Bird by Bird and Word by Word

Savannah Boettcher, Rants Editor

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” ― Stephen King

In the novel Everything is Illuminated, Jonathan Safran Foer elaborates on the story of a small town in the Ukraine in the 19th century that believed every man, woman, and child had at least one novel inside them. After a traveling Gypsy salesman brought a wagonload of books to the town, the citizens read the books and realized that they were also capable of writing stories. Between 1850 and 1853, more than seven hundred novels were written, including 272 thinly veiled memoirs, 66 crime novels, and 97 stories of war. Even the citizens who didn’t know how to read and write made visual novels such as collages, etchings, pencil drawings, and watercolors. Even though only a handful of these novels ended up being read after their composition, the outstanding point survived that anyone could write a novel as long as they contained a story inside of them.

Most, if not all, avid readers have considered becoming a writer. The appeal of immortality through publication is too sweet to overlook. The respect for people like Emily Bronte, Ernest Hemingway, and Charles Dickens is quite different than the respect for people like Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, and Grace Kelly. Bronte, Hemingway, and Dickens symbolize a cultural significance that can rely on what one has to say, rather than relying on appearance or image. Similarly, some of the most culturally important people of today are writers such as J.K. Rowling and Stephen King have become household names because a vast amount of people care about the stories they have to share. A reader who finishes a novel and says “I could do this” has dreamed of their own opportunity to have their name on spine of a book in the hands of another reader. It’s true that everyone has the ability to tell a story, but writing can be harder than it seems.

For anyone struggling with putting their ideas into a novel and bleeding their words onto paper, I recommend Anne Lamott’s book Bird By Bird for “some instructions on writing and life.” Anne Lamott is a successful novelist, book review columnist, creative writing professor, and more. Through Bird By Bird, she shares her personal experiences with writing and her own method for effectively writing stories. The book deals with common misconceptions about getting books to a publishable level and struggles that writers have to deal with such as harsh beginnings and writer’s block. Lamott writes a book that teaches how to write, shares stories about life, and motivates its reader to action by highlighting the opportunity cost of inaction. Bird By Bird is a real (and literal) example of how one must first read to be able to write.

Anyone can write if they really want to – the process is at first as simple as weaving together emotion and thought to create a story that naturally progresses. I have dozens of friends who call themselves writers and poets, who have shared with me their own short stories and essays and prose. I consider myself a writer and a reader, and I have my own folder of short stories and drabbles saved on my computer. The hardest thing is to create a real story that lasts the test of time and inspires more readers to sit down and try to write. Hemingway describes writing as sitting at a typewriter and bleeding, but Anne Lamott explains that the easiest way to write a book is to take it bird by bird, word by word.