Last weekend, I went to the EJ Camp having supposed to deliver a “talk” (I never like doing those) on “expressing yourself”. I was saved by Jamal Raslan, because his talk was awesome enough that they could afford to not listen to mine. Besides, listening to what I had to say would have been so anti-climactic, so I’m glad I didn’t have to deliver the talk I had prepared that night.
Thing is, I did somewhat prepare for it, so if you’ll indulge me for the length of this blogpost, I’ll write out what I intended to say the other day at the camp. Because reasons.
When I first got the assignment from EJ, I thought about how I express myself most of the time (yes, I actually did some thinking). From the beginning of me starting to express myself either through the blog or through video is that I do this thing where I reflect a lot on the things around me, and I post those reflections online, because I’m an attention-craver.
Thing about it is, I hadn’t always been a reflective kind of person. Even if I did dabble in a bit of reflective thinking every now and again, I never really expressed those reflections anywhere, mainly because I didn’t know how. Doing and writing reflections was a skill that was taught to me when I was in teacher training. Our lecturers would have us write page-long reflections and submit them to their desks the following day or the following week, depending on the lecturer. We all felt like it was just another piece of homework, and we grew to despise the word “reflections”, because not only did it take up our free time, we weren’t at all good at it, meaning that more often than not, we’d get an earful from lecturers telling us that what we’ve written wasn’t good enough.
In the beginning, we all gravitated towards writing reports of what happened and what this person said and what that person said. We’d say “first, this happened. Secondly, that happened. Then another thing happened. Finally, the end.” I can understand now why the lecturers were dismayed by our reflections; because they weren’t reflections at all. They were merely minutes of what had happened and a record of who said what. All of the writings turned out the same, thus making very boring reads for the lecturers, no doubt.
What I didn’t understand and never questioned or even examined back then was the word used to describe the piece of work that we were supposed to be doing. A “reflection” is what you see in the mirror, an image of yourself. The events that take place (such as an activity or a lesson or a poem) act as the mirror and what us writers had to do was to create that image of ourselves as best we could using those events as the mirrors. The more clearly you saw yourself in the mirror (all your curves and all your edges, all your perfect imperfections), the better that reflection is. If only I had grasped this concept when I was still studying, I would have produced much better reading material for my lecturers to go through.
And so the question goes, how does one write a good reflection? Like any skill in the world, you can only get better through practice. You want to be this awesome, insightful writer with a unique and original perspective on things, kan? Becoming that type of writer (and that type of person, for that matter) does not happen overnight. It takes a lot of time, and making mistakes and falling down and getting back up. If you’re anywhere near as untalented as I am, then you’re going to have to take those baby steps towards improving as a reflector.
Do you remember back when you were a wee little person learning how to write alphabets? We got those basic alphabet-writing books, where we learned how to write each individual letter of the alphabet by connecting lines or dots to write letters. Those lines and dots acted as a guide to what you ultimately wanted to achieve, and that is to write letters independently of them. When following those lines, your alphabet-writing resembled just about everyone else who was doing the same thing as you, since everyone was following those guides so strictly. It doesn’t make for very original handwriting, but they do provide you with the basic building blocks for your own handwriting. Then as you go along, you ween yourself or are weened off the guides and start writing freehand, and pretty soon you start to develop a stroke of your own. By the time you’re twenty, you’ve developed a handwriting that is unmistakably yours and only yours.
I think the same applies with reflective writing. You want to get to a spot where you can snap your fingers and boom, have an opinion or perspective and voice that is all your own (that is what I want too), but much like handwriting, you have to start with the basic building blocks, those guiding lines and dots. And those guides, to me, are questions. I have a set of specific questions that I asked myself, which were provided to me by my lecturers. Asking and answering these questions will set you on your way to developing your own writing style and voice (sembang kencang; macam aku ni ada style and voice lah sangat).
The questions are:
1. What happened?
2. What did you feel about it?
- What about it made you feel good? (What did you like about it?)
- What about it made you feel not so good/bad? (What didn’t you like about it?)
3. What did you learn from it?
So I started off all of my reflections in the early stages with those questions already on the page. All I had to do was produce 500 or more words through answering those questions, preferably having the answer to question number 1 kept to a bare minimum.
And that forms the basis for my reflective writing. I still in one way or another answer those questions in my thinking and my writing (although I don’t stick to them as rigidly as I did), and I do try to write as freely as I can nowadays, but I cannot deny that those questions form the foundation of my thinking about events, and in effect, my expressing them through writing.
It has to be stressed that after years of doing it consistently have I been able to improve at all in my writing and expressing myself. And I still have a lot more improving to do, so we have to work on it and keep on working on it in order to be better than our previous selves, because that's our real competition: ourselves.
Of course, this way of doing it would not and should not fit everyone. I am here sharing with all of you how I came to write and express myself the way I do. If you have any questions, I’d be happy to answer them, and if you want to share how you do it, I’d be thrilled to hear/read about them.