Writing Tips at GarySpeer.com

Tips for writers and musing about writing and life

Anne Lamott’s ‘Bird by Bird’ is one book every writer needs to own


How do you tackle large writing projects? Obviously, the answer would be word-by-word and sentence-by-sentence. How do you tackle that large writing project if it’s something really tedious that has to be done whether you like it or not? I suppose step-by-step would again be the answer.

Last year at this time I had a large, very tedious writing project. The good news is that it paid pretty well and it was something I felt committed to. The bad news is, well, it was a large and tedious project. So I approached it one sentence and one lesson at a time. (It involved writing some study questions for some Bible study correspondence lessons.)

I got the project completed on deadline, and I was truly happy to be done with it.

The experience also reminded me of a really terrific writing book. I mentioned the book here at the time, but that particular blog post was lost in the Great Server Crash of recent weeks. The book is the one I’ve referenced in the title — “Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life,” by Anne Lamott. If you don’t yet own the book, it’s worth whatever you have to pay to get a copy. (Check Amazon, perhaps.) That little book told a story which focuses on the lesson of tackling writing projects or any other work you face one step at a time.

The story in the book had to do with her father advising her then-10-year-old brother about an overwhelming school project he had put aside until the last minute. It involved doing reports on birds. As the youngster sat in front of assorted bird books and pictures, too overwhelmed to even start work, his father sat down, put his arms around the kid’s shoulders and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

In our hearts, we know that’s excellent advice. It isn’t always easy for those of us who write quickly and impatiently, because it demands focus and attention to detail. But it’s still excellent advice: Do your writing or whatever work is at hand “bird by bird.”
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