The Writer and Becoming
By Jazmine Florencio & Mary Darby
We created this podcast to discuss our writing journey together. In this first episode, we talk about the book Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.
Episode 1: Bird by Bird Discussion
Q (Jazmine): Why did you pick this book for me to read?
A (Mary): First off, I wanted a book on writing that you would enjoy reading, and I remembered enjoying this book a lot myself when I read it years ago. To me, it is more like a writing buddy or coach than a book. It’s friendly and accessible. Anne Lamott tells many stories from her life and her journey as a writer and they are easy to relate to.
Another reason I chose this book is that I thought it would model good writing for you without being pedantic. The writing in Bird by Bird is simple and clear. It doesn’t try to be overly clever or use a lot of fancy words. But it has a voice and it engages you and keeps you reading.
Q (Mary): What did you think of this book, Jazmine?
A (Jazmine): I really enjoyed it. It is so different from the kinds of books I usually read. I am not used to reading instructional writing books, mainly because I learn about writing through my teachers or mentors. I never saw the need to own or read books of this genre. But I really like this book, and how it was written to grab the attention of the reader while somehow managing to include writing lessons.
Q (Mary): How do you find yourself relating to Anne Lamott and the stories she tells?
A (Jazmine): There were many moments in the book where I related to the author’s experiences and stories. Like when Lamott spoke about wanting her dad to have a “regular” office job and I could relate to that because my parents both work in a bakery, which may seem “cool,” but I often wished that my parents had a different job.
One part I really liked was in the introduction when Lamott spoke about her father. She said “I wanted him to have a regular job where he put on a necktie and went off somewhere with the other fathers and sat in a little office and smoked. But the idea of spending entire days in someone else’s office doing someone else’s work did not suit my father’s soul. I think it would’ve killed him.”
The connection between our fathers is that they both couldn’t imagine being anything else than what they were. As kids, we often imagine what it would be like if things were different from our reality. Anne Lamott’s connection to her father brings back that nostalgic feeling of questioning everything (even our parents’ jobs) when we are young.
Q (Jazmine): What do you like most about this book?
A (Mary): To me, what’s really cool is how Anne Lamott finds stories in everyday life—like the story about her brother writing his school report on birds the night before it’s due. And his father tells him to just write it “bird by bird.”
I remember one part where she talks about school lunches, and she invites you the reader to envision the sandwiches your mom packed for you to bring to school. For me, that brought back the sandwiches my dad made for us kids from leftovers after our mother died. His intentions were loving but the sandwiches were terrible! They were so greasy they would fall apart in your hands. I remember how awful I felt sitting in the school cafeteria right after my mom died, with this gloppy mess of white bread and leftover greasy meatloaf seeping through my fingers. And yet I knew that my dad was such a great dad. What other dad would make sandwiches every night for four kids after working all day? I think of them now as “sandwiches of despair,” but I never would have thought of those sandwiches again if I hadn’t read Bird by Bird.
Q (Mary): Tell me what you liked most about Bird by Bird.
A (Jazmine): I like that the book is not an instructional list of do(s) and do not(s). Anne Lamott’s short stories add that sort of spice and flavor that we need. This book is probably one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read in a while. I did not want to put it down when I started reading it. It brought me back to my fifth-grade classroom, listening to my teacher tell stories next to the whiteboard, while all the students eagerly listened to her from our desks. I recommend the book to folks who want to improve their writing skills or who just want a good read.
Q (Mary): What’s your most important learning or take-away from this book?
A (Jazmine): The most important take-away for me is that it’s okay to make mistakes. So what I accepted after reading the book is that you can’t be a “one draft” writer. There will always be room for improvement and changes in your writing. I value the importance of revision a lot, along with accepting the fact that no work is perfect on the first draft.
Jazmine came up with the idea of the podcast. After brainstorming what we wanted to talk about, we decided to discuss Bird by Bird. We each came up with questions and developed and edited our answers together in a Google Doc. We also practiced several times before making the recording. Jazmine created the image for the podcast and chose the intro and outro music. It took a long time to complete, but we enjoyed the process.
Jazmine Florencio is a high school junior who is proud of her Mexican roots. She often writes about people who are underrepresented, including people of color and mothers. She wants to use her voice to bring attention to those who are often forgotten in the eyes of society.
Mary Darby is a writer, editor and strategist for Burness, a public interest communications firm that works to advance social change. She lives across the street from Inwood Hill Park with her beloved dog Pepper. In her spare time, she reads a lot of mystery novels, does crossword puzzles and works on her own mystery novel.