Saturday, 5 May 2007

How To Dish Out Your Thoughts

It wasn't as big a deal as Yvonne's book launches, but I attended the book-talk anyway. She and Her Majesty Boadicea held court at MPH 1Utama last Sunday. Although it was about that collaboration called Write Out Loud, the maestro of the project, Karen-Ann Theseira, was nowhere to be seen.

OK, so I arrived late and probably missed her.

The so-called book-talk-slash-how-to-write session quickly morphed into a cross between A Tribute to John "The Next Tom Clancy" Ling and "What You Don't Want to Know About Writers" (the latter part owes much to Boadicea, Part Time Queen of Darkness). Revelations about writers as brooding, tortured beings who tap into wellsprings of raw negative emotions almost made a young aspiring writer in the microscopic audience swear off the art forever. In the end, though, all was well.

But back to the Young Aspiring Writing Newbie.

This was what happened: young aspiring char koay teow seller wants to be the next big thing, so he seeks guidance from one of the Famous Macalister Road Sisters from Penang. Being the guileless, not-so-surefooted fledgling that just realised that those flappy things are meant for flight, he puts forth queries he thinks will bring him closer to his goal. "Should I slice the spring onions diagonally or straight horizontal?" "What brand of koay teow is best?" "Aluminium or non-stick (wok)?" "Wild or farmed (prawns)?"

To her credit, Her Majesty (who has a reputation for not suffering fools) was very patient with the budding acolyte, satisfying his burning curiosity as best she could.

I felt like whacking him with one of the chairs.

Writing is a bit like cooking. You need ingredients, proper utensils, preparation techniques and - the most important thing - that personal touch. It's the last bit that sets you apart from the rest, because it is, well, you. It will take you years - or never - to develop and hone your magic touch to a katana-edge. You think it's easy to put bits of yourself into your writing? Some find it easy, so much so that they're not doing it consciously. Then we have our fledgling, whose fuss over tools and technique kept him from getting off the ground.

Speaking of technique: Let me spin you a yarn.

When I was in Form 5, we had to produce rice paper prints from a carved linoleum board for our final Art exam. Half of my class were students of this one art tutor, and the teacher who graded the paper immediately noticed the applied techniques of his colleague in the masterpieces they turned in (they all even had the same theme: nesting birds). Mine sucked, but the design and colours were my very own.

Too bad you don't get points for being yourself in exams. With writing, it's a different story.

O budding writer, do not be afraid. Bad writing is everywhere, so your first attempts won't be the catastrophe you thought they were. Practise whenever you can. Read, and read lots. Even the bad pieces. Do have a dictionary in hand, because spelling is always important. Learn to convey your thoughts and ideas in a manner so concise your readers will get you the first time. Forget about that thesaurus sitting on the bookstore shelf. Even as a professional writer, you will never use up to eighty-percent of the contents in your lifetime. Research your chosen genre thoroughly so that you look like you know what you're talking about. Use words like "kewl", "sux" and "kthxbai" to incur my everlasting wrath.

The rest? You pick it up as you go along. You, your life and your journeys are source of the ingredients for your writing. Once you have an idea of how to "cook" and present them, it should be smooth sailing from there.

Getting published is another matter entirely.

The one thing you can't control is the reader. Don't bother trying. Since readers are also people, there will be those who will either love you or hate you after they've sampled your prose. Not everybody likes char koay teow, you know.


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