Upon Reading Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott: Help Along the Way – Writer’s Block

“Writer’s block is going to happen to you. You will read what little you’ve written lately and see with absolute clarity that it is total dog shit.” ~p. 176

“Or else you haven’t been able to write anything at all for a while. The fear that you’ll never write again is going to hit you…” ~p. 177

Oh, bummer.

I hate writer’s block. And I’ve been having it over and over for years.

Sometimes I would feel like I had this wonderful ideas about how my stories should turn out. Then I would write and write and write, but as I typed, I realized, if not feel, that the story has gotten sidetracked, and that I didn’t like the story at all.

Then I would shut down my iBook, feeling like crap and go to sleep.

The next day–or a couple days after, I would turn on my iBook again, trying to write something completely new. Something that might fit better than the previous crappy ideas.

So I’d typed. And typed. And typed.

Then I’d scrapped it again because I felt like it’s nothing that I’d imagined it would be.

Of course, I didn’t actually scrapped it.

Well, depends on how crappy I feel at that time, really. If I felt really depressed, I would definitely scrap it. But if I didn’t feel so bad about it, I would just copy-paste it to a new document and save it. Who knows it might be useful, right?

“Writers are like vacuum cleaners, sucking up all that we can see and hear and read and think and feel and articulate, and everything that everyone else within earshot can hear and see and think and feel.” ~p. 177

 I just chuckled because the sentence remind of Overheard in New York and Nguping Jakarta right away. Just in case you don’t know what those two is about, both sites contains silly, ridiculous, funny conversations of passerby in both cities (New York and Jakarta) and sometimes it would turn out to be extremely hilarious. I remember reading posts in Nguping Jakarta (which is written in Bahasa Indonesia and sometimes in slang, though) in an internet cafe and I struggled so hard not to laugh out loud. I bet the guy sitting next to me thought I was nut.

The contributors of Nguping Jakarta are Jakarta citizens who happen to hear funny comments or remarks and would later send what they heard to Nguping Jakarta. The creators of Nguping Jakarta call themselves as Kuping Kiri (Left Ear) and Kuping Kanan (Right Ear). We can never be safe whenever they’re around because, as Lamott puts it, they suck up all that they hear and see and articulate and all. But we feel entertained, really. At least I feel entertained.

Anyway, I guess, I really need to buy index cards and start to bring them everywhere I go from now on. Point is, whenever I feel this kind of stupid block going on, I might need to take the advice from Anne Lamott, saying that I’d better go and take some fresh air, and perhaps, do a little observation here and there, and take notes on everything, related to my story or not, for, we might not know which one might be useful someday. Maybe I should try to make my own ‘Overheard in Malang,’ or perhaps ‘Overheard in The Office.’ But the first would, I guess, make my friends feel so insecure around me and the latter would make me desperate hope that none of my boss would ever read this ‘Overheard in The Office,’ or they’d hang me, I suppose.

Okay.

Breathe.

“The word block suggests that you are constipated or stuck, when the truth is that you’re empty.” ~p. 178

Gee, why I never thought of that?

“The problem is acceptance, which is something we’re taught not to do. …But if you accept the reality that you have been given–that you are not in a productive creative period–you free yourself to begin filling up again.” ~p. 178

Acceptance, huh?

This definitely won’t be easy. Of course I was taught of acceptance, but it was never easy. Someone would come up and told me the opposite, let’s say, that they’re being very productive lately, which would definitely make me feel like crap, or someone would say that perhaps I’m never that good anyway, or perhaps would told me to work and try harder otherwise, and then I would stressed myself out. This last part is where you’d need to take away all the knives and scissors that you have.

“I remind myself of this when I cannot get any work done: to live as if I’m dying, because the truth is we are all terminal on this bus. To live as if we are dying gives us a chance to experience some real presence. Time is so full for people who are dying in a conscious way, full in the way that life is for children.” ~p. 179

Okay. Not helping.

To live like we’re dying?

I’ve been noticing for years, that I felt really productive mostly when I was depressed. And most posts that has gotten most positive comments are, unfortunately as well, the ones that were written when I was in my lowest, darkest, bluest, and bitterest times. No, I’m not lying.

I remember there was one time when I felt really depressed when I was still in college. I was taking more than 20 credits in a semester (approximately around 9-10 classes per week), not to mention 2 additional credits that I spent in the Performing Arts Department to practice my piano and drumming skills, and at the same time, my days were also filled with choir exercise at least twice a week, plus a drama rehearsal about twice a week as well (if I had not mistaken). During that busiest time of my life in college, I was, as well, having a turbulence with one of my dearest friend. We stopped talking, and it tortured me. I felt so alone, and I began checking out all sites in the internet about depression. I even did a stupid checklist on the internet to check my depression level. They said I was heavily depressed. Then I went to the drugstore, telling them that I need a Prozac. A woman told me that I’d need a doctor’s prescription for that, but as another customer came, she’d disappear out of my sight in a second. So I tried another person in that same drugstore and told her that I need a Prozac. She’s probably new, because she gave me Prozac right away.

Anyway, during those times, I remember writing plenty and plenty of blog posts–name it, poems, stories, or just chunks of metaphors.

And that’s when some of my friends told me that they love what I wrote.

Okay, fine, depressed is not the same as dying, but what if, instead of pretending that I’m dying, being depressed is the key for me to be productive?

Well, that could still be nothing but a hunch. Besides, men are always evolving, right?

Okay. Breathe again.

I think I need to sit down and relax for a minute.

‘Your unconscious can’t work when you are breathing down its neck. You’ll sit there going, “Are you done in there yet, are you done in there yet?” But it is trying to tell you nicely, “Shut up and go away.” ‘ ~p. 182

 Okay. I’m gonna go and find some fresh air now. Maybe even brew a cup of coffee.

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Upon Reading Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott: Help Along the Way – Letters

“When you don’t know what else to do, when you’re really stuck and filled with despair and self-loathing and boredom, but you can’t just leave your work alone for a while and wait, you might try telling part of your history–part of a character’s history–in the form of a letter. The letters informality just might free you from the tyranny of your perfectionism.” ~p. 172

Arrgghh. Another perfectionism. Again.

This is what I actually do at first when I try to make an outline of my story.

Oh yes, dear fellas, I used to make an outline for the story I’m about to write, to mkae sure that I wouldn’t get sidetracked.

I know, I know, I love free writing, and I still do, but even in this part of free writing, some outlines might help.

Or at least that’s what I believe.

I remember writing timeframes in chronological order for a story I was writing.

Well, in outlines, you usually write simple chunks of words instead of a complete sentence in a full body paragraph, right?

But sometimes, a simple fragment sentence doesn’t help. So then I’d write a letter to myself.

Yes, to myself. Does that sound selfish to you?

Nevertheless, the fact is that I wrote a message for myself.

“So after this, what Eddie would want to do is to shut himself in his room and think about his dead girlfriend. He would grieve until his brother, Samuel forced to enter the room and asked Eddie to stop grieving and move on with his life.”

Then I would transform that message into sentences, dialogues and paragraphs.

Or sometimes, I would do that whenever I still feel like writing, yet my time is extremely limited. So I would write and an outline, combined with short messages to myself to remind me on what’s supposed to happen next.

Well, so far, that works. Really does.

Of course there’s still a possibility that after I continued my writing at another time, I might read the message and think that my former idea is stupid. Then I’d write a brand new sentence. But at least I’ve tried to tell myself and remind myself what to do.

At least that’s what I think.

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.

Upon Reading Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott: Help Along the Way – Index Cards & Calling Around

Part Three! I’m moving forward, baby!

Index Cards

“One of the things that happens when you give yourself permission to start writing is that you start thinking like a writer. You start seeing everything as material.” ~p. 136

And one of the easiest way to do this, is using index cards. Or any kinds of medium that you’re comfortable with. Since now is the era where people rely more on their smart phones instead of themselves, you might wanna consider an iPhone or Blackberry as well.

The thing is, (and as annoying as it is) we never know when Mr. Inspiration or Intuition would show up, and we could never tell. I was completely lost and anxious in starting to write my story, until suddenly, the idea ran into my head, just like a rain pouring down so heavily that I thought I really shouldn’t waste a minute and write them down anyway.

Or another day when I was about to sleep (again), then suddenly this jumbled words were popping out in my head, and, since it was late and I did not have any paper or pencil with me at that time, I grabbed my mom’s Blackberry and typed them down until the next day, I moved it to my blog here.

Another day, I was about to sleep (again) when I suddenly feel like writing a story. I hadn’t had the slightest idea about what to write, but I know that I just wanna write. So I sit on my bed, and starred blankly at the wall in front of me, then thinking how am I gonna write this down because I certainly didn’t wanna turn on my iBook again after I just shut it down. Then I remembered that I just bought this notebook from the bookstore. So I grabbed the notebook and a pen, and write. And write. And write.

Of course, as I write the story, it turned out to be something unusual and unexpected, like I was expecting a Jay Gatsby story, and it turned out to be an Alibrandi story (just an illustration, btw, not that I actually wrote something about, or related to, Alibrandi or Jay Gatsby), but I didn’t scrapped it. I saved it later in my iBook, just in case I might need it later.

“They’re often so rich, these unbidden thoughts, and so clear that they feel indelible. But I say write them all down anyway.” ~p. 136

Of course, the only perfect timing to be able to write the thought is when you are actually feeling the moment, the taste, just like the time when the Inspiration and Intuition came to you. Whenever I thought that I could just save it in my head and write them down later, of course, when I’m finally facing my iBook, the moment’s gone. And I don’t feel like writing it again because the moment’s just gone, and I don’t think whatever I write would be as meaningful as when I feel the moment just then.

So I scrapped the ideas.

Pathetic, right?

This is why we always need to bring a notebook, or index cards, or at least a smart phone with us everywhere.

I’m a very clumsy person, who could accidentally left my umbrella or any other things that I have whenever I visit a cafe, or a diner, or such, especially when the stuffs are less important than my cell phone. Last weekend, I just left my umbrella accidentally in a coffeeshop. I came back two days later to see if they still had my umbrella, and it was lost forever.

But I certainly never forget my cell phone.

So, okay. Maybe not an index cards, but a cell phone would do just fine for me.

Calling Around

“There are an enormous number of people out there with invaluable information to share with you, and all you have to do is pick up the phone.” ~p. 145

“The truth is that there are simply going to be times when you can’t go forward in your work until you find out something about the place you grew up, when it was still a railroad town, or what the early stages of shingles are like, or what your character would actually experience the first week of beauty school. So figure out who would have this information and give that person a call.” ~p. 147

In other words: Research.

Wait, are telling me to write a thesis? Because all these time I thought that being a writer is that you simply sit and type. And type. And type.

Kidding.

I never write anything about being in the first week of beauty school, though.

But I once wrote a story about guys exchanging emails about girls that they like, and I remember I was asking any guy friend that I have, including my cousin, about what guys usually talked about in their emails, and whether they would actually talk about girls at all if they ever exchange emails. I’m warning you, though, this could be cultural, because I just found out that guys don’t behave the same in every culture.

My cousin told me that they sometimes talk about girls to each other, but it’s not actually a heart-to-heart session. They would merely talk about the girls’ appearance (of course they would talk about the pretty ones) and that’s it. But some other would tell me that they would never talk about girls at all with other guys. They would prefer talk to a girl best friend, and this would usually refer to something more emotional and sentimental. Sometimes they would ask how a girl would behave and what he is supposed to do when a girl behave like this or that.

So I wrote them down.

Not easy, though. And definitely not my favorite part of writing.

An Indonesian author, Andrea Hirata, gained a success through his tetralogy The Rainbow Troops, and finally became a full-time author.

Dude, what the hell are you doing, becoming a full-time author?

Research.

I’m planning to actually read the Indonesian version of The Rainbow Troops (Laskar Pelangi)–meaning I haven’t actually read the book–but from what I heard from my friends, he’s a damn fine writer.

I remember reading about how Elizabeth Gilbert disguised as a guy, and behave like a guy, hanging out with guys and such, only to write an article about guys.

I think I’m gonna make a damn petite guy if I ever disguised as one. I’m only 5’1″, for God’s sakes!

I was halfway reading The Buru Quartet by Pramoedya Ananta Toer before I finally realized that he hadn’t even born during the early 1900s, where he started his story in Bumi Manusia (Earth of All Mankind). He couldn’t possibly know about the situation during the early 1

900, so he must’ve done some research, if not plenty.

Which is why I’m currently googling some stuff related to Alzheimer’s Disease.

And which is why I recently tracing down a once-Freshly-Pressed-post that I’ve read long time ago about Alzheimer’s Disease. Heartbreaking, and definitely tearjerker, but definitely worth-reading (click here to read).

Oh, I’m open to inputs btw, if you had any information about Alzheimer’s Disease.

Research. Research. Research.

Arrrgh.