Book: Bird by Bird (Anne Lamott)
Chances are that if you take any kind of writing class, Bird By Bird (Anne Lamott) will be on the list of recommended reading. I recently finished this book for the second time and it occurred to me that many of the lessons in this book apply not just to writing but to other creative endeavors as well.
Lamott keeps a 1 inch picture frame on her desk. It’s a reminder that you don’t have to tackle everything at once – just focus on that one tiny piece for right now. The book’s title, Bird By Bird, also addresses this idea. Her brother once had to write a report on birds but left it until last-minute. Overwhelmed by the enormity of the project, her father told him to just take it “bird by bird” – finish one, then move on to the next.
Whether you are writing a book, perfecting a recipe, or painting the Sistine Chapel, sometimes it helps to break it into smaller parts. Focus on one part until it’s right, then move on to the next. As a child, I remember doing this as part of my piano practice. I’d concentrate on those tricky parts, stanza by stanza, until I was finally comfortable with it, then I could work it into the overall piece. Trying to perfect it all at once seldom works and just leaves us overwhelmed. So write that chapter, conquer that cooking technique, or paint the most amazing cloud you’ve ever seen. Then move forward!
I honestly believe that perfectionism is the creative’s worst nightmare. It blocks our imagination and stops us even before we start. We learn by making mistakes. And sometimes mistakes aren’t even mistakes but happy accidents. If we’re too afraid to get started because it might not be perfect, we’ll never accomplish anything.
First drafts and editing exist for a reason. Don’t let your desire to be flawless keep you from getting started.
Or, if you aren’t writing, let’s just talk about general creative block. Your medium’s equivalent of the blank page is before you. It’s inevitable. Suddenly none of your ideas seem worth pursuing and you can’t come up with anything else. It’s infinitely frustrating. In fact, as I write this, I’ve just wasted an hour trying to write my post for yesterday (hopefully by the time you read this, that blank page will be conquered).
Lamott feels that it’s not a block we’re facing but an emptiness. In those moments, it may be more beneficial to observe and consume rather than try to create. Of course, if you’re on a deadline, this feels more like procrastination. In Kick-Ass Creativity, another book I recently reviewed here, she talks about periods of uploading (creating) and downloading (filling yourself up with experiences and knowledge to use for creating later). I think the two concepts are closely related.
Bird By Bird is a great book for all creatives, even if it is directed at writers. Sure, it addresses plot and dialogue but it also addresses jealousy, finding your voice, and giving it your all. There are tools here for everyone, not just those of us who play with words.
Have you read this book? What did you think?