There’s a book I turn to again and again when I’ve fired up my post editor but feel uninspired or just plain dejected: Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird.
I referenced Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions in Writing and Life in last week’s “Five Posts to Write Right Now,” and we’ve used her in Blogging 101 assignments as well. Personally, I turn to this book again and again — when I’m staring down a blank screen and a deadline or feeling just not good enough, flipping to any page usually restores my perspective and helps unclog my thorniest word-jam.
The story of the book’s title sums it up perfectly:
Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”
If that’s not enough to get you to peck out a few words, I’ll let Anne continue to speak:
Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow (inadvertently, I’m sure) forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here — and, by extension, what we’re supposed to be writing.
On the act of writing vs. the finished piece…
Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do — the actual act of writing — turns out to be the best part. It’s like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.
On how writing and reading (and, by extension, blogging) make a difference:
Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again.
It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.
I’ll stop here, because this is Ms. Lamott’s book, not mine, but these quotes are a great snapshot of the tone and perspective that make this book so valuable.
As writers — or bloggers, or photographers, or insert-creative-pursuit here — it’s easy to get down on ourselves, to think that no one’s paying attention, or that we can’t possibly be as good as all the other amazing bloggers we read. For me, the beauty in Bird by Bird is that it helps me feel good again: about choosing to write, about dedicating myself to blogging, about my unique voice, about experimenting and making “messes” and playing with words and pictures to make stories.
Do you have go-to resources as a writer or photographer? What are they?