Saturday, June 30, 2012

Make Good Art.

"Remember that whatever discipline you are in, whether you are a musician or a photographer, a fine artist or a cartoonist, a writer, a dancer, a designer, whatever you do you have one thing that's unique. You have the ability to make art. And for me, and for so many of the people I have known, that's been a lifesaver. The ultimate lifesaver. It gets you through good times and it gets you through the other ones.

Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do:Make good art.

I'm serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Somebody on the Internet thinks what you do is stupid or evil or it's all been done before? Make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, and eventually time will take the sting away, but that doesn't matter. Do what only you do best. Make good art."

Neil Gaiman.
Novelist, Graphic Novelist, Screenwriter.  
Quoted from The University of the Arts 134th Commencement, May 17th, 2012.
(complete script: click here)

Grief and Gratitude.

Grieving is human. Grieving is a part of life because nobody is perfect and people will let you down. There will be moments in life when you're going to feel so helpless, so out of place, so lonely, so mad about everything that's going on and you find yourself desperately wishing for things to go back to the way it were. But you can't because past is past and that's it. People get sick and they die, relationships end and you suddenly have to go your separate ways, friends back-stab and friendships get ruined, people leave to be somewhere far away from you, these things are all bound to happen to some of us eventually. And when they do, you're going to want to cry a lot, eat chocolate a lot and I don't know, probably sing and dance and spend nights not sleeping a lot. But you can't go on like this forever, right? 

So in the midst of all the mess, we write and we read, a lot. We write and write and write, and read  and read and read, and don't stop until you finally get a hold of yourself and realize you're going to be just fine. Bruised, obviously, but it doesn't make you less than what you truly are, it doesn't make you less of a writer or less of a reader than you ever were. We are writers and writing should keep you sane (Ray Bradbury said this too in one of his speeches). Writing should (and will) be your therapy in getting back on your feet and your characters should be one of the people you find comfort in. Reading, on the other hand, should allow you to have peace. Reading should take you to places other than reality, take your mind off the mess and give you the necessary breaks you need when you feel helpless and sad and mad again. 

Writers, I think, when we are faced with devastating events in life should be grateful. I don't think this applies to writers only, but to artists in general. We should be grateful because we get the chance to experience the process. I'm not saying I enjoy losing friends or I like breaking up relationships and dance over people dying, but if it did happen, if we did had to deal with those things, then I'm saying you should remember to be grateful. Be thankful that you get the chance to experience first hand from the tears, the happiness, the longing, the desperation, the exhaustion and all the raw emotions, because now you get it. Now you know how your characters feel when you kill their friends and now you understand how the grieving process is supposed to be too. People always say, experience is the best teacher, and to some extend it's true. And as writers, every moment of our lives is precious, it should be precious, including grieving, and this too should be taken as a valuable experience.

Oh, and, you're going to be okay. The storm doesn't last forever. That's for sure.

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Friday, June 29, 2012

3 most inspirational moments.

photo credit: Pabro Barra (flickr)
We, humans, root for inspiration everyday. We search highs and lows for ideas, for perspectives, for concepts and even for meanings in life. We crave to be inspired day after day because inspiration makes life exciting and somehow allows us to extend our imagination at new heights. Writers, although we may be a little geeky, are also human and we long to be inspired everyday. It's not just everyday, but in every step of our waking moment, we long to be continuously inspired. Inspiration is the core of what we do. We write about things that made us feel alive and the thrill we get is from things that inspire us. 

It's pretty obvious actually to see how desperate writers are when it comes to finding inspiration. They are willing to go to remote places merely for the sake of meditating, hoping they will eventually come out with new meanings and new perspectives that will help them write better. Others travel around the world to see places, to be enchanted by the many wonders of the world and to learn about different cultures which will help them to get stronger character development. In my case, I don't believe in meditation and I don't travel much, but I've learned along the way that we can be inspired everyday through simple things. So, here are my list of the three most inspirational moments of our daily lives (from the third): 

3. Driving
I know what you're thinking, driving is an activity that requires your undivided attention and total focus but sometimes I just couldn't help to space out and start thinking about other things (please note that this can endanger your safety). When you're driving, especially when you're going through familiar routes (like driving from home to school), you will feel like your body moves on its own and you suddenly just got there to your destination. During these times, your mind will be so deep in thought, it's like you're no longer in the same reality that ideas will start popping up in your head.

2. The Semi-Unconscious State between Dreaming and Waking Up
In those mornings when you wake up very slowly (not suddenly) from such an intense dream, that you can feel like you're somehow still asleep and still dreaming but at the same time you're already aware it was just a dream? This is when you still remember what went on in your dreams, though probably not every little detail, but at this moment you have the ability to jot them down into a story. After you gain your full consciousness, the memory will start to fade and eventually you will have only glimpses of what happened and not enough details to make a story out of it. Some people can remember their dreams vividly even after days and weeks,  which is a blessing, but most people cannot. Dreams are actually one of the best sources of inspiration as there are no limits. So if you can experience that semi-unconscious state and you manage to get up and note what your dream was all about, it would be a a great source of inspiration. 

1. The Shower 
Yes, the famous "shower" moment. Ray Bradbury, one of the greatest writers of all time, said that one of the places he go to find inspiration would be the shower. I also don't know the scientific explanation behind why so many great people find inspiration in the shower. When we write (or work) we pressure our brains to think, explore and be critical, but at some point we get tired that we ended up generating zero ideas. So it's probably because when showering, our minds are more relax and can drift off just like that. Some people also say that taking a shower is a passive activity that doesn't require high brain activity therefore our minds can go deep into other things, for example: your characters, plot and settings. 

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So, are you inspired? 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Reading is Everything.

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"Reading is everything. Reading makes me feel like I've accomplished something, learned something, become a better person. Reading makes me smarter. Reading gives me something to talk about later on. Reading is the unbelievably healthy way my attention deficit disorder medicates itself. Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it's a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it's a way of making contact with someone else's imagination after a day that's all too real. Reading is grist. Reading is bliss." 

As   quoted in  AdviceToWriters.
In Memory of Nora Ephron.
Filmmaker, Director, Producer, Screenwriter, Novelist, 
Playwright, Journalist, Author and Blogger. 
(May 19, 1941 - June 26, 2012

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Books are important.

Anne Lamott.
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“For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.”

From the book: Bird by Bird,
written by Anne Lamott


When you talk about art, you are talking about the so-called muses. Writing is an art, which means there is also the so-called muses. I used this word a lot when I share my frustration in dealing with writers block and self-discipline issues. I knew this word by heart. I have a good understanding over what the word means, but I never looked it up in the dictionary before, so this morning I just did

muse 2 (mjuːz)

— n
a goddess that inspires a creative artist, esp a poet

[C14: from Old French, from Latin Mūsa, from Greek Mousa a Muse]
quoted from:

The nine muses
—Clio, Thalia, Erato, Euterpe, Polyhymnia, Calliope, Terpsichore, Urania, Melpomene—
on a Roman sarcophagus (2nd century AD, from the Louvre)
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I was so in love with Muse's definition: a goddess that inspires a creative artist. Turns out what we call as "Muses" are the goddesses of the inspiration of literature, science and the arts. Pretty cool, right? But I won't be talking about history or Greek mythology here, probably some other time.

Let's talk about muse in a more general perspective. I knew what muse was, it's more of a abstraction state (this definition was also stated in the same page as the one mentioned above) where you feel like you're "in the zone". Writers wait for this a lot because once you find your 'Muse', you'll feel like flying, like your fingers couldn't stop typing one word after another one and you'll feel so alive when you do. The 'Muse' is exactly like a goddess that inspires a creative artist. The thing is, this 'goddess' doesn't come around and go as we wish. She doesn't act under our orders, it's actually more like the other way around. Stephen King wrote a wonderful quote on this in his book 'On Writing', and it said:

"Muse's job is to smoke cigars.

This is one of my favorite quotes of all time. King talked about how our Muse, our goddess, has always been by our side. She never left. But she won't be able to help and inspire if she doesn't find you working, or in other words, writing. He said that we could never feel like she's helping us if we don't discipline ourselves to write everyday because when we don't, there's really nothing she could help us with. Muse is only there when we write, so when we don't, she's gone. It's kind of like telling her our working schedule so she knew when she should show up and decide if we're working hard enough.

If you've read enough writing advices and writing quotes, there's a lot of chatter about self-discipline in writing and this is actually one of the keys to get our Muse working. A lot of great writers from decades ago until today talked about sticking to a certain writing schedule that you follow every single day. It's hard at the start, but as you go along, it gets easier, not because of the writing itself, but because our minds are trained to process and work on ideas like a routine at scheduled hours. You know how our bodies and minds react towards routines, after a certain period of time, they seem to automatically act accordingly to their required functions in completing the task (for example: waking up at certain hours automatically without alarm at similar hours every morning). This is what we called as our Muse, when we're 'in the zone', when our bodies and minds are focused to the writing process which helps us to come up and process ideas to write about.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The extension to my summer reading list (so far).

The other, I posted my summer's reading list so far. And I've noted down that there was a big possibility for the list to grow, and so it happened. I have recently bought 6 books, one of them was Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, which I have finished reading from the beginning of last year (2011).

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It wasn't a surprise that the book was an enjoyable, memorable and thoughtful read, as it was appointed by New York Times  as one of the best books of 2010, alongside with other contenders, such as Room by Emma Donoghue (another fine piece of writing), A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan and also Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff. The experience of reading Freedom was simply one of a kind, as Franzen told the story at such great depth, allowing us readers to bond strongly with the characters. At the time the book was a borrowing from a friend. I saw a smaller size of paperback recently at the bookstore and I just couldn't resist.

As for the rest, here are the 5 books I'll be adding to my summer's reading list:

1. Big Girl by Danielle Steel

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2. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

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3. True Blue by David Baldacci

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4. The Other Side of the Story by Marian Keyes

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5. Safe Heaven by Nicholas Sparks

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I'm not sure if I'm going to have enough time to finish them all, but who cares? You shouldn't read to meet deadlines. You write to meet deadlines, that's normal, but you read for pleasure, for the sake of enjoying the imagination of another's writer put into work.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Respect for writers.

Once you tried to write a novel, you will never see the literary world through the same eyes. And it shouldn’t be just a meaningless attempt. It should be that one time when you set yourself to struggle through the words and actually came up with a first-draft, and then you will be changed forever. Trust me, you will never read novels the same way ever again.

I have always loved reading novels but at the same time have always been very picky at what I should read. I would always go about finding reviews on certain novels before buying them, making sure they are worth my time and effort. If there wasn’t a really big sale going on I wouldn’t be stepping into a bookstore buying a book I just saw at that moment without doing a bit of background research on the book. I still do that until today, and I’m not planning to stop because I still believe bad writing is contagious, but the more I grow as a writer, I realized I’m also growing as a reader. And what I mean by growing as a reader is in terms of my respect for writers.

Writing is a difficult process. It takes a lot of time, effort, discipline and in a lot of aspects, pushes you to keep on going, even though your body and mind might disagree. It’s a process of shaping ideas and thoughts into structured sentences and paragraphs at certain lengths that should eventually produce an image to portray certain meanings. And this process is a tough one.

Writers have to go through many phases before having the book published, from first drafts, proofreading, editing, rewriting, second drafts, more editing and rewriting, and another draft and more rewritings until it’s (almost) perfect. Even after the writing part is done, they still have to lay their hands on many aspects of the publishing process, which will require time and energy, like in book signings, passage readings, book tours, interviews and etc. This series of phases could take months, even years, depending on the story that the writer is working on. I have tried writing novels several times now and surviving just a few months of writing the first draft was quite frustrating (though still enjoyable to some extend).

Knowing this makes me respect writers more and more each day. I still find many novels disappointing until today, but even after reading those novels, I find that no matter how badly I think over the book, the writer must have done something right because they were already published and I have not gone as far as they have. They have done a good work, otherwise editors won’t approve their work in the first place. In fact, I think they have all done great because they have struggled, survived and finally rise through the writing process.

And for this, and for a million other reasons that I couldn’t mention here, that I put the highest of my respect for writers out there.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Forever Young.

I learned that you should feel when writing, not like Lord Byron on a mountain top, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten, —happy, absorbed and quietly putting one bead on after another.

Brenda Ueland.

I think writing stories is immensely liberating because you feel young again when you write. You feel young not because you’re old already, or that you have grandchildren, or you have wrinkles on your face, but because when you write you’re absorbed into a different dimension of reality that doesn’t concern time and space. You can go to any city in the world, any corner you want to visit, any magical places with witches and dragons and giant, evil monsters. You can be whatever you want to be, a Queen, a dog, the King of Venus, you name it, you can even disappear from the world if you want to. Writers are forever young because like children playing pretend, they too embrace the freedom of imagination.

We are young because writers write and when we write we take ourselves on journeys that have no boundaries whatsoever and at that very moment, we become children again, like children stringing beads in kindergarten, —happy, absorbed and quietly putting one bead on after another, like they have all the power and all the time in the world in their hands, like they’ll be forever young.

Friday, June 15, 2012

"Isn't it odd...

… how much fatter a book gets when you’ve read it several times?”

Mo had said when, on Meggie’s last birthday, they were looking at all her dear old books again,

“As if something was left between the pages every time you read it. Feelings, thoughts, sounds, smells… And then, when you look at the book again, many years later, you find yourself there too, a slightly younger self, slightly different, as if the book had preserved you like a pressed flower… Both strange and familiar.”

A different Meggie had read that book, very different. And there she would stay between its pages, preserved as a momento.

Quoted from Inkspell, the second book of the Inkheart Trilogy, written by Cornelia Funke.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

This summer's reading list, so far.

Holiday is finally here and I can’t wait to start my reading-frenzy. I have finished reading a novel a few days ago. It was Lola and the Boy Next Doorby Stephanie Perkins,a YA (Young Adult), something light and fun to read.  I enjoyed it very much and it was a good opening for my reading feast. I’m now on my way to finishing How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren, which is a pretty heavy one for me and takes up quite the effort. A good one though, I can assure you, a helpful guide for reading non-fiction.

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So anyways, here are the books on my summer reading list so far, that is if I don’t end up buying some more:

 1. Stand By Me - Sheila O’Flanagan

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 2. The Millennium Trilogy: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl who Played with Fire, The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest - Stieg Larsson

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3. The Language Wars: A History of Proper English - Henry Hitchings 

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4. The Inheritance Cycle: Eragon, Eldest, Brisingr, Inheritance - Christopher Paolini

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5. Self Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print - Renni Browne & Dave King

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6. At Home - Bill Bryson

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And then possibly, though the books right now are still somewhere lost in shipment:

7. Bridget Jones Diary - Helen Fielding

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8. Sex and the City - Candace Bushnell

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Okay, so it’s probably not that much. But I like said, this is my list so far, only “so far”. Holiday’s just getting started.


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Thoughts on looking around.

The best thing a writer could do to not waste their time leaving their computers and walking around out and about is to look around. Keeping the eyes and ears wide open at everyone and every direction possible, because you’d never know what you might encounter. The conversations people have around you, their facial expressions, their arguments even the way they dress might be some source of inspiration for our stories.

I saw a mother sitting alone today at a restaurant. She looked furious when her daughter walked up to her because apparently she was stood up by the daughter and was forced to finish dinner all on her own. It was rather funny to watch because who in the world does that? I mean, it’s okay to let your date got stood up by you, but your mother? Bad idea.