Sunday, January 30, 2011

bird by bird

To take a small gift of ourselves and hand it to the world
takes passion and courage
and hard work and dedication...
and is no easy feat.
I adore Anne Lamott.
She tells it like it is
and does so beautifully
in her book Bird by Bird.
The title comes from a time her father helped her brother work on a report on birds.
His advice was to just tackle it one step at a time or bird by bird.
I now find myself talking to myself when a project or painting seems daunting -
"just do it bird by bird" I will say to myself in an encouraging voice.
This book has so many ideas for writers that work beautifully for artists too.
Here are some favorite parts:
(just insert artist when she says writer)
People tend to look at successful writers, writers who are getting their books published and maybe even doing well financially and think that they sit down at their desks every morning feeling like a million dollars, feeling great about who they are and how much talent they have and what a great story they have to tell; that they take in a few deep breaths, push back their sleeves, roll their necks a few times to get all the cricks out, and dive in, typing fully formed passages as fast as a court reporter (or throw paint here and there on the canvas and voila it's gorgeous).  But this is just the fantasy of the uninitiated.  I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident.  Not one of them writes elegant first drafts.

Very few writers really know what they are doing until they've done it (doesn't that sound familiar?).  Nor do they go about their business feeling dewy and thrilled.  They do not type a few stiff warm-up sentences and then find themselves bounding along like huskies across the snow (love that image) ...The right words and sentences just do not come pouring out like ticker tape most of the time.

Annie Dillard has said that day by day you have to give the work before you all the best stuff you have, not saving up for later projects.  If you give freely, there will always be more.  This is a radical proposition that runs so contrary to human nature, or at least to my nature, that I personally keep trying to find loopholes in it.  But it is only when I go ahead and decide to shoot my literary, creative wad on a daily basis that I get any sense of full presence, of being Zorba the Greek at the keyboard (love this) ... 

You are going to have to give and give and give, or there's no reason for you to be writing.  You have to give from the deepest part of yourself, and you are going to have to go on giving, and the giving is going to have to be its own reward.  There is no cosmic importance to your getting something published, but there is in learning to be a giver (woah this blows me away really!!!).

You simply keep putting down one damn word after the other, as you hear them, as they come to you.  You can either set brick as a laborer or as an artist.  You can make the work a chore, or you can have a good time.  You can do it the way you used to clear the dinner dishes when you were thirteen, or you can do it as a Japanese person would perform a tea ceremony, with a level of concentration and care in which you can lose yourself, as so in which you can find yourself (If only I could remember this).

Sometimes, no matter how how screwed up things seem, I feel like we're all at a wedding.  But you can't just come out and say, We're at a wedding!  Have some cake!  You need to create a world into which we can enter, a world where we can see this...  To participate requires self-discipline and trust and courage, because this business of becoming concsious, of being a writer, is ultimately about asking yourself, How alive am I willing to be?  (that deserves shouting!!!)

"So why does our writing matter, again?"  they ask.
Because of the spirit, I say.  Because of the heart. 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 ourself or life, our buoyancy is restored.  We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping long 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.  
And to that I say amen and thank you Anne.
So go ahead and be Zorba the Greek of the canvas or whatever floats your boat
and change our hearts and spirits.
I am also reading Steven King's book On Writing for our book club too and he has great ideas I will share later...  
never knew he had such a sense of humor.


  1. What great quotes! i love Anne Lamot! I need to read another one of hers... :)

  2. Dearest sweet pam, this is soo inspiring! Anne Lamott sounds amazing! Thanks so much for sharing with us! Boy am i glad to know im not alone out there feeling this way ~ "Very few writers really know what they are doing until they've done it". Have a lovely merry happy day sweet friend and love to yoU!

  3. I just ordered this book off Amazon replace the copy I left on the airplane last year. I can't wait to read it!

  4. Such amazing words, and they ring true. Now I want to go and find that book. Thank you for sharing this.


  5. I love to read!!! Thanx for sharing I will def have to go and find this book:O) Have a great week:O)

  6. I have this book and started it but never finished it (thanks to moving across the country and losing it). You've inspired me to search for it amongst the boxes and start reading it again. It is so inspiring. Thanks for reminding me to take it bird by bird! What a great analogy. PS--there is a picture of us on my blog! And, I am so excited that we are both members of the co-op now. Should be fun!

  7. Looks like this is such an inspiring read~ Sounds wonderful, words resonating, and I will have to add this to my book list for reading.

  8. Such true words...I had forgotten about some of these things. Thank you for the reminder, and I feel more balanced already.