Friday, March 23, 2012

bird by bird

Since entering this world of writing, several books have been recommended to give some insight and advice about how to be a good writer.  One of the most frequently mentioned books is Anne Lamott’s bird by bird.  So over the past few months I have made my way through this writing instructional. She offers advice on everything from setting to plot, jealousy of other writers to what it’s really like to get published.  And she does it all with a sense of humility and kindness, and sarcasm and comedy.  As if the whole affair of writing, if not also the whole of life, is something to take with a grain of salt rather than quite so seriously. 

The message I get from this book is one of the most basic and simple there is. You try hard, you learn and practice, you muddle through some spots, and you laugh at yourself along the way.  That’s it.  It’s life.  Rough spots and all, you just keep going.
This is an attitude I have undertaken sucessfully only one other time in my life; during the six months I walked the Appalachian Trail.  It was in no way easy. Yet, somehow in all the ups and downs I was resolute to just keep walking, and laugh about the ridiculousness of such an undertaking as much as I could.
This place where aspiration and ambition balances evenly with a Zen like letting go of all expectation that thus opens up the journey that is life itself, is a place I never could see very clearly when it came to work I have done in the past.  Changing diapers, helping campers buy the best backpack, educating people about the dangers of bears in the mountains, or serving up tofu in little plastic boxes to hungry vegetarians, all of it is worthwhile and needed work.  But none of it ever gripped me in a way that I could accept.
I don’t find writing to be terribly easy, and have yet to have any major breakthroughs along the path.  But I do find I would rather be sitting staring at a blank computer screen wondering when inspiration will hit, grappling with myself over how good or bad these sentences are coming together, and wondering when I will ever hear back from that editor, than doing just about any other work.  I have no idea if my writing is any good, or if anyone has, does, or will ever care about what I am spilling out of myself and onto this paper like page of a computer screen.  I struggle with self worth issues, I fight my mind for focus and clarity in what is coming out, and I battle constant comparisons of myself and others.
Yet, when I read a book like Lamott’s, I am thankful because it reminds me that I am not the only neurotic one.  And, perhaps I am on the right path. It helps connect me to who I truly, deeply, creatively think I am and want to be.  That woman who I have long been looking for and only recently seen glimmers of.  That person who knew that one step at a time was the only way to walk to Katahdin and call myself a Thru-hiker.  The person who is beginning to understand that bird by bird, one word at a time, might be the only way to make my way through life to that interesting place where I can call myself a writer.

1 comment:

Sue Heavenrich said...

I love Bird by Bird. As for the AT - that's more of a "step by step" thing ... esp thru the notch.