The Violin Stories

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Jauh-jauh sekolah ke Sydney ‘cuma’ buat jurusan ‘nulis’? Wah, temen-temen INDOMEDIA sudah waktunya mengetahui bahwa menulis itu nggak mudah dan dibutuhkan kreativitas dan kemahiran. Jess menceritakan proses menulis, inspirasi, dan karya-karyanya.

Hi there! Nice to meet you! You can call me “J” and I’m an international student from Jakarta studying in Sydney! I’ve received my Bachelors of Arts and Business, majoring in Creative Writing, from the University of New South Wales (UNSW), and I’m currently enrolled in a Masters of Commerce (Marketing) also at UNSW. I’m currently not working formally, but I’ve been using my free time to catch up on my to-be-read pile, write and develop the growing list of ideas that I can barely keep track of, and try to grow and stay active on my writing Instagram account @violin_stories in the midst of all that!

Tell us about your passions!
One of my passions is reading. I love reading middle grade novels (haha yes that’s novels for upper primary to early high school aged kids). Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved stories and books. Something you should know is that I was a super talkative kid (probably still am lol), but the one thing that can make me go completely silent for hours on end is a book.

Originally, though, I thought that reading was just a hobby for me. It wasn’t until the past few years that I realized it was a passion – particularly in middle grade fiction and fantasy. I find that they grapples with topics that are usually very heavy in a much lighter way and helps us understand the bare bones of these experiences without the convoluted analyses that adults often use.

Some of my favorite books that do these things really well are “The Graveyard Book” by Neil Gaiman which explores the experience of parenting and growing up and letting go, “Thirteen Witches: The Memory Thief” by Jodi Lynn Anderson which explores memories and the power of imagination, and “The Girl who Drank the Moon” by Kelly Barnhill which explores sorrow.

As for writing, I’ve loved making up stories ever since I could talk haha. My grandma said I would go on and on making stories about random things, and once I could write, I loved to copy down my favorite stories and write some simple ones of my own. So, I think I’ve always known that writing was one of my passions, but this was solidified particularly in the past two years when COVID hit, and I was going through a lot of challenging circumstances in my life. I felt alone with no one to turn to and felt like my faith in God was being shaken too. I didn’t know how to process some of these things, and so… I wrote. 

And as I wrote, I found that leaning towards fantasy or imaginative metaphors helped me express and navigate confusion in a way that non-fiction journaling and realistic fiction could not. Writing through the lens of fantastical characters and metaphors somehow helped me to see the situation from angles that I never thought of before, at the same time giving me the distance I needed to process the struggles without getting completely overwhelmed by them.

It was also just such a joyous and fun process to examine the metaphors that I’ve chosen and figuring out how to develop and present them in a way that accurately reflects my reflections, and I had heaps of fun playing around with the words and sentences to figure out what’s the most engaging way of writing my stories.

From that, I realized the power of truly writing what was on my heart – instead of simply writing plots and characters that mimicked my favorite books or what I felt like is the expectation of the reader market – and I find myself more and more wanting to write these kinds of raw, honest stories for hopefully the rest of my life. 

Can you share your favourite works?
“Miracles” – a three-part series that comprises of two poems and one reflective quote – was born out of the period of waiting and struggling when I was back in Indonesia during COVID when I was supposed to be in Australia doing my Masters.

At that time, it felt like everything was going wrong around me, and no matter what I did, I kept making more and more mistakes. I saw my sinfulness and brokenness so much that I thought, “How could I ever change? It’s impossible!” But then somehow… God slowly showed me the little steps of progress and comparing who I am now to the person I used to be in the past. That’s when I realized that His work in me isn’t dependent on how much changes I saw nor on giant miraculous breakthroughs which we often look for. Instead, He works in the little things, changing our character bit by bit, through every up and down in our lives no matter how small they are, slowly building up into a huge pile that everyone can see as time passes – just like the sand in an hourglass. 

I was also inspired by how God is not constrained by time, and that while time shows us the work He has done in us, it is also gathering up for a life of eternity with Jesus.
It was really challenging yet satisfying to really push my boundaries with the two poems in this series, writing and formatting them in a way that visually represents the metaphor while at the same time giving flexibility for the reader to read it in many different ways – top to bottom, left to right – and feeling the emphases on different parts of the metaphor depending on how you read it.

Another of my favorite works is the two-part series “How to Grow a Love Plant” and “How to Let Go of a Love Plant” which aren’t quite poetry, actually. “How to Grow a Love Plant” came out of a deep reflection after going through long distance with my boyfriend for two years because of COVID-19 border closures that left us in different countries.

Early this year when we were finally reunited and living in the same country again, I noticed just how valuable the little things such as holding hands and small shows of affection are. I realized that during long distance, it was much easier to focus on the big problems that were happening around us and between us, which are both good but can also be very painful and energy-draining. “How to Grow a Love Plant” came out of this reflection, as well as a few other reflections that I reckon are applicable to all kinds of relationships.

“How to Let Go of a Love Plant” was born soon after when, a couple of weeks after being reunited, my boyfriend lost someone very dear to him. It was a sudden and shocking event that left us both very shaken and grief-stricken – and this was about a week before Valentine’s. Not knowing how else to process the grief and the unfairness of the death… I turned to the love plant metaphor.

I wrote and wrote and scribbled all over my journal, before finally deciding to format it properly and post it on Valentine’s Day to honor and hopefully comfort those who are grieving loved ones instead of celebrating. Even though at the time my boyfriend and I weren’t quite ready to move on from the grief yet, I decided to also attach new “love plant seeds” at the end of this work as a symbol that we can move on and continue investing in other relationships in our lives. 

You can find my poems on Instagram @violin_stories



Why did you chose your username, “violin stories”?
Originally, I used the name Violin Stories because I wanted to represent myself without disclosing my real name, so I decided to combine the two things I love – playing the violin and writing stories – into the name. Now as I reflect on it, I’m starting to realize that a story is like a song. Each character has their own melodic line, and these melodic lines can come together either in harmony or dissonance. When someone “sings an unexpected note”, it can clash with the rest of the song or the other melodies. Sometimes, some characters operate at a rhythm that is different from the others. The result is conflict as the different voices, actions, and personalities clash.

I find this super fascinating when I read stories or even watch movies that have orchestral soundtracks that reflect what’s happening in the plot. I think this is what I try to capture with my writings. So far, most of my poems on Violin Stories are only from one or two point of views. That being said, this concept of writing character voices as though each of them was their own instrument with their own personality and melodic lines helps me to visualize the character developments and interactions, and this is something I want to keep exploring in my writing and have represented through my account name – Violin Stories.

How does your writing process looks like?
Hmm… Usually to write a poem or a story, it starts by being inspired by something – e.g. a book, a song, an image, an experience, a person – and from there I work with the images that I think fits with the idea and reflections that I have in my head. I think it’s different with every piece that I write. Sometimes, I start writing it after I know the ending and the message that I want to convey. Sometimes I write it without knowing how it ends because it’s a way for me to process my thoughts and feelings.

As I write, my best friend is the thesaurus haha… I consult the thesaurus over and over and over again to find the words that I think best expresses the ideas I have in my head and sounds the best with the other words I have put together. This part is usually quite a long and tedious process, but it’s also just really satisfying and exhilarating for me. I love searching for words, rearranging them and the lines and stanzas to find the best flow and rhythm and rhyme, and playing around with the metaphors and trying to stretch them or explore different ways of presenting them and describing them! It’s just so much fun! 

Afterwards (or sometimes during the writing process too) I would edit my poems. This will be a bit similar with the writing process where I look for other synonyms if I think a word does not fit as well as I thought, and rearrange some of the lines and stanzas a bit more. This stage usually brings less changes to the poem, though, compared to the writing process where I could scrap whole stanzas or completely change some of the metaphors and sentence structures.

Once I finish editing my poem, I would move to Canva to create a design for it. This would include formatting the poem to fit with the square frame for Instagram and figuring out the visual placements so that they are aesthetically pleasing and readable (e.g. font not too small to read). I would usually also try to find some graphics to accompany the poem and play around with the colors and combination of graphics to create images and aesthetics that match the poem.

Boleh minta tips buat mereka yang mau belajar menulis (puisi)?
If there’s some advice I could give, it’s the advice that I’ve heard from other more experienced authors.

Neil Gaiman once said that writing is like the animated cartoon Wile E. Coyote who runs off a cliff.
He runs so fast that he keeps running and running even though he’s basically running on thin air,
and he continues to keep running until he looks down and realizes that nothing is beneath him.
That’s when he falls.

Gaiman says that writing is a bit similar to that. When we write, we’re basically fabricating stories out of words, especially fiction which is a story that does not actually exist and which you make up as you go. He says that as writers, our job is to keep writing and “not look down”. We don’t need to see or be reminded of how insubstantial our draft is when we write. It’s a draft and we shouldn’t expect it to be solid ground. All we need to keep doing is fix our eyes on the next cliff – aka our goal – in order to keep writing and not get discouraged.

Another advice that I’ve heard is that you gotta write through the crappy drafts first before you can write the gems.

I found these two pieces of advice super helpful in reminding me to not be such a perfectionist over my drafts. It’s so easy for me to compare myself to all the polished, published works of my favorite authors and feel super discouraged or beat myself up when my writing is not immediately perfect
and polished the first time around. These advices have kept reminding me that writing is not some magical spell where you put words on a page and see the perfect book as a result.

Writing takes hard work and lots of rewriting, editing, and reformatting, as well as the myriad of uplifting and discouraging emotions that come with it. Developing your voice and your characters
and your plot takes a LOT of time and a LOT of trial and error, so the best thing you can do is to keep learning from other writers, books, movies, basically anything that gives you inspiration and helps you understand your craft better… write write write write write… and don’t look down *wink*. [IM]

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