Upon Reading Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott: Help Along the Way – Writing Groups & Someone to Read Your Drafts

Writing Groups

“So much of writing is about sitting down and doing it every day, and so much of it is about getting into the custom of taking in everything that comes along, seeing it all as grist for the mill.” ~p. 151

Someone to Read Your Drafts

“…writing is so often about making mistakes and feeling lost. There are probably a number of ways to tell your story right, and someone else may be able to tell you whether or not you’ve found one of these ways.” ~p. 163

“But I am suggesting that there may be someone out there in the world–maybe a spouse, maybe a close friend–who will read your finished drafts and give you an honest critique, let you know what does and doesn’t work, give you some suggestions on things you might take out or things on which you need to elaborate, ways in which to make your piece stronger.” ~p. 163

“What works for me may not work for you. But feedback from someone I’m close to gives me confidence, or at least it gives me time to improve.” ~p. 164

I used to sketch a lot back in elementary school. And junior high. And senior high. And I remember when I was little, I love to sketch and making mangas (Japanese comics). Whenever I came upon the manga I used to sketch, I felt so stupid and silly and ridiculous. But, hey, I was 10 at that time, so I sure didn’t feel so ridiculous at that time.

I would sketch and sketch and sketch. Whenever I saw papers and pencil (or pen) I would grab them and start to draw eyes, and then nose, and then mouth. Then I would formed a face (or more like a skull), then there’s the hair, and then the neck, and the last part is the body.

Don’t worry, I barely draw my character naked. Like I said, I was 10, for God sakes.

Then one character lead to another character, one sketch to another sketch, and sketches, and sketches, until I finally created a 2 pages manga.

After that, I would, with excitement, showed my parents my work. And they would smile and told me proudly, “Oh, you’re so talented!”

Yet the truth decided to hit me and slap me cruelly.

Of course my parents would tell me that I did a great job. I’m their daughter, after all. Sakes, I’m the only child, you know.

But my cousins and friends of my age at that time didn’t care that I’m the only child. When I showed them my sketches, they would threw it away and then switched right away to the actual manga (like Dragon Ball, or perhaps Sailor Moon) and then they would told me that they barely understand anything I drew on the paper. They didn’t understand the story, and they didn’t understand why Ami or Meg did this or that stuff.

Then I would explain to them what I actually meant with that sketch. And they would argue that that wasn’t what I draw–at least it didn’t appear to them like that. What happened next? Oh, we’d fight. Like a cat. Then I would cry and ran back home to my parents and told them the cruel things my friends said.

Geez, we were kids. What do you expect?

Of course I would then give up drawing and sketching for some time.

Then I would sketch again.

Later in junior high, I made friends with an illustrator of a famous Christian Magazine, named Jack. I always admire his sketch and his humorous way in delivering his story.

From Jack, I found out that I’m not the only one faced with the cruel reality. He told me that the first time he sketched, he also experienced the same problem.

Oh well, practice makes perfect, right?

Whenever I finished writing–any kinds of writing–I would usually ask my friends to read it. Of course I wouldn’t usually ask everyone to read it, but I would usually ask one to two friends to read it, and tell me what they think of it, when it comes to the content.

I had this circle of friends, who I met back in the university. All of them are from the English Department where I studied, and most of them are writer, if not poetic. I would usually ask them to read it and tell me what they think about it.

When Lamott stated that there would be someone out there, just like our soul mate who’d be able to give us honest critics, at the same time give us support and encouragement–boosting our confidence, I couldn’t be more agree.

These friends are those who I look up to. There are these guys who, whenever I ask them a favor to read my long, boring, cheesy story, would tell me instead that they felt honored to read my story. Then they would give me praises and critics. I’m telling you, the critics are sometimes quite harsh.

There’s this one guy, who would take notes of the feedbacks that he’d give me, specifying precisely on which pages improvements are needed. He would write, “p. 44–the story’s getting plain and boring. Create some conflicts to make it more interesting.”

I remember I was sending a short story to a newspaper, and I asked him to read it first. At first, he didn’t give any critics. He simply gave positive comments.

Yes, I was flattered, yet somehow, my insecurity ask, “What? That’s it?” So I urged him, and asked whether there’s really nothing bad in the story.

Oh well, I can be really annoying regarding things that I write, indeed.

Then he replied, “Dian, you seem to be very eager to better the story.”

He’s damn right.

Although I also felt a sudden guilt, feeling that I’ve been insisting too much, as well as asking too much.

But he’s one of my friends in whom I could put my trust, and could–probably–do no wrong in my perspective. I respect his opinion as well as others, and he could critic me as harsh as he could if he wanted to, and I would still respect it.

Another thing that I would ask my friends to do is, sometimes, to check the language style. I’ve been writing some random stories here in my blog, and all are in English.

All these times, I’ve been very eager and craving to ask some English native speakers to read it and check whether what I’ve written sounds natural to them.

So one day, I asked this friend to read it, and that’s when I actually found faults and flaws in my English.

And I would still do that. Then I would keep bugging my English native speaker friends to read it and all, because I badly, if not desperately, want inputs.

Another that I do right now is joining a Blogging Groups in facebook. Okay, it might not be exactly a writing groups, but believe it or not, it does helps.

When I wrote a story, I would then post it in the group’s wall, and despite of me believing that no one actually read it, people do read it. And what really wonderful by being a part of this group is that some people would eventually leave comments, if not critics, and believe it or not, it boosts me. It encourages me to improve, and to write more.

Or perhaps, when I was stuck with my writing, I would simply browse through the group’s wall, and read some other members’ blog posts. Sometimes it would give me ideas, or simply give mesome breaks and intermezzo before I finally get back to my writing. Perhaps I do not always get inspiration from their posts, but it is always wonderful to me to read what people think of something, or simply read their daily journal. Lamott wrote that writing is about paying attention to little things. Put it in another words: Writing is about sweating on small stuffs. And reading others’ blogs does help.

Or, one time, I remember putting a post containing Writer’s Questions, and there’s this one question asking how often I experienced writer’s block. I said very often, and whenever I had that, I would feel so depressed, and I would doubt that I would make a very good writer. But then other blogger fellas would read that, and would tell me that having writer’s block is normal, and it doesn’t make me a bad writer.

Fine, maybe I never meet them in person. But believe me, there’s a reason why technology and electricity is invented.

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Published by

Laksmi

An MA student at Waseda University, Shinjuku-ku, Tōkyo, Japan. An avid reader. A language geek as well. And a book hoarder.

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