What’s the 1″ picture frame?


November 28, 2017 by Jason Phillips

It’s a writing technique I learned from Anne Lamott. I love her. Her writing is so funny and easy. She gets to the core of things – pure honesty, brutal, revealing. And it just glides. She talks of how hard it is to write, in one of my favourite books, Bird by Bird, and how, when she sits down and looks at the blank screen, her mind gets nasty and turns against her. She has, on her desk, a 1″ picture frame. It reminds her to not think of trying to write a hefty tome that will go down in history. It says, look at something, small, and describe it. And do it each day. Describe a tiny thing, once a day. Even the biggest classic texts that have stood the test of centuries were composed this way. One small step at a time. So, no need to get overwhelmed by the impact you are trying to have, or by the size of the project you are embarking on. Just describe what you see in today’s 1″ picture.

It’s a tiny snap shot. It’s looking at one thing. And describing what you see. One of the most perfect examples of this for me has to be Bill Wither’s picture frame, in his classic song, No diggity.. Here Bill looks into his picture frame and there he sees his Grandma’s Hands… And he simply describes what he sees. And it is beautiful, simple, short and to the point. Perfect.

Grandma’s hands clapped in church on Sunday morning
Grandma’s hands played a tambourine so well
Grandma’s hands used to issue out a warning
She’d say, “Billy don’t you run so fast
Might fall on a piece of glass
Might be snakes there in that grass,”
Grandma’s hands

Grandma’s hands sooth the local unwed mother
Grandma’s hands used to ache sometimes and swell
Grandma’s hands used to lift her face and tell her
She’d say, “Baby Grandma understands
That you really loved that man
Put yourself in Jesus’ hands.”
Grandma’s Hands

Grandma’s hands used to hand me piece of candy
Grandma’s hands picked me up each time I fell
Grandma’s hands, boy they really came in handy
She’d say, ” Mattie don’t you whip that boy
What you want to spank him for?
He didn’t drop no apple core,”
But I don’t have Grandma anymore
If I get to heaven I’ll look for
Grandma’s hands.


So what is my 1″ picture frame today? It’s a picture frame within a picture frame. and inside that 2nd frame is Bill Withers and Anne Lamott. Bill is looking into yet another picture frame, where there is a picture of his Nan’s wrinkled hands, soflty clasped. Anne’s frame is empty as she looks at it for inspiration. And this is it.

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One thought on “What’s the 1″ picture frame?

  1. Kat York says:

    I love the idea of the 1’ picture frame and I LOVE that song by Bill Withers!!

    I’m also loving your writing more and more!! Keep them coming xx

    Liked by 1 person

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