Bird by Bird : Metaphor
Lamott helps the reader understand writing as a process by drawing analogies from nature, the human world, and from religious understanding. In terms of nature, creativity is shown to be allied with natural processes. It cannot be forced. The author says metaphor is a way to understand how to rely on intuition. Intuition can be compared to an animal such as a dog or horse finding the way home. Animals use internal maps, not logic. She tells a Mel Brooks joke about listening to the broccoli to find out the best way to eat it. Listen to nature, objects, and learn in non-rational, non-humanly conditioned ways. She compares ending a book to putting an octopus to bed with its many dangling tentacles. Creative ideas float into the mind from nowhere, like goldfish with bright colors. Sometimes one wrestles with a creative idea not knowing how to get it to do something useful, like reeling in a fish on the line. Writing is like milking a cow or like having a baby—automatic processes out of one's hands.
Writing is often like surfing; one has to catch and ride the wave to see what happens. Writing can be full of false starts, like a painter who covers over his work with white paint each time he discovers what the painting is not and this brings him closer to seeing what it is. Writing can be like driving a car; you have to see where you are going, but you do not have to see the destination. You can see just two or three feet ahead of you. Creating an interesting piece is like creating a game for the reader with setup, rules, and forward moves, with suspense and movement. Writing is like watching a Polaroid picture manifest from something blurry to something clear. Words are a present to other people, a tribute to their spirits. Writing is delicate for the writer's heart because the writer exposes him or herself, and becomes like a baby's fontanel with a soft spot that can be injured. Just as we take old possessions to the recycling center, so parts of our lives can be recycled into something useful in our writing. The writer is lucky to be someone who can create worlds for others to live in, even if they are like castles in the sand. A book is a feast for others to partake; it is a house to visit or live in, a house that takes time to build, with a solid foundation.
Lamott often solves writing problems through wisdom she has learned from her religion. Religion is not separate from life and writing. Often, writing is a crisis of faith for her, literally, in being able to believe in herself, in life, or in God. As with her religion, she finds that it is an illusion to think one is in control of one's life or writing. There is a greater and higher power in charge. She gives examples of assignments being purposeful and not being accidental. She meets people and learns lessons she needed to have to grow as a person. She has learned to write as if she were dying and was stripped to the essence without social trappings and excuses. The greatest thing about writing is to be present to life, to be a witness. If one does this truthfully, faith and hope will increase for the writer and reader. Writing can be a trap for the ego, a cosmic banana peel to trip on, so one must not take it too seriously. Writing is an inside job, meaning it is a spiritual process of growth that leads to something worthwhile to say. Finally, writing is the ability to turn tragedy into joy. She compares writing to being at a wedding, implying the writer can partake of the miracle of turning water into wine.