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How does Lamott use writing as a
Lamott relies on writing to work through
emotional problems such as insecurity and jealousy. For example,
when she is plagued by her jealousy, she turns to her friends for
advice. But it is only through writing about it that Lamott accepts
her jealousy as a part of herself. Through writing, Lamott is able
to accept her darker impulses and her neuroses. Similarly, she deals
with her frustration during her son’s first year of life by writing
a book about her conflicting feelings. For Lamott, writing is therapeutic
because it allows her to calmly view the confusion within herself.
She advises her students to search for the truth by continually
writing about memories and other events about which they are passionate.
Lamott also uses her writing to deal with the external
tragedies of life, most notably the deaths of her friend Pam and
her father. The book about her father is both a tribute and a way
for Lamott to deal with a difficult situation. Lamott also turns
to writing when her friend Pam is diagnosed with breast cancer.
Though these writings are initially journal entries and often mixed
with her musings about her son, she soon transforms them into a
gift that she can give Pam. By using her creative impulses to survive
difficult situations, Lamott is able to help both herself and those
she loves. Writing makes her powerful when she is facing death or
What roles do children and childhood
play in the book?
Lamott frequently refers to children in Bird
by Bird. She culls a great deal of wisdom from the innocent
words of her son Sam. Children, with their blend of sophistication
and innocence, often inspire Lamott. She believes that these traits
are invaluable to writers because they encourage people to step
beyond their rigid boundaries and look at the world anew. The children
in this book are particularly clever and expressive. The mentality
of children serves as a reminder of what Lamott considers the ideal
mentality for a writer.
Lamott also suggests that writers write about their childhoods. She
gives this advice at the beginning of her book, and she takes pains
to repeat it in the last chapter. Childhood is, for Lamott, a period
of intense emotions and passion, as well as upheaval and chaos.
She does not idealize childhood, but she does see it as a constant
source of material for writers. Lamott herself specializes in both
fiction and nonfiction that is often autobiographical, so it is only
fitting that she advocates that her students mine their childhood
for stories. She also believes that events in childhood can inspire
even those who do not wish to write memoir-style stories. Writers
must strive to remain captivated by the world, as children are.
How does Lamott deal with the idea
of sight and seeing?
Lamott emphasizes the importance of sight
as she describes how writers must view the world. In order to write
morally, and to write the truth, writers must be hyperaware and
mindful of the world around him. To produce good writing, writers
must notice the smaller details that others would normally miss.
Additionally, writers must be passionately interested in the world,
and find meaning in simple, ordinary occurrences. Nowhere is this
more important than the chapter in which Lamott describes school
lunches. She starts with lunches in general, but soon begins focusing
minutely on details such as the shape of carrot sticks. As she continues
writing small descriptions, she is able to glimpse the beginnings
of a meaningful story.
Additionally, Lamott uses sight as a metaphor for the
act and processes involved in writing. More than once, she “sees”
a story slowly unfold in front of her eyes; often, she compares
the development of her stories with the development of a photograph.
Both the story and photograph require patience and faith, but the
end result is accessible to anyone. A good story, for Lamott, is
something that writers (and readers) can actually see, and therefore,
experience. Lamott uses sight as a metaphor for self-discovery as
well. The ordinary man has the option to ignore certain parts of
himself, but writers cannot afford to do this. A writer must see
everything and incorporate it into his work. In doing so, he not
only discovers his voice, but finds a way to reveal universal truths.
Clear sight, therefore, is almost the only way to find the truth
Ace your assignments with our guide to Bird by Bird!