Birds, Zen, and Me

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It’s impossible to read what a writer has to say about writing and not want to read everything they’ve ever written. Or at least, I find it that way.

I was newly 19 when I worked at The Religious Herald, the newspaper of the Virginia Baptist Mission Board. I was astonished at the work I got to do there, writing front-page articles about multicultural Passover seders, 90-year-old revival ministers, and disaster relief work across the globe.

But what astonishes me more now, as I look back on it, was that the editor gave me a book to read on writing … and it had bad words. Remember, this is a Southern Baptist organization. We don’t say bad words, we don’t drink, and we don’t dance in the fellowship hall.

The book was Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott; which, despite its bad words (I still don’t say them, I promise), is the most inspiring book on writing I’ve ever read. Lamott is so down-to-earth, so truthful about publishing, and so wonderfully creative on her writing assignments. It helped that my beloved senior-year creative nonfiction professor also loved Lamott and encouraged us to read Bird by Bird. Which I did. Again.

And I’ve read it a time or two or five since then, too. Along with most of Lamott’s works on faith, which I find mainly true-to-life, challenging, and inspirational (and occasionally maddening, but that’s OK). I’ve read a couple of her fiction books as well as find them not nearly as intriguing, unfortunately. But whenever I see Anne Lamott’s name I’m drawn to it. Knowing her views on writing makes me feel like we know each other as writers. I’m sure her other billion Twitter followers feel the same way.

Right now I’m reading Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury. It’s over 30 years old and he talks about typewriters and science fiction a lot. His method for writing was almost a complete 180 from Lamott’s. But I still find his story fascinating, despite his slight self-involvement.

I was WAY too young when I read Fahrenheit 451. Amusingly, I just saw the Fahrenheit 451 play at the school where we live last week, about the same time I received this much-coveted book from PaperbackSwap after several years’ wait. Between seeing the play and the reading of Zen, I am eager to get my hands on the book … and everything else Bradbury wrote. I need to see his logic played out. I need to see his method in action.

I’m starting to feel like I know the slightly manic writing style of Bradbury … and thus, him. It’s crazy, but true.

I’ve said it before and I will never stop saying it: to be a writer, you must read. I wouldn’t suggest reading books on writing all the time, but consider them a reward from time to time. They’ll probably give you a million ideas of new books to read, and hopefully a few ideas of new things to write, too.

4 thoughts on “Birds, Zen, and Me

  1. I’m also a fan of Ann Lamott’s non-fiction books, and was less fond of her fiction. However, I am not a writer so I never end started reading Bird by Bird. Would you recommend it for a non-writer?

  2. I’m all smiles and thrilled to put these titles on hold at the library. Thank you for the recommendations – and you too, Laura, for Writing Down The Bones.


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