5 Instructions For Better Writing and Living

“If you’re lost in the forest, let the horse find the way home.”
Anne Lamott

Have you read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott? My friend Molly recommended it for my reading list of the best books I’ve ever read.

Bird by Bird is sub-titled, “Some Instructions On Writing and Life”,  and it’s a classic you must read if you haven’t already. It’s so good that I’m going to put in on my Christmas wish list because it’s one of those books you want to read more than once and underline your favorite passages.

I rarely buy books because I’m blessed with a brilliant local library so this is a true accolade.

Will Bird by Bird Appeal Only to Writers?

Bird By Bird will do more than just help you improve your writing skills. Anyone who loves to read would enjoy this book for the brilliant writing and intimate stories it tells. It will also appeal to readers who like life development or self help books and memoirs.

The instructions Lamott gives us are definitely as much on life as on writing. She has much to share on dealing with:

  • Lack of confidence;
  • Jealousy;
  • Depression;
  • Addiction;
  • The death of a loved one;
  • Being a parent;
  • Self-identity;
  • Self-acceptance;
  • Self-love;

Lamott dares to share so much personal information about herself in a way that makes me yearn and dares me to do the same.

I came away from reading it feeling that I know a lot about her but there’s still much to learn, and likewise that I understand a lot about myself and life in general, but there remains much to learn there too.

5 Instructions on Writing and Life From Bird by Bird

1. Trust your instincts

This sounds new age and hippyish but it’s true. I think many of the problems facing us in the modern age are caused by people being so out of touch with their instincts. Life’s too full of goals to be reached, new cars, clothes and houses to be brought and deadlines to be met.

Sometimes you just have to chill out, go with the flow and see what happens. Some things can’t be rushed. Some problems get bigger (or seem to) the more you spend worrying at them and trying to solve them.

As the quote by Lamott at the top says:

“If you’re lost in the forest, let the horse find the way home.”

Do you ever feel stressed, lost or indecisive? Don’t worry, sometimes you just need to let the river carry you along. You’ll end up down at the sea in time anyway so there’s no point in fighting against the current.

2. Self-acceptance is the key to happiness

Lamott quotes Ethan Canin:

“Nothing is as important as a likable narrator. Nothing holds a story together better.”

You’re creating and narrating your own life story and you need to like or even love yourself. What makes people likable is not their clear skin, designer clothes, state of the art cell phone. Surprisingly, what makes people likable is their faults. Lamott says:

“perfect means shallow and unreal and fatally uninteresting.”

We connect with other people who have the same flaws as us. We are more aware of our own flaws than anyone else but we need to accept them and embrace them because those faults are what make us interesting. They might be hard to live with at times, but they’re a huge and valuable part of us.

3. Give it all

Don’t be afraid to give everything you’ve got and avoid saving something for later. Don’t worry that if you give all of yourself too soon you’ll run out of ideas, love or hope. You won’t.

The more you give the more you’ll get back. That’s the way of the world. The more you hold back the lonelier and more unfulfilled you’ll become. So give freely of yourself and to others.

4. Live in the now

Lamott quotes from the movie Cool Runnings:

“If you’re not enough before the gold medal, you won’t be enough without it.”

How many people do you know who think they’d be happy if they only had the right career, holiday or wife? The trouble is happiness doesn’t hinge on what you’ve got.

I’ve come to realise that people are either happy or they’re not. Even momentous events like winning an Olympic medal, winning the lottery or your first novel becoming a run away best seller won’t change your happiness level in the long run.

So we need to decide to be happy today, even if we’re unco-ordinated, badly paid and physically imperfect. Nothing can make you happy apart from yourself.

5. Be truthful

Admit who you are. Lamott says writers are needed to say:

“This is who we are.” It’s true for everyone. We spend our lives hiding behind our designer sunglasses trying hard to be cool, funny and popular when we’re not.

“If you are writing the clearest, truest words you can find and doing the best you can to understand and communicate this will shine on paper like its own little lighthouse. Lighthouses don’t go running all over the island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.”

Let your light shine too. Some people won’t like it. They might even try to get you to change the light bulb or turn your light out all together. But if you can find your own true light and connect with other people who enjoy basking in it then the world will be a better place.

More About Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott  is the author of several books including Bird by Bird which you can buy online at Amazon.

Learn More About Blog Writing

Learn more about blog writing and blog formatting at Successful Blogging.

Thanks for reading

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Thanks to Brendan Lally for the photo.

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  1. Ashley November 24, 2009 at 5:25 am - Reply

    Sounds great! I’m lucky to have a grea library too, so it’s now on my hold list!

  2. Hilary November 24, 2009 at 6:58 am - Reply

    Hi Amanda .. sounds interesting reading .. point one – we’re so governed by rules and regulations – no-one can think any more .. well a load of people ..

    and I love the line – the lighthouse just shines .. for everyone in every boat ..

    2-5 you are so right .. thanks I think this is going on my wish list too

  3. Annabel Candy November 24, 2009 at 10:34 am - Reply

    Glad you liked it and we all have Molly to thank for telling me about it. Word of mouth book recommendations are always the best. That’s why I put up my reading list with more fab suggestions here: https://www.getinthehotspot.com/2009/06/04/reading-list-for-writers-travelers-and-parents/

  4. Bradley November 24, 2009 at 11:07 am - Reply

    sounds like a good resource. not sure how great my local library is, but i have committed to checking out books instead of buying when they are available. goes with my whole de-cluttering commitment.

    at the moment, i am in the middle of the alchemist by paulo coelho. while it wont help me write better necessarily, it has given me something to think about as far as following my dream.

  5. Sheila of Halo Hill November 24, 2009 at 1:25 pm - Reply

    This is a great post, and you have many wonderful words of your own too! I’ve subscribed recently and enjoy the updates I get from you immensely! I’ll pass on the good word!


  6. Annabel Candy November 24, 2009 at 1:34 pm - Reply

    Bradley – The Alchemist is brilliant too and if you’re enjoying that you might like Siddharta by Herman Hesse too. It’s another fable.

    Sheila – Thanks. So happy I have made you happy:) Really!

  7. swarnaw November 25, 2009 at 9:39 pm - Reply

    This is a great post, i like your post.

  8. Learn Creative Visualization November 25, 2009 at 10:05 pm - Reply

    There is a great disconnection between instincts and that distances us from ourselves. It is easy to identify that by the tone of voice, even on writing. Great Post.

  9. Annabel Candy November 25, 2009 at 10:13 pm - Reply

    I think being honest and direct does come through in writing. People relate to and believe in those they trust and that can come across in person or through someone’s writing. Delighted that this post spoke to you and honored to share the wisdom of Anne Lamott.

  10. Florin - Infinite Journey November 26, 2009 at 7:04 am - Reply

    all 5 of them are top lessons in life. Thanks for sharing with your readers :)

  11. Randall November 28, 2009 at 3:01 pm - Reply

    Do you really live your life like this? I wish I could live everyday so down to earth. I really like the “Live in the now” section. If we really boil life down to it’s simplest terms, there are not really that many things that are important in life!
    Eating, and sleeping, loveing and relationships. Time alone to meditate, time to learn and grow.

    If we take care of the present moment, the future will take care of itself!

  12. Annabel Candy November 28, 2009 at 3:33 pm - Reply

    Randall – No, I don’t live my life like this but I try to. I study the best ways to keep happy and stay on track with goals. I practice them in my daily life and I write about them to remind myself of them. Sharing them with my readers reinforces the lessons I’ve learned so far and helps me stay true to them.

    No one is perfect, least of all me. But if we’re doing the best we can then you can’t get better than that. I fail regularly. Sometimes I think about giving up with my goals. Or shout at my kids. Or stay in bed when I should be exercising.

    But I try not to focus on these and think about what I’m doing right. Having high expectations for myself made me unhappy for years. Now I’m more relaxed and more content. Not a saint, not a sinner, just me. That’s all I can be.

    I love reading and writing uplifting stuff. Thanks for coming to the blog and sharing your thoughts with me. I hope this blog will keep us all on track.

  13. Randall November 29, 2009 at 5:26 am - Reply

    Great response ! I have always had the thought that setting unrealistic goals are more of a hinderance than a help. When I read that line it confirmed what I had already been thinking.

    Yes, I believe we are all in the same boat when it comes to achieving goals. They are necessary but they are more about becoming who you are and not who everyone else thinks you should be. Sometimes we look at society and set goals based on “the norm”. That is a mistake because it does not come from inside us!

  14. Lance November 30, 2009 at 7:29 am - Reply

    This book sounds wonderful. I think for me, just the idea of trusting your instincts could be so good for me. Thanks much for sharing this!

  15. teresa December 5, 2009 at 1:30 am - Reply

    I’m sure I left a message before when I read this…
    I did actually get lost in the forest the other day. In fact I was locked in!!! I mean who has ever heard of someone getting locked in the forest? After watching the sun go down and the moon appear (oh thank you FULL moon) I panicked a bit, which really didn’t help matters…then a lovely thing happened….I surrendered! A thought popped in my head ‘I am safe and the rest is an illusion’…. then my dad came down and helped me escape by directing me out between a concrete post and a very large fence (in my car) My hero! I think it was a great example of all of the lessons mentioned above..no matter what life throws your way you have to trust your instints and live in the now….if I hadn’t have surrendered you would probably be hearing of a hairy beast running through Wendover woods now :)

  16. teresa December 5, 2009 at 1:31 am - Reply

    And it helps to have a hero for a father!

  17. Bethany January 8, 2010 at 1:36 am - Reply

    This sounds like a must have for every library. These are indeed the things we must strive for daily to live a fulfilling life. Thanks for sharing this!

  18. Monique January 20, 2010 at 3:53 pm - Reply

    This book is so up my alley, you have no idea! Thanks for the review – have been dragging my feet about reading it, not sure why…

  19. Bob Scot February 15, 2010 at 10:30 pm - Reply

    You boost my confidence a lot. I am not sure but because of some conventional lifestyle I have acquainted with, our thinking has been changed a lot. I am really surprised that you tell the true naked story of mine. Are you an astrologer? The way you have projected the whole is awesome. Thanks a lot.

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  24. Heather July 6, 2010 at 1:39 pm - Reply

    Thanks for recommending it Annabe- I wrote about it here – http://heatherconroy.wordpress.com/2010/06/21/bird-by-bird
    I have to say it was one of the best books I have ever read.

  25. Barbara Hammond July 18, 2010 at 4:00 am - Reply

    I will definitely get and recommend this book. I am a firm believer in the fact that searching for happiness is futile… you need to be still and find it inside, because it is definitely not outside. One of my favorite quotes is: ‘You can’t change the past, but you can ruin the present by worrying about the future.’ anonymous.
    It’s all about being present.
    Thanks Annabel!

  26. cynthia July 18, 2010 at 12:14 pm - Reply

    Will certainly put it on my library request list. Am reading Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides which is also amazing but in a different way.

  27. Radita July 27, 2011 at 12:22 am - Reply

    Hi! New to your blog and here to get inspiration for my own blog writing. This post wasn’t what I expected from a ‘how to write better’ post – in a good way :)

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