Anne Lamott—A Writer You Need to Know

By MJ Hanley-Goff

If you haven’t read a thing by Anne Lamott, then continue reading this little piece on her, but then immediately run to your book store, or order any of her novels or biographical works from your library.

Operating Instructions, A Journal of My Son’s First Year was published in 1993, but is timeless. It’s not just a how to for new mothers. The topics covered and the author’s wisdom are relevant for all women. All mothers can commiserate with the first days of parenting, the weariness that she compares to being in combat; but for all gals out there just traveling through life, with doubts, friends that can’t be cured, joyful moments, and lost parents, there is something of value on each page.

sons-first-year1In this true life story, Lamott chronicles the first year of her son’s life. The glorious ones, the sorrows and confusion. On the first page, writes about being truly amazed at, and then making peace with, her pregnancy: “Nowadays I go around being aware that I am pregnant with the same constancy and lack of surprise with which I go around being aware that I have teeth.  But a few times a day the information suddenly causes me to gasp—how on earth did I come to be in this condition.”

She compares the ultra sound images as “underwater photography.” And, when learning the sex of her child (a boy) Lamott was a bit concerned, particularly about the body part that comes with the gender. “There is a really intense thing you boys have there, and we internal Americans (meaning “girls)….have really, really conflicted feelings about you external Americans because of the way you wield those things, their power over us, and especially their power over you.”

And these honest, raw and sometimes hilarious observations are found in the first few pages. Lamott uses her experiences, adds her take on them—which is usually dead on— and delivers it to us like a good friend. Now Lamott’s life so far has been a bit bohemian.  She’s been a drinker, a drug user, sometimes living in poor conditions, but retaining (remarkably so) a clear vision, and a way with words. She has also found a God that she can pray to, get angry with, and make deals with. He (or She) is always close by, whether in the black church she joined one day, as she puts it, “I wandered in one day the year before I stopped drinking because it was right next to the most fabulous flea market on earth, where I liked to spend time when I had terrible hangovers.”

When having a particularly bad night with a cranky child, she takes Sam for a stroller walk in the evening and writes: “It was warm, and the stars were just coming out; the sky seemed unusually deep, I said to God, I really need help tonight, I need you to pull a rabbit out of your hat.  One minute later Bill and Emmy and Big Sam came walking along the road toward us.”  She doesn’t rattle on about the perhaps-miracle that occurred, but simply describing what happened.  The reader can make of it want they wish.

bird-by-birdWhile Lamott was declining all interview requests, it was for a good reason since she’s under deadline to get a novel completed for a Spring 2010 release. I had the opportunity to meet her at a book signing in north Jersey. She was just as witty “on the cuff,” as she is in her books. She said that when she picks up a book by one of her favorite writers, she knows she is “in good hands for the next two weeks or so.” That’s how you are with any of Lamott’s books. For aspiring writers, her “Bird by Bird” should be required reading.

Anne Lamott is the author of six novels including, Hard Laughter, Rosie, Joe Jones, All New People, and Crooked Little Heart (the sequel to Rosie), as well as four best selling books of non fiction, Operating Instructions, an account of life as a single mother during her son’s first year  and Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, a guide to writing and the challenges of a writer’s life,  Traveling Mercies, a collection of autobiographical essays on faith, and Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith.  Anne Lamott has been honored with a Guggenheim Fellowship, and has taught at UC Davis, as well as at writing conferences across the country. Lamott’s biweekly Salon Magazine “online diary,” Word by Word, was voted The Best of the Web by TIME magazine. Filmmaker Freida Mock (who won an Academy Award for her documentary on Maya Lin) has made a documentary on Anne Lamott, “Bird by Bird with Annie” (1999). Anne Lamott’s last collection of essays is Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith. She is working on a new novel, entitled Imperfect Birds, to be published Spring 2010.

MJ Hanley-Goff’s is editing a follow-up to her first novel, The Bench. She’s taught classes in freelance writing, and is a founding partner of “Women For Women,” an organization inspiring women to pursue their passion. Visit her online journal, She also muses about entrepreneurial topics at

About MJ Hanley-Goff (80 Articles)
MJ Hanley-Goff was a frequent contributor to Long Island’s Newsday for ten years before moving to upstate New York in 2000. She immediately began contributing to the Times Herald-Record where she continues to write on health and area events. Her work has appeared in many publications including Hudson Valley Magazine, AAA’s Car & Travel magazine, and Orange Magazine. In 2007, she self-published "The Bench," her first novel. She recently ended a stint as editor of a parenting magazine as she realized her true calling: writer. Having founded MJWRITES, INC, she is now at work on two books, “How Writing Can Get You Through Tough Times: No Experience Necessary,” and “PR Tips and Secrets.” She is thoroughly enjoying the opportunity to write for Woman Around Town, and the amazing adventures it offers.