Bird by Bird: Some Instruction on Writing and Life
Bird by Bird, Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott is one of my all-time favorite writing guides. Originally published in 1994, this book has been on my personal bookshelf for well over ten years – and I still refer to it on a frequent basis.
The book gets its title from a school project the author’s then 10-year-old brother put off until the last minute. He had been given three months to write a report on birds and of course, hadn’t made any progress on it during that time. (A scenario I have lived through once or twice!)
Not surprisingly, he was on the verge of tears the night before it was due. That is, until his father (a published writer) put his arm around him and said “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”
This philosophy of breaking down a seemingly insurmountable task into bite-sized pieces directly applies to using content to drive online business growth. Content Marketing is a long-term project and can get overwhelming when you consider all of the content you will need to create to accomplish your goals.
One word of caution, however, this book is written for fiction writers seeking publication in the offline world. For this reason, some of the chapters may not be applicable to your own goals (i.e., character, plot and dialogue) – but there is enough meat here to make it a worthwhile read for anyone involved in online content creation and promotion.
In fact, my personal favorite writing tip came from this book – something the author affectionately refers to as creating really “Shitty First Drafts.” Regardless of what I am working on, I use this technique to avoid over-editing myself (and losing some of my best “stuff” in the process). The goal with this technique is to capture all the thoughts and ideas swirling around in your head – and worry about the polishing and perfecting later.
(With the advent of self-publishing, this technique has also added to my personal stress level. Now, whenever I leave the house, instead of just worrying if I turned off the curling iron and unplugged the coffee pot – I now stress over if I saved whatever I am working on as a “Draft” – or if I left my own really “Shitty First Draft” out for all the world to see. )
Beyond the very solid writing advice (i.e., silencing your inner critic, finding your own voice and getting over the whole “perfectionism” thing), there are some valid lessons inherent in Ms. Lamott’s writing style. For one, the book offers a hilarious take on what it is really like to be a writer and what it takes to create and put something original out into the world. It makes for an engaging read, unlike many of the dull and dry writing reference books out there. Entertaining to educate is (or should be) a mantra for all online content marketers.
In addition, the author shares a number of poignant details from her own life, including the loss of both her father and best friend to cancer. In doing so, she talks about how these experiences shaped her as both an individual and as a writer. By offering this glimpse into her personal life, she opens the door to a more meaningful connection with her readers. She didn’t need to do this – her outstanding sense of humor and experience as a published author would make Bird by Bird a compelling read regardless.
Offering that glimpse into your own trials and tribulations is one the best ways to connect with your audience – but there is a fine line between putting yourself out there and over-exposing yourself. Ms. Lamott navigates that line successfully – and offers a great lesson to online publishers in the process.