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You begin to string words together like beads to tell a story.You are desperate to communicate, to edify or entertain, to preserve moments of grace or joy or transcendence, to make real or imagined events come alive. Let’s think of reverence as awe, as presence in and openness to the world.
I am all too familiar with the specific, morbid feeling that I'm going to be physically crushed to death by the emails in my inbox. I realize this is a small problem in the grand scheme of things, but the phrase that gets me through these small moments of stress is the same phrase that gets me through big moments of agonizing grief and pain: "Bird by bird."You probably recognize this ubiquitous mantra from Anne Lamott's the classic guide that can be found on basically every writer's bookshelf.
But that's how it feels — it's overwhelming spiritually, mentally, and yes, physically.
In order to be a writer, you have to learn to be reverent. Think of those times when you’ve read prose or poetry that is presented in such a way that you have a fleeting sense of being startled by beauty or insight, by a glimpse into someone’s soul. You can get into a kind of Wordsworthian openness to the world, where you see in everything the essence of holiness.
All of a sudden everything seems to fit together or at least to have some meaning for a moment. The basic formula for drama is setup, buildup, payoff—just like a joke. The buildup is where you put in all the moves, the forward motion, where you get all the meat off the turkey.
Anne Lamotts essay Short Assignments is taken from her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.
In Bird by Bird, Lamott wants to share everything that has helped me along the way and what [writing] is like for me on a daily basis. In doing so she also gives us the excuse to do things, go places and explore. Short Assignments teaches us how to focus on manageable objectives when we write.Also, review the definition for essay in the Handbook of Literary Terms. Tone is the emotional attitude toward the reader or toward the subject implied by a literary work.As you read the selection, note the use of personal material taken from the writers experience. As you read, look for examples of colloquialism in Lamotts writing and identify the tone she uses.But, it's not just on those days when my to-do list is killing me that I say "bird by bird" to myself. It's an obvious metaphor, but the future is not unlike a blank page — they are both open to too many possibilities to comprehend.It's why that classic job interview question "Where do you see yourself in five years? But when you break life into pieces, then it becomes more manageable. It's difficult to have the whole picture figured out at once, but you can fill in pieces until it comes together.You begin rocking, just a little at first, and then like a huge autistic child.You look at the ceiling, and over at the clock, yawn, and stare at the paper again.Then, with your fingers poised on the keyboard, you squint at an image that is forming in your mind— a scene, a locale, a character, whatever— and you try to quiet your mind so you can hear what that landscape or character has to say above the other voices in your mind. They are the voices of anxiety, judgment, doom, guilt. There may be a Nurse Ratched– like listing of things that must be done right this moment: foods that must come out of the freezer, appointments that must be canceled or made, hairs that must be tweezed.But you hold an imaginary gun to your head and make yourself stay at the desk. Yet somehow in the face of all this, you clear a space for the writing voice, hacking away at the others with machetes, and you begin to compose sentences.It may seem like common sense to break a daunting task into pieces.But Lamott's "bird by bird" story is always just the reminder I need to take things a little more slowly and approach life a little more mindfully.