Lamott, 1995 – Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Recommendation – 5/5


Lamott’s advice on writing and creative productivity. The first section of the book is on fundamentals. A writer must first be able to generate raw material, and practice this almost daily. A writer should try to have a growth mindset. Start with short assignments, and finish them. If stuck, make a shitty first draft that gets main ideas down and can be fixed later. Find a writing partner or group to provide each other with feedback.


An excellent resource I would reread if teaching songwriting.

Lamott’s advice can be applied to any form of creative productivity. For me it is most relevant for writing music, lyrics, and this blog, and teaching songwriting.

When improvising new ideas, rather than view them as a reflection of you and your self worth, try to detach, observe the improvisation, and consider the ideas creatively. This keeps insecurity from blocking the flow of new ideas.

A formula is a great way to get started. Once you’ve practiced lots of formulas, you will naturally incorporate ideas from them into your own work. Which formulas are worth assimilating into a beginning songwriter’s style?

ABDCE form: Action, Background, Development, Climax, Ending

I critique from my world view, others from theirs. Just because something is not good yet doesn’t mean there isn’t promise. When critiquing, it is easy to identify what you don’t like. It requires more energy to respond with empathy. If I were their teacher, how would I try to help? What are their greatest strengths? How could they improve?

“I guess they haven’t heard about the smallpox blankets yet,” refers to the almost unavoidable naivety of aspiring writers.

If you feel you aren’t enough without getting published, you won’t feel you are enough with it.

What will I do for my students’ last class? What do I want to leave them with?


Lamott, A. (1995). Bird by bird: Some instructions on writing and life. Anchor.

Further Reading

E. M. Forester

John Gardner

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