Bird by Bird

I’ve been reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. I borrowed a copy from the library, on a whim, several weeks ago. I’d heard about it before – I’d heard really good things about it. I’ve seen one of her TED Talks, and she seems like a really genuine, down-to-earth person. She seems like someone I could learn a lot from.

(Arguably, you could learn a lot from just about anyone. It just depends on whether you actually want to learn those things or not.)

I probably hadn’t even finished the introduction before I started considering getting a copy of my own. I almost made it halfway before I decided to buy my own copy, and returned the one I was reading to the library. 

I might’ve returned it sooner had I had time to buy my own copy earlier.

It’s not a book I want to read on a deadline. It was good as a start, having it from the library. I’ve read so much advice about writing (feels that way anyway) that sometimes I’m a bit dubious when someone says they can teach me something new about the process or show me a different perspective.

But there are things in Bird by Bird that I hadn’t read in other places before. And sometimes the things are just said differently, in a way that hits home a bit better.

But the main reason I can’t read Bird by Bird on a deadline is that it made me crave stories. It made me think of the stories I love, and how it must’ve been to write those. It made me think of the stories I’ve written, and why they worked or didn’t work. The more I read Bird by Bird, the more I wanted to read other stories, and for a time I was concurrently reading The Grapes of Wrath, and it was manageable until I started really getting into the story, and struggled to decide which book I wanted to take to work with me each day.

More than anything, though, reading Bird by Bird made me crave writing. (That’s exactly what it’s supposed to do, right?) I’d read some bit of advice or some anecdote about failing miserably and persisting anyway, and my fingers would be itching to get on a keyboard and type.

A couple of years ago, I started writing a story – what would be my second attempt at a “novel-length story” – but I struggled through it, feeling that it was a touch too melodramatic, but not wanting to take out any of the emotional turmoil. Last year, I laid it to rest. I told myself that I wasn’t completely abandoning it, but that maybe it wasn’t the right time for me to be working on it. Maybe it just needed some space. I needed some space.

Since then, I’ve picked it back up again, and once more laid it to rest.

Now I’ve been having revelatory thoughts about how I could write it differently – how I can salvage my poor story.

And it’s not just about inspiration or encouragement – both of which Bird by Bird offers – but about feeling capable, and feeling like this story is worth telling (even if I only ever show a couple of people).

And, yes, some of it comes down to having the resources – time and energy and mental alertness and the ability to block out distractions (including distracting and detracting thoughts). And maybe I didn’t always have those things, and maybe I still don’t. But now I have a new laptop (I’ve been without one for over a month, relying on visits to my parents’ place, and also good old pen-and-paper writing). And maybe having a new laptop doesn’t solve everything, but at least when my fingers itch for a keyboard, they’ll have somewhere to work.

As a final note, I started reading Bird by Bird around the time my manager went on holiday for three weeks. That meant long hours for me and a never-ending mountain of tasks. At times when I felt the day ahead was too daunting, I’d tell myself, just take it bird by bird. It’s amazing how well that works.

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