Today, I drove to Barnes & Noble to buy Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. I will admit, I had a medium-sized amount of resentment towards the fact that I had to drive 20 minutes to buy a book. My apartment in Brooklyn was just a couple of blocks away from 2 awesome independent bookstores…and just a few blocks further if I wanted to make the walk to a B&N. Sigh. I’ve been in San Diego almost exactly 1 month. I think I’ll have that “well, in New York….” angst no matter where I am. And then when I go back to New York I’ll probably say it’s too chaotic. Wherever you go, there you are. Pulling a geographic.
I think this might have been the 2nd time I purchased this book. It’s always on those “must-read books about writing,” lists, and I think it was part of a big stack that got donated in my move. But I recently heard Anne Lamott on The Beautiful Writers Podcast, and I was inspired to pick up the book again and give it a proper read. It’s the kind of book I want to be able to flip through the actual pages of, and write notes inside it.
Just to give you a tidbit from the book that is probably worth the purchase alone…this is from the back of the book:
“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.
It was due the next day.
We were out at our family cabin in the 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.'”
Bird by bird.
I just opened to a random page in the introduction of the book , where Anne’s father is giving her advice about writing.
“Do it every day for awhile. Do it as you would do scales on the piano. Do it by prearrangement with yourself. Do it as a debt of honor. And make a commitment to finishing things.”
The uncertainty that occurs when there’s only a small flashlight lighting up one step in front of us…it can feel so uncomfortable. But I know the only way to get any clarity in life or get anything creative done at all…is to take things bird by bird.
One day at a time.
Lots of little right actions.
These phrases I’ve heard countless times. Doesn’t make it less desirable to know the answers before the fog has cleared. I wrote this post called Accepting Uncertainty back in 2012, and I liked this advice that my past self is now giving my present-day self:
“Look at your track record. During every other “in-between” time in my life, eventually I’ve found the next thing. I never just lived in a “what the hell is going on” phase forever with no answers of any kind. Remember the other times you were in an uncomfortable in-between phase. And remember how things fell into place.”
Bird by bird.