauty or pain of the natural world, of the human mind and heart, and can try to capture just that–the details, the nuance, what is (101).”


“But you have to believe in your position, or nothing will be driving your work. If you don’t believe in what you are saying, there is no point in your saying it (106).”

“Tell the truth and write about freedom and fight for it, however you can, and you will be richly rewarded (109).”

“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed our soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored (237).”

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