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Bird By Bird


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Lamott's ( Operating Instructions ) miscellany of guidance and reflection should appeal to writers struggling with demons large and slight. Among the pearls she offers is to start small, as their father once advised her 10-year-old brother, who was agonizing over a book report on birds: ``Just take it bird by bird.'' Lamott's suggestion on the craft of fiction is down-to-earth: worry about the characters, not the plot. But she's even better on psychological questions. She has learned that writing is more rewarding than publication, but that even writing's rewards may not lead to contentment. As a former ``Leona Helmsley of jealousy,'' she's come to will herself past pettiness and to fight writer's block by living ``as if I am dying.'' She counsels writers to form support groups and wisely observes that, even if your audience is small, ``to have written your version is an honorable thing.'' (Sept.)

Lamott (Operating Instructions, LJ 3/15/93) makes her living by selling magazine articles and books. She also teaches writing. Reading this work is like sitting in on one of her workshops. While discussing elements of the craft such as character development, plot invention, and rewriting, she presents much more than an instruction manual in this small text. Writing is by nature a personal and solitary trade, and Lamott offers thorough examples and anecdotes that explain how she copes with self-doubt, writer's block, professional jealousy, and the discipline necessary to turn thoughts into words on a page. Her work is an honest appraisal of what it takes to be a writer and why it matters so much. Collections supporting creative writing will want to include this because it offers unique inspiration to would-be and struggling authors.-Denise Sticha, Carnegie Lib. of Pittsburgh

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