After attending Tunku Halim’s Creative Writing Workshop (THCWW), I walked away with one important lesson: Knowing something and knowing how to apply it are two very different things. It is much like the 13-year old boy and sex. He may have been taught in biology class how to impregnate a female. But the reality of it is, given the opportunity, and despite his enthusiasm, he may not even be able to perform at all. Even if he does manage to see the act through, it is unlikely that it will be executed with any degree of finesse.
And the same is true with writing, too. Many of us know the tools that are deployed in creative writing (and I don’t mean just pen and paper). Most of us – through books, other workshops or conversations with those more learned than ourselves – are aware of these tools. They are often referred to as ‘setting’, ‘description’, ‘dialogue’, ‘point of view’, ‘character’ and ‘plot’. At the intellectual level, we all know what these things are, what is it exactly that they do and why they are important. Nonetheless, does this mean we also know how to use them? As I painfully discovered, the answer to this question, in most cases (especially mine), is a resounding ‘No!’.
This point was driven home when Tunku made us write little passages using these tools. We then had to read them out for all to hear. After having heard a few, and with the benefit of Tunku’s guidance, I looked at my own wretched passage and almost cried out loud, “What a load of bollocks!”
Like the 13-year old boy, just because I possessed the necessary information didn’t also mean I automatically had the necessary skills to execute the task properly. I was woefully inadequate in the execution aspect of it. To put it in another way, simply because I have memorized the operating manual of a tower crane, for example, doesn’t mean I will be able to operate it. I suppose I could. But the collateral damage would be quite unacceptable.
The important thing is to exercise using these tools. And this cannot be done in any other way than by writing, writing, and then writing some more. If I didn’t learn anything else from Tunku’s workshop, having learned this lesson alone would have made it all worthwhile.
I suppose a grand time was had by all at the workshop. As I expected, a phenomenon that is peculiar to Malaysian audiences managed to rear its ugly head yet again. I call this phenomenon the ‘pseudo-question’ phenomenon. I guess Malaysians can’t help succumbing to this rather amusing behaviour during question time.
This is how it usually goes down: Instead of asking questions in a quest to acquire the answers that would fill an information gap, there will be one or two (sometimes more) who will ask questions that they already know the answers to. The reason for asking these ‘psuedo-questions’, as far as I can fathom, is to put on display the enquirer’s depth of knowledge so that it can be duly admired. When this happens, I am glad I do not have access to a shotgun. Otherwise, the consequences may prove to be quite severe.
But being a right gentleman, and much to his credit, Tunku manages to entertain and address these so-called ‘questions’ with much grace and aplomb. It is likely that the ‘pseudo-questioner’ is not even aware that Tunku knows that he has just been asked a ‘pseudo-question’. Kudos to Tunku!
But moving to things more positive, I guess after the workshop, I became slightly more confident that someday, I may just be able to get published. This is because, according to Tunku, Malaysian publishers are quite eager to develop a crop of Malaysian writers. Currently, there exists a quite substantial window of opportunity. What I have to do is to keep on writing. Someday, somewhere, some publisher may like my work enough to put it in print.
And as Tunku said, “Talent is what separates a good writer from a great writer.” I don’t need to be a great writer. So, talent doesn’t have to come into the equation. This being case, I guess my chances aren’t all that bad.
And the final highlight of the day was when Tunku borrowed my Sailor 1911 fountain pen to write something for somebody.
What more could I ask for?