I have never given much thought to how a novel is written. If I were to guess at how it is done, I would think an author has a general outline for a story and then goes about adding in locations, characters, and plot to fill in that outline. That’s how I write a school paper, so why wouldn’t a story work in the same way?
The author of Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott, says this is a common misconception her writing students have and that she knows of no author that works in that manner. Instead, she describes writing as an excruciating process of truth-telling where the author can only see a little ways down the road. Character development is a combination of the author’s deep beliefs, the voice inside, and from everyday observation. In order to maintain consistency, the character must adjust as the story develops and this oftentimes surprises the author during the process.
Anne says the best way to write is piece by piece (or bird by bird in this book) at a set time each day. At times, Bird by Bird is a combination of “Daily Rituals” and “Getting Things Done.” At other times, the book is a deeply moving, hilarious, and insightful book about life.
It gave me a new appreciation for authors and the process of story-writing. It made me want to write stories. And it made me read in a new way. The book’s tagline is “Some Instructions on Writing and Life.” That’s perfect. If you want to learn how to write better, this is a great book for that. If you want to learn how to live better, this is an even better book for that.