Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Message from Elizabeth DeArcos, High School Teacher

This semester, my creative writing students are reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.  It makes me happy that one of the most popular writing books is written by a professed Christian who sprinkles thoughts on faith throughout the book.  Lamott spends a lot of time discussing the overwhelming feeling of attacking something as big as writing a novel.  Nothing scares writers as much as looking at the scope of a project.  It’s debilitating, and often, our excuse for procrastination.  Lamott’s solution is to change her focus.  Instead of looking at the project as a whole, she likes to use a one-inch picture frame and what can be viewed within that amount of space.  Then, a novel becomes just a chapter, a chapter just a scene, a scene just a paragraph, a paragraph just a sentence.  Once we take the fear out of where to begin, or how to continue, we’re free to work without so much pressure.

I find that Lamott’s approach works well in life as well.  I’m a stressed out person by nature.  My mother will readily tell you about taking me to doctor as an infant and the doctor telling her that stress plagued me.  And I can’t decide if choosing a profession in which I consistently have to be flexible and go with the flow is helping me or hurting me.  Regardless, when I am faced with the task of planning the school year, planning a unit, planning something that would typically overwhelm me, I find what fits in a one-inch picture frame and start there.  

With the end of the semester approaching quicker than we’d like, only to be followed by the holidays, stress is upon us.  My encouragement to you is a borrowed story from Anne Lamott and the source of her title.  When she was a young girl, she watched her older brother try to write a report on birds.  He had three months to write the report and of course, had procrastinated until the day before.  He was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by stacks of supplies and books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task.  Her father sat down beside him, put an arm around his shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy.  Just take it bird by bird.”

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