Cupán Fae’s 2019 Advent Calendar – Day 7, Bird by bird

Review and gift recommended by Róisín Tuohy

Bird by bird by Anne Lamott is the kind of book you give a writer in dire need of a pep talk… or possibly a psychotherapist. 

Writing isn’t easy and Lamott feels your pain. Crammed with practical advice and exercises, as well as stories from the author’s own life, some hilarious, some harrowing, some both, it’s an insightful look at what it means to be compelled to write. 

This book is for anyone who is tiptoeing on the diving board of writing. Maybe you’ve got an idea nagging away at you, but you’re afraid it’s embarrassing, or just not very good. Maybe you’re afraid of what your mother will think. Lamott encourages you to jump into the pool, dive deep and find new worlds. It won’t be easy, and what’s great about this book is that the author recognises it won’t be easy. She also recognises that it’s important, and you should carve out time for writing, if it’s important to you. 

The title comes from a story Lamott tells about her brother struggling with a school project on the birds of North America. “bird by bird buddy, just take it bird by bird, “Lamott’s father tells him, and so…bird by bird, word by word.

Cupán Fae’s 2019 Advent Calendar – Day 5, How Not to Write a Novel

How not to write a novel by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman is one of my most thumbed books. I don’t say that lightly. It’s got a big crease down the spine and more than a few loose pages.

Most advice books tell you what to do. This one, as the name suggests, tells you the opposite. Shabby spelling, clichéd plot devices, downright offensive characterisation… it’s all here. It’s rip-roaringly funny, and I often get the urge to reread it.

Of course, you, intelligent writer (or the intelligent writer friend you’re buying for) know not to fall into flat description or overblown hyperbole.  However, the authors are in fact editors, and have come across all this stuff during the course of their work. While the examples are comically exaggerated, any would-be author will cringe at one or two (in my case, overstuffing a manuscript with a cast of thousands). The final section deals with getting published and usefully highlights some common pitfalls in traditional publishing.

Broken up into easy-to-read sections, it’s a perfect for dipping in and out of. Plus, there’s something oddly inspiring in looking at just how bad it could be and doing it anyway. 

Gift idea and review presented by Róisín Tuohy.