Saturday, April 07, 2007

Read Most of “Bird by Bird”, Comparing to “Chapter After Chapter”

While looking online for good books about the craft of writing I kept seeing the title “Bird by Bird” by Ann Lamott come up. I read rave reviews on Amazon for the book and as of today the sales rank is 577 which is pretty darned good! I was tempted to buy it but held off due to a tight budget. Then while borrowing a different book from my library the librarian suggested I read “Bird by Bird”. She said that a nearby college uses it as mandatory reading in some of the writing classes. So I thought, “That is it, I guess I should read it if so many love the book!”. Later, I was able to borrow the book from my public library. Yesterday I returned it having read ¾ of the book.

At the time I began reading it I was half way through “Chapter by Chapter” by Heather Sellers. I paused my reading of it just to take a break from it, I plan to finish it this upcoming week.

I had read in reviews also that “Chapter After Chapter” (published in December 2006) was being compared to “Bird by Bird” (published in 1995). It is true, they are similar but they are different.

First I feel that “Bird” speaks directly to writers of fiction novels. There are chapters devoted to things like character development and plot which can only apply to writing fiction novels. The book does not completely translate to being applicable for other kinds of writing such as the nonfiction genre for adults. Also there is not much there that also translates to writing for children unless you are writing longer works for the young adult genre. The book reads just a tad more stiff or shall I say “professional” than if a friend was speaking to you. It is much more colloquial than other books on the market, though, and perhaps this is why it seemed so different and wonderful when it was published in 1995.

In comparison, “Chapter by Chapter” seems to be longer. It is even more colloquial than “Bird by Bird” and very much reads like a friend is talking to you including a few words of profanity here and there for emphasis. For some reason I felt that the book was easier to read and had more spark in it which compelled me to keep reading, it is hard to put a finger on why but that is how I feel but that is my impression. I felt that “Chapter” has more general encouragement and information which could apply, for example, to writers of nonfiction and memoir, and also to children’s book writers. The other information about personal drive and determination could also speak to writers of magazine articles. One other thing that is different is that “Chapter” focuses more on getting published and how hard it is to finish a book and the time and determination it takes, as a reality check, while I didn’t get that same impression from “Bird”. Lastly overall I think “Chapter” has more details. For example “Bird” advises to join or start a writer’s group but “Chapter” tells even more details such as some of the up’s and down’s or pitfalls that can happen in writer’s groups so you can have a head’s up. Another example is in “Bird” it is advised that writers attend writing conferences and get critiqued by other new writers but in “Chapter” the author says there is a downside from taking criticism from unpublished writers who may be poor at their craft—do you see the difference? I do! And I think Sellers is right!

“Bird by Bird” is divided into large sections. I read all of Part One which is the entire first half of the book, and I read some chapters from the rest of the book and skimmed others. I felt I had enough and returned it before the due date.

As I said, I am not quite done with “Chapter” but plan to return to finish reading that next. Overall I personally prefer “Chapter” and since that was so good I plan to also read “Page After Page” written by Sellers, and see exactly what that is about and what it has to say.

Please know that I mean no offense to Ann Lamott or to “Bird by Bird”. From what others say it seems to be a book that broke new ground in 1995 and seems to still be selling well and is being used in college courses. But if you have read “Bird by Bird” and loved it I’d encourage to you to consider reading “Chapter After Chapter” and see what you think of it and if it gives you more information and more encouragement, if that is what you desire.

I blogged previously about “Chapter After Chapter”, here, if you’d like to read more of my thoughts on it.

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Jennifer said...

Interesting! I have read Bird by Bird and Page by Page (Seller's first book on writing). I really enjoyed the latter. Another difference between Sellers' book and Lamott's (at least Page by Page) is good writing exercises. I don't remember LaMott's including that. I agree that LaMott's book is more of the memoir-type on writing. A good book to read, but for different purposes.

Wendy said...

I really loved Bird by Bird - I haven't read the other two. Thanks for your interesting comparisons and reviews!