Inspiration from Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life”

betty ming liu Health, Inspiration, Writing how-to's 20 Comments

Lately, life has been about Too Many Things To Do & Feel. But today brings calm. I’ve come full circle and back to a bit of inspiration that saves me. It’s a helpful gift that I’ve shared with many friends, students and readers. So here it is again, for you….

The passage comes from a classic memoir, the bestselling Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.” When BbB first came out in 1994, I bought it right away. I loved her rambling anecdotes about teaching, writing and being a single mom. In 2000, when my marriage ended and I set out on my own, her insightful tales took on new meaning.

Over the years, I’ve used BbB in some of my writing classes because Lamott is just that good. In fact, we recently finished reading it in one course. As usual, students either loved or hated her conversational style. Mostly, they found her wonderful.

Even without reading BbB, I find people really appreciate one particular section — the passage that gives the book its title. Sometimes I read it in class. Recently, I shared it with my goddaughter in the hours right after her mom was killed in a horrifying car accident. I’ve turned to it during my recent bout with terrible back pain, which was a time to reflect on the State Of My Life and how I make myself crazy.

So, here we go:

Bird by bird 500

This passage has become part of me. Whenever I’m ready to give up, I think about bird by bird. This little flock has held me steady through  financial stress, relationship demands, daily life pressures — the tough stuff. Of course, I also go bird by bird when I’m in the zone, writing and painting.

Birdies are with me now as I try to pull myself together to…enjoy the day. Today’s goal is to go easy on myself. Inhale and exhale. Smell the roses and, maybe even eat them.

So take a moment to be in the moment. It feels much better than rushing around beating up on ourselves. If it helps, share your mania and your BbB solution with a comment.

I’m happy to go first ! I’m a genius at created ambitious, unworkable deadlines. This leads to the pressure of uncompleted projects everywhere. Whether it’s about cleaning the house, grading student homework assignments or something for the blog, I’m constantly feeling behind schedule.

But lately, I’ve been breaking down my tasks into smaller chunks. Working with little bites calms me down. Now, there’s pleasure (sometimes) in getting things done (sometimes). I’m learning moderation (sometimes) in matters of time management. How about you?

(Note: I first posted this passage in 2010. I’ve freshened it up here with a new layout and details.)

Comments 20

  1. Betty!

    Thank you for posting this. The honesty, wisdom and philosohy coming from you is appreciated. I hope to take one of your journalism classes sometime in the near future.

  2. Thanks, Betty. Believe it or not, I’m actually reading Bird by Bird after having it recommended a long time ago in another writing class. Going on a trip to visit my father, who has been very ill, so I can use the extra inspirationam

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    Salim — YOU’RE FINALLY COMMENTING ON MY BLOG…yay! Would love to see you someday in my class (The New School would be a great fit). And Leslie, let me know how you like the book.

    Would blab more but I’m rushing now to finish writing up my talking points for tonight… xox

  4. Read the book about 20 years ago, and am still calmed by the thought that all I need is to go bird by bird when faced with life’s insurmountables. Thanks for the reminder, Betty.

  5. Extraordinary passage…

    Inspiring is an understatement. Thanks for sharing. I will pass it on to my fellow writers, clients, and readers. You rock, Betty!

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    oh so glad that you all get the power of this passage. life is really about the little moments, taking them one little step and one teeny birdie at a time. :-)

  7. I love this post – that was one of my sister’s new year resolution. “Bird by bird” It was her reminder. :) This year one of her resolution is to be body positive. She inspires me and so does this post!

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      Mary! Glad to be useful. I’m taking this a day at a time. And so far, so good. This morning, did a little shopping in NYC, had lunch at a cute diner, took a LONG NAP. Now I’m ready to clean house, starting with an hour at my desk. Staying peaceful feels good. :)

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  10. Thanks for the reminder, Betty. I just thought about reading Bird by Bird again this weekend. This book always makes me think of you.

    You may also like the Reiki philosophy, which we call the Reiki precepts. They are powerful reminders that just for today, for this one day only, we can be present and handle what is presented to us. If a day is too long of a timeframe, how about replacing it with: just for this moment…?

    Here’s how I recite them. There are many different versions out there, but this is how they have stayed in my mind.

    Just for today, do not anger.
    Just for today, do not worry.
    Just for today, be humble and grateful.
    Just for today, work diligently.
    Just for today, be kind to yourself and others.

    I think the last line is the one we all need to remember the most. To be kind to ourselves, so that we can truly be kind to one another. One person at a time. Bird by bird.

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      Andrea, that’s beautiful. I exhaled while reading your Reiki precepts. It feels like a poem. Or, a prayer. I’m with you about the last one. If we could lighten up on ourselves, life would be so different. Thanks for sharing! And, P.S. — I’m tickled that you hung onto BbB. I still enjoy reading it too. xo

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