Upon Reading Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott: Publication–and Other Reasons to Write – Finding Your Voice

“…it is natural to take on someone else’s style, that it’s a prop that you use for a while until you have to give it back.” ~p. 195

When I was a kid, I was such a huge fan of Enid Blyton. My favorites were The Secret Seven and The Famous Five.

I grew up reading Enid Blyton, which means that I grew up reading translated novels. The thing with translated novels is that they tend to have a much more formal language than the Indonesian novel. Of course, compared to contemporary novels which we see a lot nowadays, older works of novels have a more formal language. Take for an example, the Buru Quartet by Pramoedya. Yet, the formality level is somehow different. In the translated novels, they use more standardized Indonesian.

So during my first few years of creative writing, I always write my stories in a very formal Indonesian. Well, not actually ‘few’, for I keep that writing style from elementary school until at least Junior High. Then my friend would tell me that they love my story, but the language style is always something that doesn’t fit in the story. They would tell me, like, “Well, I love your story, but the way you write it… it’s just so… formal. So… rigid.”

Ouch. That’s what you got after spending the whole 5 to 6 years reading the translated works of Enid Blyton.

I don’t hate Blyton, really. In fact, I love her books.

Well, anyway, what I meant to say is that I’ve been ‘borrowing’ the translated style of Enid’s words before I finally read a lot more Indonesian stories and short stories in magazines.

I had the transition of language style in senior high, when I started writing for the church magazine. I remember whenever I wrote in a very formal Indonesian, my friend’s voice would pop out in my head, telling me that formal language sounds so distant. So then I’d read a lot more youth magazine in Indonesian, my native language, and absorb the words and all, then I’d write.

Even up to now, I still believe that what you read, somehow affects your writing.

Whenever I finish reading Amanda Scott’s book (FYI, her stories are mostly set in the 13th up to 15th century Scotland, in which the language used are different, not to mention that it’s Scottish-English), I always feel tempted to use the word ‘Sithee,’ and ‘Prithee.’

I also believe that what we watch can also affect our writing, not to include our manner of speech.

I remember watching Little Dorrit, and Pride and Prejudice, and I found myself saying “Have you not…?” instead of “Haven’t you…?” FYI, the English that I’ve been learning and adapt all these time is American-English, and I know people don’t say “Have you not…?” in American-English.

“…it just might take you to the thing that is not on loan, the thing that is real and true: your own voice.” ~p. 195

Right. So I only need to get used to switch between using “Haven’t you…?” and “Have you not…?” until I can finally decide which one suits me best.

 It does help, though, I have to admit. When I want to write something, I would think which style is more appropriate, or which one suit the story better before I finally began to type.

I remember struggling with my own native language when I was about to write in Bahasa Indonesia. Then my friend told me that I ought to read more Indonesian novel to solve that problem.

I agree.

“…the writer’s job is to see what’s behind it, to see the bleak unspeakable stuff, and to turn the unspeakable into words–not just into any words but if we can, into rhythm and blues.” ~p. 198

“…the truth of your experience can only come through in your own voice.” ~p. 199

But I suppose, adapting others’ writing style is a part of the process in order to find out own style, is it not?

What about you? How did you finally able to ‘find your own voice’ in your writing? Did you read a lot and try to adapt other’s style as well before you finally find your own style?

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Laksmi

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

2 thoughts on “Upon Reading Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott: Publication–and Other Reasons to Write – Finding Your Voice”

  1. gee, i used to do that too, right?
    we were big fans of enid’s. so nothing wrong with adapted her style.
    even now, if i write, i think i still use that style!
    ex : use “kau” instead of “kamu”
    “kamu” seems very strange in my mind. lol

  2. I think I’m more like adapting the translator style instead of Enid’s style, don’t you think so? The thing is, if I want my writing to be read by Indonesian, I think I would have to adapt to a more everyday and conversational style, even if I want to write it in a formal style. I should want my reader to feel comfortable reading what I write. Oh well, but I’m still learning, lol.

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