I enjoyed reading, On Writing by Stephen King so much more than expected, that when I wanted another non-fiction book to read, I just typed in On Writing on Amazon.com to see what other books would come up. And that's how I found Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (1994) by Anne Lamott. I'd never read anything by Lamott, but it was a bestseller and had pretty good reviews, and that was enough for me.
In Bird by Bird, Lamott gives some advice to wannabe writers in a quick and entertaining read. To sum up: writing is good for you; if you like it, do it every day and you will get better as well as learn more about yourself and the world around you; let go of the ideal of perfectionism and the fears and self doubt; and even though being a published author is usually the goal, it won't magically solve your problems or change who you are. Peppered throughout the book are little glimpses into Lamott's life: she's a recovering alcoholic, has a young son, and teaches writing courses.
I am somewhat skeptical of books that teach writing. I remember reading somewhere that Cormac McCarthy hasn't ever taught any kind of writing class because he thinks writing workshops/classes etc. are all rip offs. I can see that selling a national bestseller on how to write is much like those "How to be a Millionaire and Make Tons of Money" books that hopeful and naive schleps buy in order to change their lives. Apparently there are enough of us to make these projects pretty profitable.
However, both On Writing and Bird by Bird helped me in a very different way than simply listing some tips to improve my writing. They both gave me permission and the encouragement to spend time writing, whether it ever amounts to anything or not. I am most reflective and think best when I can write out my thoughts. It helps me understand my feelings and deal with them. (My idea of closure after a relationship is when I write about it, and that's when I can finally let go.) But I have a super power, and it is procrastinating and wasting time. I have consistently had problems rationalizing spending any time on writing when I could see that what was coming out was complete shit. But now someone has told me, not only that it's okay, but that it's good for me. It was also refreshing to know that Lamott, and others, fight with doubt, low self-esteem, and extreme sensitivity when dealing with their writing as well as in their life. I so often feel that I look at the world differently than everyone else, so it was nice to find such familiar feelings and fears that Lamott described throughout the book. I almost feel like I've found my niche; I may not be a writer, but I've got the neuroses of one.