My Favorite Book That Inspires My Creativity (And Changed My Life)
I read this book as I was going through some turning points in my songwriting and in life, and it profoundly changed the way I approached most things. For a variety of reasons, I spent much of my younger years feeling paralyzed within my own creativity. I wanted to be able write and sing about what I wanted to say, and ultimately accept and even love the eventual output and be able to continually grow within my own craft. Way back then though, I recall instead pining over and criticizing every little imperfection or detail. After reading "Bird By Bird,' I accepted just about all of it as truth and made some pivotal shifts in how I approached my work. Here are some of my biggest takeaways:
Lower the bar
Creativity takes an endless number of forms. Whether it's a blank sheet of paper, notepad in a phone, word processor on a laptop, painting canvas, camera, or recording session, lowering the bar for what I was “allowed” to throw on my blank slate was a crucial step for me.
Denounce “writer’s block”
I found the so-called "writer's block" comes from at least one of three places:
- You aren't clear on what you want to say
- Your standard and expectation for what you want to say is so high that nothing is good enough- aka your inner-critic is being unreasonable...
- You're not connected to your environment and refuse to let the notions from the Universe whisper in your ear
Once I noticed where it was coming from, I could easily begin to admit that writer's block was totally self-manufactured in my own mind.
Let go and be patient...I've learned to let go of the egotistical thought that we as creators are doing this all on our own and without the help of something bigger than ourselves. I try to approach the first moment of each creative session with the faith that God/The Universe/whatever-you-want-to-call-the-thing-bigger-than-your-own-being will show up and whisper in your ear what you are wanting to say that day in due time.
Some of my favorite passages from 'Bird By Bird':
When I stopped trying to be perfect at tasks and learned to fail productively or embrace the imperfections as the nuances that gave my work character, I noticed I was getting so much more done in my life and felt a level of fulfillment that continues to drive me daily. Here are some of my favorite quotes from ‘Bird By Bird’:
“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won't have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren't even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they're doing it.”
“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It's like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can't stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.”
“E.L. Doctorow said once said that 'Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.' You don't have to see where you're going, you don't have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice on writing, or life, I have ever heard.”
“Clutter and mess show us that life is being lived...Tidiness makes me think of held breath, of suspended animation... Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist's true friend. What people somehow 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.”
“If something inside of you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act—truth is always subversive.”
“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report written on birds that he'd had three months to write, which 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 about 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.”
“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.”
“I heard a preacher say recently that hope is a revolutionary patience; let me add that so is being a writer. Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don't give up.”