A French Proverb That Could Save a Writer’s Soul

Petit à petit, l’oiseau fait son nid is a french proverb that dates back to 1835 (dictionaire de l’Académie). A more or less literal translation would be: little by little the bird makes its nest. In daily speech, the lazy things that we are, this is often shortened to “petit à petit”. As in: “How is it going?” … “Petit à petit” – little by little.  It is extremely useful in a wide variety of situations, for example, when you really don’t want to go into detail about what you’re doing. More often though, it is an admission that you’re probably struggling to make progress at all today and you just want it (the day) to end  so you can start fresh tomorrow.writer quote, de niro, modern cave dweller

So it was that this made me think of the life of a writer. We run around collecting all sorts of bits and pieces of ideas, text, pictures and weave them like threads into ideas until, eventually,  some form starts to appear.  A story. A nest. I’ll leave the metaphor there for the moment, but leave it as an exercise for the class – yes you – to run with that metaphor and see where you find yourself!

Despite my well publicised lack of time (OK, mostly whinging on my part), this year is progressing quite well – petit à petit. Which you can also take to mean that it is not going backwards. So, not going backwards is great. I am not writing everyday but I am writing more and more frequently. I’m reading more. Like an athlete, this year is about training, about getting into shape, and being mentally prepared and capable. I stalk follow so many wonderful writers on the various interwebs and am learning the ropes, finding new (to me) authors, publishers and web sites and generally getting drunk on the information overload from all of those passing before me. Building a nest is not as easy as it looks, so while I’m picking up all the pieces I still have a way to go.

With that in mind, I share with you a beautiful quote from Robert de Niro on the mind  of a writer: “The mind of a writer can be a truly terrifying thing: isolated, neurotic, caffeine addled, riddled by procrastination, and consumed by feelings of panic, self-loathing and soul-crushing inadequacy. And that’s on a good day.” I get that. I accept that. And to a certain extent, I revel in that – it gives perspective and allows one to resonate with joy, with sorrow and see the best and worst not only in oneself but in others as well.  It is that ability to observe, engage one’s imagination, and then run off in the most unexpected direction that is a writer’s greatest responsibility. Then, we must do what we must do – writers write.

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