“The Most Profound Advice…” From a Bestselling Author

bird by bird

In a recent Monday Mash-Up, I shared Tim Ferriss’ podcast interview with Annie Lamott. Her book Bird by Bird is one of my favorites about writing.

In the interview, Annie tells Tim how she came up with the book title. This story alone is a priceless lesson for writers — especially those struggling to get it done. Or for anyone else pursuing a goal.

Annie grew up in California in the 50s and 60s. In those days, all 4th graders in California public schools had to write a term paper about birds.

When Annie’s brother was in 4th grade, he had to write the essay but couldn’t get started. It was due on Monday. Two days before it was due, he told his dad he hadn’t started.

Annie describes what happened next: “My brother was a tough guy, and he was in tears. And my dad sat down with him and put his arm around him, and he said, “Just take it bird by bird, buddy. You know, first you read about chickadees. And then you write a paragraph, in your own words, about chickadees. And then you draw a picture. And then you take pelicans, and you study up on pelicans. And then you write a paragraph or a passage on pelicans.”

Annie said, “I never ever forgot that.”

She went on to describe how years later she heard the great writer E.L. Doctorow liken writing to driving at night with your headlights on.

“You can only see a little way in front of you. But you can make the whole journey that way,” Annie said. “I think that is the most profound advice I can offer anyone on any topic — that you can only see a little ways in front of you, and you can make the whole journey that way.”

We’ve heard similar metaphors before…

…How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time…

…A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step…

And many of us dismiss them as self-help cotton candy — way too sweet, not much nourishment.

I used to be that way. I used to roll my eyes at this stuff.

But no longer. Because I grew tired of getting stuck. I was sick of feeling like Annie’s brother.

Every pursuit we undertake is a journey.

Writing an essay about birds is a journey.

Marketing our business with compelling content is a journey.

Creating and delivering stories that captivate prospects is a journey.

Sure, we establish goals. We set a destination. But if we stare too much at the destination, we get stuck. The horizon is hazy. It’s far, far away.

Don’t get hung up on that. Don’t get hung up on how long the road is, how high the mountain is, how many words the essay must be. If you get hung up on that, you’ll get stuck.

Focus, instead, on what you can see and do. Focus on what’s right in front of you. Focus on what your headlights illuminate. Focus on one bird at a time.

Don't go away yet..

p.s. Coaches, authors, and consultants hire me to power-up their creative content and storytelling to captivate prospects, stand-out and book more business.

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Tom Ruwitch

Tom Ruwitch is the founder and CEO of Story Power Marketing. For more than 30 years, he has helped businesses grow by delivering powerful stories using a variety of different media.