In the introduction and first four chapters of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird we are introduced to Lamott as a writer and teacher with a lot of things to say about writing, the process and life in general. Her writing style is simple and straightforward, yet she says things and provides experiences of her own that really hit home for me as a photojournalist and student. Though she mainly talks about her experiences and struggles as a writer, the feelings as a photojournalist are very similar. I am the first to admit that I struggle generating realistic ideas for stories and taking it to heart when things don’t go right. Lamott shares that sentiment when she says, “…telling the truth in an interesting way turns out to be about as easy and pleasurable as bathing a cat. Some lose faith. Their sense of self and story shatters and crumbles to the ground” (3). Again she describes that feeling of failure when she says, “you may find yourself consumed with a free-floating shame, and a hopelessness about your work, and the realization that you will have to throw out everything you’ve done so far and start from scratch…And then the miracle happens. The sun comes up again” (8-9). Lamott hints that there is always another route to take even when things seem to be so miserable that you can’t go on with your project. The experiences and sentiments she writes about hit so close to home for me and that is what I love about this book.
The chapter on perfectionism was another I found really interesting. Photojournalism is a very competitive field and to be successful, you need to create work that is worthy, just like any field. With that pressure of being great comes perfectionism. You can’t be sloppy to be great. According to Lamott, you can be as sloppy as you want before you produce the final product, because that is all that others will see. This is something I need to remember as well. Even if I have a really bad day shooting, no one has to know or see those photos. Lamott emphasizes this idea at the end of the chapter when she says, “What people somehow (inadvertently I’m sure) forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here — and, by extension, what we’re supposed to be writing” (32), or in my case, photographing or seeing.
The title and mantra of the book, “taking it bird by bird,” is a great way to look at your own work and how it just takes patience to get where you want to be. It is so easy for us as photographers and journalists to get wrapped up in the instantaneous society we live in where we have short deadlines and we’re constantly moving from one project to the next. This idea rings very true for this Capstone class where we are given time to think, generate and develop ideas that will take more time than we are usually allowed. I know that I get wrapped up in my failures very easily, making it harder for me to produce something that I am capable of. I think as I continue to read this book I will find more inspiration and insight as long as I just take it bird by bird.