“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.’”
Shall we break this story down now?
That’s what’s written as the description for the book “Bird by bird” by Anne Lamott. Let’s deconstruct the story and look at each block individually…
Backstory: “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.”
Desire: “…trying to get a report on birds written…”
Internal Desire: (my words based on the story) Make his family proud with a good grade; prove to himself he could get this report done; didn’t want his friends to make fun of him and make him feel stupid if they found he flunked this report.
External Desire: (again, my words) finish this bird report; get a good grade on the report; have fun at the cabin with his family.
Wall: this report was due the next day and… up until this point, his approach for writing this report wasn’t working — it was only causing overwhelm and procrastination.
Epiphany: by approaching this report one bird at a time, it is easier to do, and he wouldn’t feel overwhelmed anymore.
Plan: Take it bird by bird (until the report is done).
Conflict: Only 24 hours to complete the report and nothing had been written yet.
Transformation: (also my words) He learned that his dad cared more about teaching him how to conquer an intimidating task (by breaking it into smaller manageable ones) than the grade he’d receive; he got closer with his dad.
Achievement: I didn’t read the book, so… who knows how it went…
Sorry for the cliffhanger!
Here’s why I’m sharing…
When I got started writing, I asked all the common questions. I’m pretty sure all the Qs in FAQ came from me! 😂
“How long should it be? Is it boring? How do I target an audience? What should my headline be? How I prevent BCS (blinking cursor syndrome)? What details do I include? How should I start my story?….”
Those questions (and many more) kept me from believing I was qualified to write…
Aaaaaand even though I still ask those questions (because I’m still human)…
I’ve turned to a familiar, and proven, mindset that got me here. It’s just that I’d forget about this mindset when it came to writing…
That mindset rhymes with “bucket.”
I write, but it works for social posts, podcasts, videos (especially live ones). Just… bucket!
I want you to look at that 100-word story…
It has only what the author wanted to say. In just 100 words.
A quote… from a father to his son…a quote that would otherwise be powerless (and meaningless) if it weren’t for the first 90 words… the story.
As we are fed those small details like “close to tears”, “due the next day”… we know those feelings, either when we were kids but even as adults with stressful jobs that we depend on because people rely on us…
Picture What Surrounds You
“…surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized…”
We’ve all been somewhere like this before. The author is walking us through her memory of that day. That’s it. It’s simply a documentation of what she noticed that day.
Just 100 words. Don’t overthink it. Bucket. You got this.
Publish, get feedback, get better, repeat…
P.S. The book is called “Bird by Bird.” It’s by Anne Lamott. Funny enough…it’s actually a book on writing. I’ve never read it, but I just love this little story. It’s got like 4+ stars on Amazon.