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Saturday, 26 September 2015

Take Life Bird by Bird

If life gets tough, take it bird by bird.

This advice comes from a well-thumbed and innocuous looking paperback, first published in 1994, which was brought back from America a few years ago by my daughter.

The book is Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott - author, teacher, public speaker and political activist -whose work sells in millions all over the world. It is not, as the title suggests, a handbook for ornithologists but, in Anne's own words, 'some instructions on writing and life.'

So why Bird by Bird? The title was inspired by Anne's  brother who, at ten years old, was attempting to write a project on birds that he'd had three months to complete.  It was due the next day and the task seemed impossible.

'We were in our family cabin,'  writes the author 'and my brother was at the kitchen table, close to tears, surrounded by paper, pens, pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm round my brother's shoulder and said 'Bird by Bird, son. Just take it bird by bird.'

The moral? If you deal with a major task in bite-sized chunks you are much more likely to succeed. ( I happen to know she's right because I've followed this advice ever since.)

One of Anne's roles is to teach budding authors, some of whom already have experience, some who just want to learn how to write.  'Becoming a writer is about becoming conscious, she says. Write about your childhood, write about the time when you were so intensely interested in the world, when your powers of observation were at their most acute, when you felt things so deeply. Exploring your childhood will give you the ability to empathize and that understanding and empathy will teach you to write with intelligence an insight and compassion.

It seems to me that Anne's advice applies not just to writers but to every one of us. How can we be kind to each other if we have not first learnt to be kind to ourselves? How can we face what seems like an impossible task unless we break it down into small tasks that gradually chip away at the bigger problem?

And so the lesson in life is  simple: frame by frame for photographers, term by term for teachers, pun by pun for politicians, minute by minute for the unmotivated... you get the idea. I could go on but I'm just too busy working on my next project!


another Guernseyman said...

I don't comment very often but have to agree with you here, Guernsey Girl. A task is only too big if you allow it to be. Miss Lamott talks a lot of sense.

Guernsey Girl said...

It's a good way to write a book too! Thanks for your comment.