A few weeks ago I mentioned that I wasn’t sure how to review historical novels because everyone else had already read them. So you can imagine how I feel after reading Bird by Bird, a book so well-known that every writing book seems to reference it. My full review is on Goodreads.
So, Bird by Bird. It’s a book about writing. The first forth of the book is about the “sit down, write every day, write awful first drafts, and push through your perfectionism” approach to writing that you see everywhere.
The rest is much more philosophical–and I’m starting to realize that I don’t like philosophical books on writing. I’ve read several highly regarded, supposedly life-changing ones, and I always find some aspect of their philosophy so jarring that it turns me off of the entire book.
And that’s the case here. A lot of this book is entertaining and brutally honest. She covers a lot of crucial topics, particularly about how emotionally draining publishing is and how it’s unlikely to bring you success, wealth, or fame.
But these philosophical memoirs lose me when they hit something I can’t empathize with. And in this case, it was the chapter on writing groups, where she suggests ending friendships if people don’t like your writing and ceasing communication with writers who wont read your stuff. She also describes the anger she feels when people don’t read her stuff fast enough, and how her response to getting feedback is to think awful things about the people giving it. And that’s so far out of my understanding that it doesn’t seem funny, it seems unnecessary. I couldn’t shake it for the rest of the book. The undertone of “People who don’t like your work are bad people” popped up everywhere.
The idea that a fully-grown adult would respond to rejection with multi-day alcohol and food binges was also unappealing. I can’t find someone’s self-destructive urges funny, no matter how hard someone’s tried to write them that way. It’s just upsetting.
To this day, my favorite writing book is The Fire in Fiction, which is a collection of exercises you can use to edit tension into your writing. After being unimpressed with things like On Writing and Bird by Bird, I’m beginning to realize I like practical exercises more than philosophical memoirs.