Busy begats busy: lessons from Bird by Bird

Allison Tait blog
Posted on March 10, 2014

lamottquoteMy plate is rather full at the moment. Satisfyingly full. Some might say that it’s heaped too high, but I’m trying not to think too much about that, concentrating instead on the satisfaction of it all.

I am one of those people who likes being busy. I know that this is a modern failing and I promise that I am not wearing my busy-ness like a badge of honour. Rather, I am allowing it to fuel me.

When I have acres of time, I tend to drift along, getting very little done. Because there is so much time, you see. I do my paid work and then… I just sort of amble around social media.

It is now, when I have a huge amount to do, that I get all efficient on myself. Given three hours in which to work on my current fiction manuscript, I will achieve about 1500-2000 words. Given only one hour, because I must squeeze it in around everything else, I will achieve… about 1500-2000 words. On a good day. On a bad day, maybe 900-1000, which is still a better per-hour output than when I have time to burn.

Whenever I’m faced with a mountain of work and the whelm factor is high, I remember these words from Anne Lamott:

“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.”

That’s where I’m at right now. Taking it bird by bird.


  1. Nikki @ The Wholefood Mama

    “immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead” oh yep I suffer from that. Such a beautiful story from Anne Lamott. And as for your output, extraordinary!! I think you were clearly born to write!

  2. Kerry Malone

    Love this! I know this but am letting myself get overwhelmed.
    Bird by bird, I can do that!

  3. Sarah Kentwell

    I just had the same realisation yesterday in fact! I get so much more done under pressure and I get great satisfaction from seeing my completed ‘to do’ list. Taking it bird by bird.. love it!

  4. Sam Stone (@A Life on Venus)

    That is great. Bird by bird. I am going to use that. I like to be busy too, I find I get a lot more down when under pressure.

  5. Lisa Lintern

    There are feathers flying in my house. Kelly Exeter taught me to swallow frogs and you are teaching me to take it bird by bird… x

  6. Sarah Morton

    Totally agree! I am much more productive when I’m busy and there’s nothing more satisfying that getting through a long list (although it’s a fine line between busy and overwhelmed, I have discovered). I always think ‘you’ll get it done, you always do’ but I just love that bird quote—it’s going on the wall!

  7. Anna Spargo-Ryan

    Yes! I love that book. I’m easily overwhelmed and think in many small tasks. 1000 words in an hour is an enviable output, too.

  8. Kelly Exeter

    You’re speaking my language baby!

  9. Rita @ The Crafty Expat

    These are very wise words. I definitely work better under pressure and I struggle at the moment to get my manuscript edited because there’s no deadline other than the one I gave myself. just wondering are you on Bloglovin Allison?

    • Allison Tait

      Hi Rita, that’s a good question! I was when I was at the pink fibro, but I’m thinking that I haven’t updated that! There’s always something you overlook, isn’t there? Thanks for the reminder! A

  10. JodiGibson (@JFGibsonWriter)

    I work much better under pressure and with a deadline. It’s just the ‘getting started’ bit that I sometimes faulter on, but once I’m going I’m okay. Bird by bird. Love it!

  11. Kym Campradt

    I’m exactly the same. I prove it to myself time and time again – too much time = not much done. I really like that piece from Anne Lamott. Good luck with all your writing. I thought the other day when I saw #writeabookwithAl, “But I can’t, I just can’t.” Then that night I had this crazy dream that had me madly typing notes into my phone at 2am. Apparently I can!


  1. Top web reads of March - […] it’s still fascinating to look at the different structures used. And it’s so pretty!Busy begets busyThis short but lovely…

Pin It on Pinterest