This is the section where we get our titular saying “bird by bird”. The phrase was used by Lamott’s father when her little brother procrastinated on an assignment to the point where he was teetering on the edge of a mental breakdown. He had a month to write an essay on birds; he was frozen, unable to act against the massive task that he was aiming to do in a day.
“Then my father sat down next to him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird’.” (pg. 108 iBooks version)
Lamott took this little saying to heart, and now tells it to other writers who feel the weight of the world on their shoulder. Break down the problem to manageable sizes and take it bird by bird.
This little saying resonates with Chris Anson’s thoughts on process pedagogy, which focuses on the act of writing rather than the end result of writing. Anson’s paper, “Process Pedagogy and Its Legacy” highlights these sentiments, which are key to fiction writers like Lamott. Anson wrote that “process teaching focused on creativity, imagination, and the development of an authentic voice” (pg. 217). These ideas are central to Lamott’s own “pedagogy” of reflection on life. For Lamott, being without the things Anson sees as so critical to process is anathema to the act of writing itself.