Anne Lamott on Spiritual Fitness, Creative Process, Redecorating the Abyss, and The Perennial Magic of “Bird by Bird” (#522)

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“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor.”

— Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott (@AnneLamott) uses honesty, empathy, and humor to write about our world. In her beloved and bestselling books, like Operating Instructions (an account of her son’s first year), Bird by Bird (her classic book on writing), and Help, Thanks, Wow (a celebration of prayer), Lamott delves into what makes us human. She explores the wide experience of life that unites us: birth and death, parenthood and family, faith and doubt, love and loss, forgiveness and hope.

In each of her 19 books, which have sold millions of copies worldwide, Lamott brings her distinctive mix of bracing candor, clarifying insight, and refreshing humor to convert serious subjects like addiction, motherhood, loss, and faith into human truths we can all share. She is the author of several essay collections on faith, including Traveling Mercies, Grace (Eventually), and Plan B, as well as several novels, including Imperfect Birds, Blue Shoe, and Rosie.

Lamott has been honored with a Guggenheim Fellowship and has taught at UC Davis and writing conferences across the country. She is an inductee of the California Hall of Fame and the subject of Academy Award-winning filmmaker Freida Mock’s documentary Bird by Bird with Annie (1999).

Her most recent book is Dusk, Night, Dawn: On Revival and Courage.

Please enjoy!

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What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.


Want to hear an episode with someone else who might not have written their first book had it not been for the guidance of Anne’s Bird by Bird? Listen to my conversation with Ramit Sethi in which we discuss savvy negotiation, renting versus owning property, sensible financial decisions that seem frivolous at first glance, game-changing conveniences and lifestyle upgrades, the pros and cons of the prenuptial agreement, reducing decision fatigue, and much more!


  • Connect with Anne Lamott:

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  • If it weren’t for Bird by Bird, Anne’s book on writing, I may have never written my first book — and I know others who say the same. What is it about Bird by Bird that has affected so many people so deeply? [06:41]
  • Where did the title of Bird by Bird originate? [10:10]
  • How Anne’s husband, fellow writer Neal Allen, works to help people tame (but not discard) their inner critic. [12:44]
  • Who controls the dial when you’re tuned in to KFKD radio? [13:59]
  • For my fiction-writing aspirations, Anne recommends a butt-in-chair approach and explains how her childhood with a writing father in the house instilled this discipline in her — but not without a heavily dysfunctional toll she’s spent her life learning to take back. [15:06]
  • What does being “spiritually fit” mean to Anne? [22:25]
  • Was there a particular catalyzing event that brought radical self-care into focus as an imperative for Anne? [28:05]
  • The dark night that turned Anne’s son Sam’s life around. [35:50]
  • An episode of Sam’s podcast I recently enjoyed immensely and recommend. [41:32]
  • When grace found Anne during her three-day blackout, and what it felt like. [42:35]
  • Coming to terms with childhood “oversensitivity” and Tom Weston’s five rules for being a grown-up that changed Anne’s life. [47:41]
  • From her own work, are there any lines, concepts, or passages that jump out for Anne as being definitive of her life philosophy? How would she follow her own advice in this instance? [51:01]
  • Anne sets the record straight with a Tom Weston quote that often gets misattributed to her. [56:34]
  • What has been helpful in treating Anne’s anxiety disorder? [57:20]
  • Where did Anne pick up her habit of writing in silence, and what other rules and rewards does she attach to her process? [1:02:29]
  • How recalling just one vivid, life-changing instance from my college days might be used as a writing exercise, and Anne’s new “pod” trick. [1:06:19]
  • What to remind yourself if you’re tempted to spare the feelings of others who feature in your autobiographical scrawlings. [1:11:13]
  • If you’re a writer struggling to find your story’s direction, these are the questions Anne recommends asking the characters who inhabit that story in order to keep the words flowing. [1:13:22]
  • What was it like for Anne to have a documentary made about her (by an Academy Award-winning director, no less), and why did she agree to do it in spite of her discomfort over being captured on film? [1:19:24]
  • Anne explains the meaning and unlikely origin of what she considers to be the greatest prayer, and what its gift really is. [1:24:24]
  • Does Anne pray as needed, or per a set routine? What is the purpose of these prayers? [1:30:24]
  • Who is “Horrible” Bonnie, how did she enter Anne’s life, what wisdom has she imparted to Anne, and what earned her such a memorable moniker? [1:34:49]
  • How did Anne arrive at Dusk, Night, Dawn: On Revival and Courage as the title of her new book? [1:41:12]
  • A writing prayer. [1:45:07]
  • We share our all-time favorite movies. [1:46:59]
  • Parting thoughts and a final, quick story about grace and goodness. [1:53:48]


The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 600 million downloads. It has been selected for “Best of Apple Podcasts” three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it’s been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.