Taking it Bird by Bird

Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write.  [It] was due the next day.  We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead.  Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy.  Just take it bird by bird.” (Lamott, 1995: 18-19)

It happens to us all.  At times, the amount of work that we need to do seems so great, so unmanageable, that the sheer size of the task we face reduces us to a kind of inertia.  With so much to do, we sit there and do nothing. 

Writing in her book, Bird by Bird: Some instructions on writing and life, Ann Lamott (1995) suggests that breaking the task down into manageable bits (doing it bird by bird) is one way of overcoming the problem.  Breaking down an abstract goal into achievable concrete goals enables you to feel a sense of purpose and drives you forward.  So instead of worrying about needing to write three essays, or one essay, you focus upon writing a part of the essay: an example that you want to use, or the introduction perhaps, or even the conclusion.  The parts gradually add up to the whole.