My friend Beandrea introduced me to Anne Lamott when I was separated from my ex-husband. Fresh from her writing graduate program in California, Bea had discovered yoga out there and began teaching classes in and around Philadelphia, where I lived at the time. I went to a yoga and writing workshop Bea hosted, because I, too, had discovered yoga in the years since we met at Penn. I also had always enjoyed writing, and wanted to support my friend. During the workshop, Bea shared something Anne had written, and it resonated with my soul.
After the workshop, I went to the library to borrow some of Anne Lamott’s books. I began with her classic text on writing--Bird by Bird. As Lamott explains, the title was inspired by something she overheard her father say when she was growing up. One of her brothers had procrastinated on a school project about birds. It was the night before the report was due, and her brother hadn’t started yet. In agony, he asked their father how would he ever get it finished in time. Without skipping a beat, the father calmly replied, “bird by bird.” He would have to stay up late, do his research, and write his paper, focusing on one bird at a time. The phrase stuck with Lamott, and she carried it into her writing career.
I, too, loved the bird by bird analogy—the whole book in fact. I think that may have been the first time I wondered if I could ever be a writer some day. I loved the written word and aspired to be able to put my own thoughts onto paper. As the years passed, and I experienced more and more of life, the stirring to write persisted. It took a long time for me to garner enough courage to start putting my writing out there for others to read. My first blog posts were rather hesitant, exposing my insecurity and reluctance to be exposed. With time, my confidence has increased, and my voice as an author has gotten stronger.
Last weekend, I attended the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference here in DC. I enjoyed the panel discussions about writing and attended several sessions in which authors shared their work. Most of the sessions I chose focused on creative nonfiction—my particular area of interest. I also attended a few panels featuring Black women authors. As I sat in the sessions, I came up with the idea for a new BIG WRITING PROJECT. I had just published my second post on Dealing with Anxiety in the Age of Trump. I wondered if I could expand on the ideas of the two essays I had written so far to create a full-length, self-help book. Sitting among all those writers with their positive vibes, infectious enthusiasm and published works, I felt confident I could do it. Then the conference ended.
I have thought about this book project a lot over the last week. It would offer strategies for dealing with anxiety and depression, written by a laywoman for the average reader. I also thought about all the work involved—research to support my recommended strategies, hours of writing, rounds of revisions, searching for an agent to represent me, finding a publisher for my book, and on and on. As the list of things to do grew, I quickly became overwhelmed. Writing a psychology self-help book seemed way too much to expect of myself as a writer.
Last night, I decided to go spend a time at a café after my evening yoga class. I read from another of my writing books, and completed that chapter’s exercise while sipping on a masala chai. It focused on listening to the hopes, joys, fears and anxieties of the Inner Writer. As I allowed her to speak, my Inner Writer shared her excitement about the possibility of publishing a book that could do a lot of good for a lot of people. The level of fear, anxiety and depression I see in my students, friends and loved ones on a daily basis is startling. If I could share all the strategies I have learned to manage similar symptoms, and they helped, I would feel so accomplished. But I also felt utterly overwhelmed by the magnitude of the project.
In the back of my head, I heard the voice of Anne Lamott’s father: bird by bird. I can’t sit down and write a book in one setting. I can, however, focus on one chapter at a time—writing one page, one paragraph, one sentence, and one word at a time. Then, I came up with a plan. I would set aside 30 minutes a day for 30 days to work on the project. Hopefully, by the end of those 30 days, I would have at least 30 written pages. The number of pages doesn’t matter as much as the fact that I give the writing project a try and see what comes of it. I just need to get started.
One of the scariest aspects of dealing with anxiety is its ability to cripple. You can become so overcome, so worried about all the negative possibilities, so concerned about what might possibly happen, that you get stuck—frozen in space. Nothing good can happen in such a state either; you are left in limbo. That’s where I lived the last week. I didn’t write or create an outline. I didn’t look to see what other books had been published or researched possible agents. I wallowed in misery, feeling overwhelmed. Once I can get in touch with my emotions and the reasons behind them, I usually am able to start problem solving, coming up with ways to move forward, even one tiny step at a time.
What is your bird? What big project or goal do you want to achieve, but are uncertain where to begin? Where are fear, worry and anxiety keeping you from pursuing your dreams? First, acknowledge your feelings. They are real. Then, ask yourself what is beneath the fear. Once you know why you are feeling overwhelmed, come up with a way to make the process less frightening. The simpler and more accessible the first few steps, the better. I can’t devote hours to writing a new book right now. But I have 30 minutes a day—even if it means waking up 30 minutes earlier. Once you have your action plan, start moving forward—bird by bird, one small, step at a time.
Crystal Moore began her wellness quest in 2003 after being diagnosed with lupus. Her quest has led her to embrace yoga, faith, exercise, healthy eating, and relationships. Share her journey.