When you read a lot but you’re not a writer

What a writer anyway?

Do you have to produce a book to be entitled as a writer? What about writing essays? So you are more as an essayist than a writer? Then, what if you write a lot of posts in your blog, like this blog. You’re a blogger, not a writer?

Sometimes I assume the name of a writer is exclusive, still. That you can only be called as one only after you get your books published. Other than that, you are a blogger, essayist, columnist, depending on what media you put your words on. At least, that what happens in Indonesia. I don’t know in other countries.

I read a lot. I edit every day. Commas, punctuation, periods. I correct writers’ words on a daily basis. That’s my job. Other than that, I curate. I even know the term just lately. Curator. I give critics to people short stories, but mostly I praise with lots of notes here and there. People praise my wide knowledge about literature, reading and book in general.

Sometimes they applaud my editing ability, the skill of clarifying contents. My job is carefully looking at words, finding faults (if any) then correcting them. I can’t tell I am a good editor but I practice this every day because I adore words. I believe words convey wisdom, power and ideas.

I love writing way above editing. I write to feel alive. But what I write is not books. Blog posts, loose articles, opinions or ideas. Lately I realize I prefer writing those because of random, various information that I get by reading, various kinds of topics. I get easily distracted because of my high curiosity level.

That’s why I prefer writing different topics. I know a lot and that is sometimes not good if I have to get committed to long-term projects, like the novel I wish will be published one day.

I sometimes compare myself with my best college friend. She doesn’t read as much as I do. She doesn’t know literature as much as I know. But hey! She is an author. She has one book about children tales. Though the book doesn’t sell well she makes it anyway! And I?

I get too much trapped on theories, best works I have read so far that I think too much before I actually put down my pen into papers. May be I just do what my friend do, write then forget about the rest!

 

I read an Indonesian novel again, at last!

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I have been reading ‘Batavia 1936’ for the past a few weeks. This is the first novel in Bahasa Indonesia, my second language (my first one is Javanese language) that I read after Ayu Utami’s Lalita back in 2012/2013, if I’m not mistaken.

As I write in this post, I have been struggling reading novels in Bahasa Indonesia because I spend much time reading books in English language. Reading books in Bahasa Indonesia feels awkward.  It really is.

I can’t remember how enjoyable reading novels in Bahasa Indonesia when I was a university student, which means some 10 years back. Pragmatically, since I want to write books in Bahasa Indonesia, I have to read novels in the language, whether or not I like the idea. Yes, I know. The motivation sounds money-oriented. Sometimes I feel guilty reading books in Bahasa Indonesia out of money. Genuine writers who happen reading this piece will hate me. I’m sorry.

Anyway, I want to regain the delight of reading local literature though, yes again, it’s more because of money. What you may think as incorrect motivation has guided me learning again how to read stories in Bahasa Indonesia. I kind of enjoying the process.

‘Batavia 1936’ is a romance story that takes social background in Menteng area, Jakarta’s elite neighborhood when Indonesia is still under the Dutch occupation. Batavia itself is the old name of Jakarta before Indonesia gains independence from the Japanese troops on August 17, 1945.

The novel, which sadly doesn’t sell well, is quite rare. The writer, Widya W. Harun, opts writing a novel that doesn’t match with Indonesia’s literary enthusiasts preference who mostly like reading books about modern love story.

I salute the author for sticking at what she believes in. I bet she does a hard job matching her idea with the historical and background at the time. I believe she works hard collecting information to support her book. This makes me liking her already.

‘Batavia 1936’, as I read so far, tells about Kirana and Kirani, two siblings who have their hearts set on one man, Hans van Deventer, a Dutch doctor whose mother is a Javanese. While the essence of the story is not something extraordinary,what makes the novel worthy of my time is because the author brings me back to what happens in Jakarta before it is freed from colonialism.

As I go through page by page, my mind attempts to visualize the houses where the major characters live. I let my imagination wanders through time and space when Jakarta, which is now so crowded, is once a peaceful city. No bus, no trains. But horses and carriages.

As I read the book I try to put myself at the era where women, although like Kirana and Kirani who come from wealthy family, are restricted. I mean the two figures aren’t described as having jobs to do.

Male figures take the helms of the families. They work to make ends meet. While women, for instance, the mother of Kirani and Kirana, is skilled at household; cooking and sewing. The life of the rich people in the book is so glamorous even when television doesn’t exist. They throw expensive parties. They are like celebrities.

So far, the novel is a pleasant one to read. Because I can wholly sense the restriction of culture in it. Though Kirani and Hans love each other they don’t touch or kiss. People at that time holds culture so much that they can respect each other before they tie the knot.

The language is so soft, much different from today’s novels. From it, I can draw the conclusion that the language itself has grown so much. Although I am still a little bit struggling putting all of my heart into the book, I’d love to know how the story unfolds. Will Hans be with Kirani or her sister, Kirana?

Guess my efforts of making a good comeback as a national literary lover has been proven fruitful so far. Yeah, I think myself so.

The picture is taken from this

Another shade of fantasy in fiction

I used to think fantasy is all about the future, something in far, far away land across time and space years ahead. On top of my mind, fantasy stories are one of the hardest genres one can create because it takes superb imagination to put whatever inside our heads into words. Our goals is to make people believe our fictions are worthy-to-read although they are purely out of visualization. You won’t find the background of fictions in any kinds of historical books.

As such, I think The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter are genius works. Because J.K Rowling and J.R.R Tolkien create their stories in such detailed and complex ways that they look as if they were real. Each and every little thing is described so exact; the characters, the houses they live, the clothes, the strange creatures in the story… Entertaining, wild but are still meaningful. Their stories are sometimes out of my reach. My realistic nature and my brain can’t cope with their brilliancy.

During the past few weeks I’ve got a lesson about fantasy that broadens my knowledge and shows me another shade of imagination that almost slips away from this little brain. It’s called the fantasy of historical fiction.

Actually, fiction is about fantasy although what you may write happen in the now. Historical fictions challenge me more thinking about the past, hundreds of years before I come to this beautiful world. I can’t stop giving credits to all authors who can create the sort of stories because they don’t live in the actual times and places when the background of the stories take place. All they have are reliable manuscripts, data from newspapers, interviews or researches from scholars about specific time and condition where the stories occur.

But still, they don’t live at that time, in the situation. They make plots, adjust the stories with historical backgrounds. Not only that. They also have to know the kind of language that people use, say, in the 1940s. Since, you know, language also develops over time.

The places may change their names, too. The streets may no longer exist. Also, the social condition. Do the gap between the rich and the poor remain steep? Reading two books about history (one is real and the other is fictitious) informs me how fantasy is indeed sooo diverse. Though yes, you can track the names of the characters in the fiction in historical books or know exactly where this place is located, making stories that take place before you were even born is as much as hard as Lord of the Rings that don’t relate with certain historical timelines.

Although historical fictions are artificial you have to check and double check the years, the title of people with high social status, the names of the places that don’t exist anymore, and many more. Presenting interesting story is a difficult task.. Supporting it with correct facts is challenging, probably require you thinking harder than producing the story itself.

Even John Steinbeck can be dull sometimes

It takes many months for me to have completed reading ‘In Dubious Battle’. After enjoying marvelous stories by John Steinbeck in ‘East of Eden’, ‘Of Mice and Men’ and ‘The Grapes of Wrath’, it is hard to believe that ‘In Dubious Battle’ is written by the same author who is my most favorite author, in par with Thomas Hardy.

‘In Dubious Battle’, now a major motion picture, is so vocal about labor movement and its relation with politic at the time when the book is composed. I don’t really mind about that. John Steinbeck is said to put much focus about politic. Reading ‘Travels in Charley: In Search of America’ makes me realizing his huge love for his country. He is a nationalist by the heart.

What disturbs me so much is how the plots are woven. They are like cut shorts here and there. Dialogs are made so frontal. John Steinbeck lets his writing style so straight-forwarded in the work that I don’t enjoy reading it at all. Despite the tone of the book that is ‘furious’ I instead feel unmotivated because of his technique.

I hope ‘In Dubious Battle’ is as emotionally-moving as ‘The Grapes of Wrath’. Both speak much about poverty and labor issues. Yet, the ways each of the novel tell stories are way different. ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ completely stresses me out in good ways. I am so absorbed by the plots. The book leaves me with mixed feelings. John Steinbeck’s way of writing is superb. Beautiful, deep, philosophical. No wonder that the title brings him wining Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962. He is so total in producing the story in terms of plot, message and storytelling style.

But in ‘In Dubious Battle’ I can sense that he seems in a rush. He looks like forcing himself doing the work. The finale is clear yet he doesn’t work well in bringing readers into imaginations. Lack of emotion as well.

Looking at the two titles somehow reprimand me that even brilliant author like John Steinbeck can mess up. Not all his ideas are well-executed. I haven’t researched what prompt him creating ‘In Dubious Battle’. Whatever reasons behind the book all I can tell to myself that being good writers take a bloody efforts. Doing so doesn’t necessarily guarantee your books will score massive successes. Well, defining success can be relative but at least you can sense whether you make it or not by reading your own books.

“East of Eden’ is his first title that really wows me. The self-influenced novel grabs my attention to his name. It so moving, the words are so wonderful, and the message is so related to my life and I think people’ lives in general.

As much as I love ‘East of Eden’, John Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’ is my most beloved title of his, as a matter of fact, ‘Of Mice and Men’ is my most favorite novel thus far. It cuts so deep. It is better than ‘East of Eden’. ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ gives me another chill because the book is so powerful. It is a boom!

Reviewing all experiences regarding all of the titles I can sum up that proficient authors like John Steinbeck can sometimes have hard times. He can make very wonderful fictions but not free from making bad ones. Men, he is a human being after all. Being at the top throughout his whole life sounds godly, too good to be true.

Lessons learned is this: while worldly-proven authors can be bad sometimes then why can’t I be? This doesn’t mean to aide myself whenever I am lazy to write or read but the point is creating fictions is a very long process. I can be at the high but down sometimes. Or in between. The key is accepting who I am and what I can achieve at whatever level I am at.

 

Reading by intention

I have seen my reading circle has grown much smaller in the past one or two years. Articles about current affairs, business, politic, national issues, topped daily reading lists. I followed what was going on in my country ranging from serious to trivial things. What went viral in social media caught my attention, too.

After I stopped working as daily news translator my reading habit gradually has changed. I read stories that interest me only. These include football, books, self-development, literature and the like. Business and world affairs are no longer within my focus. I devote much time reading things that support my job and hobby.

As days go by, my reading preference becomes much narrower that it was years ago. Now, I visit websites about literature, positive psychology, books, creativity. I even often reread articles that speak about motivation whenever I feel lazy or hesitant to keep writing that I really love but I’m afraid to do.

Websites on latest issues, such as local news portal and international ones (TIME, BBC, Reuters and Bloomberg) have been occasionally visited. If you ask me what happens around the globe now, I hardly can answer your questions.

Themes, like corruption and politic that are always the favorites among Indonesians, don’t catch my attention as dazzling as they were. Sometimes I don’t know what goes on viral. Sometimes I just don’t care about why people or my friends rumble about specific themes or people that are frequently-talked at certain times.

This is so crazy, I often say so to myself. Because I now ask for my friends’ information on what happens currently, something which was in contrary with what I did years ago. As a journalist, I mostly became the first one to have known issues or gossips because that was my duty. I knew the people behind the scenes and everything so I told my friends most of the times. But the reality is now in reverse. I occasionally have no ideas what happen on the outside world.

It’s not that I turn becoming an ignorant person. The truth is my world becomes small and smaller without me intending to do that. Once I start learning to look within me, organizing my life, seeking what I really want, chasing after my personal dreams, everything seem fall into its place accordingly.

I still read latest issues but not as thoroughly as I did. I only need to know what happens and that’s it. I don’t pursue the issues any further unless they interest me so much. Much of my reading time is for stuff that helps me improving my life as a person and a novelist-to-be.

Doing this for almost two years have opened my eyes in amazing ways I couldn’t ever imagine. I used to think nothing was as important as politic and economy. I used to believe daily life is boring. I used to think my life would be grand if I pay attention to things outside my world.

The truth is reading (what I used to think as silly topics) like self-discovery, happiness, daily tips, can be not only refreshing but also influential as a creative writer as I’d like to call myself so. This habit prompts me thinking harder than I used to be as a journalist. Because I have to dig deep from scratches. I have to produce materials from everything that I read from many weeks or months before. This encourages me to work extra miles. While when working as a journalist, source persons and issues were abundant. The challenge was trying to come up with newsworthy articles. I think the latter one is harder because that requires more than asking for information. In that case, creativity does turn out very complicated sometimes because it triggers me to think and research harder.

After two years, this reading habit starts becoming a daily ritual. This makes me feel calmer, more peaceful and resourceful. The first two words happen because I read articles that intentionally support my well-being. Instead of reading things about people debate on religion or politic scandal (which surely won’t lead to any solutions for all sides), I stumble upon articles on DIY, my most favorite one is reorganizing bookshelf (LOL). Or gathering ideas on weekend-to-do-lists that don’t involve spending a lot of money at the malls.

I feel resourceful because now I get more knowledge about books and literature. I now know literature can be very up-to-date. It is not boring at all. As such, I can develop writing skills out of this much-beloved theme to make all things bookish can get along with today’s generation. That reading can be very fun. And writing about books is not always old-fashioned.

My stories when this blog firstly appears are boring. I share about book reviews and my opinions. I don’t do a lot of creative writings about them. After I read some websites I begin creating posts about what I read in as trendy, fun ways as I can.

Shifting the reading preference has done a lot of good things. I never thought reading selection should be organized but now I guess this is important thing to do because my brain and my energy is limited. As age adds up, I realize my brain can no longer accommodate all things readable. All I want and need is materials that can support me growing better and wiser every day not only as a writer but also as a human being.

 

 

 

One fun morning in Jakarta’s Cikini classic area

I want to post pictures of me having fun while learning and exploring Cikini, a vintage part of Indonesia’s Jakarta, last Saturday. I was joining a free walking tour with a number of friendly new friends and a very warm tour guide from Jakarta Good Guide. Here are some pics:

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Us in front of the Gedung Joang 45 building, formerly a hotel now it is a museum displaying rare collections from Indonesia’s founding fathers.

 

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Us in a pedestrian area packed by a number of cafes and restaurants in Cikini. Now a creative, passers-by friendly area, the site was a popular hangout place for elites. The cafes and restaurants are still well-maintained by current owners. Very beautiful vintage side of Cikini.

Below: Our pose in front of a theatrical art building in the complex of Jakarta’s Taman Ismail Marzuki, still in Jakarta.

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Still in the Taman Ismail Marzuki complex.

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Eating ice cream

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Our last spot: Jalan Surabaya, where you can find unique and antique stuff.

Thank you very much Jakarta Good Guide and my fellow walkers!

See yaaa!

The amusing people in ‘Pot-Bouille’

‘Pot-Bouille’ entertains me in its own way, differs from previous books that capture my heart right after their first sentences.

The first pages of the title are okay. The description of Octave arriving in Paris is nice to read but not as charming as those written by classic authors. I keep reading anyway because my mind immediately races through against the time machine, drifting back hundreds of years ago in a classic, beautiful city namely Paris. I have never been to Paris but people say the city is the one of its kind on earth.

The following pages require me to put more focus because I come to one of the most disliked things reading a book: a lot of characters. I actually hate books that present numerous number of people in it because I can hardly remember their names.

I keep reading it nonetheless. The many names in the novel does lessen the joy in reading but I keep going. Thankfully, I always remember this recipe when it comes reading books containing many characters: just keep your eyes on the protagonist!

So I apply this self-strategy and it proves me correct. At least I still read it until now.

After, say, 20 pages I eventually come to the point what makes this book is wonderful and universally-loved in literature. It is the book of the people. The people that make the story feels so real then causes me to laugh and cry. A mixed feeling that is more than enough to keep me going.

I invite you to meet this family, the scene where I get totally enjoy reading the book.

The family of Monsieur Josserand is such a joke and irony at the same time. It is a disastrous marriage as Monsieur Josserand has no control over his family. His wife, Madame Josserand, decides what needs to do to keep the family boat remains afloat.

And it is through a marriage.. with rich, super wealthy gentlemen. To do so, Monsieur Josserand ‘train’ their daughters; Hortense and Berthe, to ‘sell’ themselves via parties. The mother sometimes arranges parties attended by rich people so that the gentlemen can see the girls’ skills and beauties. For Madame Josserand, her goal is how making her daughters marrying off gentlemen.

Monsieur Josserand knows about this very much but he is helpless. He and his wife often argues about her intention of marrying their daughters off based on money and the result is always the same: the wife is leading the score.

The powerlessness of the breadwinner is funny, real yet ironical.

Then, I am introduced to the family of Monsieur and Madame Vuillaume, another peculiar family portrait. The pair welcomes their sole daughter, Marie, very late in their life. Monsieur Vuillaume retires and the spouse no longer expects having a baby. But Marie is born. Instead of feeling overly happy with her birth, the wife can’t sometimes bear the high cost raising her only kid.

Marie is taught very strictly. Even she is not allowed to read novels before she is mature enough to read it. Her own mother says women who know too much is dangerous. I feel like, wow!

Do women in the era suffer that much? That they are mere commodities?

I am only on the page of 76 out of 379, so it’s very long way to go. Despite the flat story telling style, I like the book because it conveys stories of human lives, very simple, close to daily looks. The novel brings up what it means of being normal humans. It makes me feeling happy, angry, sad.. Guess thus far, the novel does a good job.

 

Writing matters: do we need to visualize?

writing.gifBefore I write fictions I normally visualize places and characters as if they were real ones. After I am sure how they look life when they were really exist, I start writing. I need to get concrete looks of all the imaginary tales inside my head before I make them alive in the story. In short, writing is for me putting imaginations into words.

Is my method correct or not?

As much as fiction means unreal, indeed, I hope I can invite readers to suppose as if my story were real or at least reliable to represent what happens in real life.  In order to do that I need to ensure readers that the people or the places in my story can resonate real people’ problems or real places’ conditions.

To get this executed, I not only learn sharpening my imagination but also absorbing values from people or places that matter much in my life. Be they people who underestimate my skills or places that I wish to be there. Or, I make stories based on other fictitious people I read somewhere or places I know from books.

The truth is nothing is completely out of nowhere. My writing product is the combination of my wishes, imaginations, critics, sadness, joy and many more. Let my brain and heart process them all then what comes out of it is what I, personally, secretly wish to voice from within.

Doing this is hard. When I was at the college I thought writing graduating papers about linguistic was the hardest of all but then I realized writing about literature was very much challenging because this was requiring me to have come up with a worthy idea.

Worthy idea..

The very essence of finding a worthy idea means you have to do a lot of things, sometimes at the same time. This includes numerous hours of reading, indirect observations on a daily basis, discussions and most daunting phase is sufficient time for reflection and contemplation, definitely on your own.

I still occasionally doubt that I am a creative and imaginative person. I still believe being creative is a born-virtue, one is gifted being a creative person while other is not. I consider myself as a realistic person, sometimes sombre one. I dislike Harry Potter and The Lord of The Rings because they are far too imaginative for a practical person like I.

But through this blog, through writing things that I want about everything though mostly is about books at the end of the day, I realize I am a creative person just like many people out there. I discover another perspective about creativity. It no longer is all about producing completely new creatures as in The Lord or in Avatar but creativity can also mean making fictions that resonate much of real situations.

Creativity means much larger than that. Every time we come up with an idea it means we attempt being a creative person. While I sometimes question myself, “Am I creative enough to write a book” I keep writing. I keep cultivating my creativity and reading a lot of articles about books and literature to at least maintain my dream of writing fictions alive.

The picture is taken from this.

Easier said than done. My struggles in writing short stories in Bahasa Indonesia

Last weekend, I wrote a short story in Bahasa Indonesia, my native language, about a man who was freed from jail after spending four years in it. When I had thought about this idea I believed the story would be cool although I knew a lot of pieces about this have been around in media.

I kept doing what I had wanted though. Fortunately, rain was pouring down heavily across Jakarta. I had to stay at home. So I thought that days were perfect time for me to learn writing short stories. Tell you what!

The process was a bit like a torment for me. I was enjoying it on first words only. The initial sentences were running smoothly, coming from my heart. But the rest was like a journey full of pebbels. The lack of research that would support all of the details was hindering from making it into a comprehensive story. I changed the plot, too. The biggest factor that made me unable to turn the idea into a good one was because I was putting too much focus making it a worthwhile story to be sent to newspaper. Yeah, money at the end of the day.

The what-would-editors-or-readers-think-when-reading-this-writing was totally into my head during the process. This made it a bad result eventually. The story did not fully come from the heart. So many unfinished scenes here and there. I didn’t describe people and places in the story as beautiful as it should be. The story was dull in execution though I think the value that I would like to convey is powerful and very real.

In it, I’d love to share how freedom isn’t only limited in physical terms. It takes years and patience for this main character to be fully accepted by society. Being imprisoned emotionally is much more painful for him.

I completed the story by the way. With a lot of emotional efforts. I wrote a few sentences then I stopped. I listened to music, did trivial things, just to pump up my spirit. I needed two days to finish it all! Now I know how hard it is to finish writing things that slightly interest you, LOL! I did it all because I had to finish doing things that I started. I was unhappy with the outcome. I realized that I can make good reviews about books by other people but I am still far away from becoming a good fiction writer.

This fact slaps my face. What good is it to be a good reviewer and critic but can’t make incredible stories on my own? I look hard on myself on the mirror about this. I am still a bad fiction author regardless the fact that my awkwardness expressing things in Bahasa Indonesia does a big factor.

I have to learn coping all of this. I have to get up and try again.

Protecting my own eyes before it’s too late

loving-my-eyes

I have been thinking of getting my eyes examined by an eye doctor in the past few weeks. The story of my friend becoming a blind person because of diabetic has slapped me in the face. Not only I become more aware of my dietary pattern, I also take time to review what I have done with my eyes.

Truth to be told, I don’t treat my eyes well. My daily job as an editor forces me spending almost seven hours looking at screen. My reading habit makes this task becoming a pleasure (though sometimes boring) instead of as a curse.

Then, I still read via smartphone. Sometimes, I read physical books. Reading has been part of my life I can’t live without. I use my eyes a lot. I know I can’t live without reading and writing but definitely my eyes are much more important than reading and writing.

So I have considered reducing the amount of time reading just for the sake of giving my eyes more time to rest. I have restarted consuming carrots. I have put cucumbers again several times per week to fresh my eyes in the morning.

And the best way of all is loosening my mind each time stress starts striking. Trying to think positively or if this is unsuccessful, I do my best to just enjoy whatever shit coming through my brain and my heart.

From this day on, I promise myself I will protect my body, my eyes in particular, as well as I can. One of the concrete ways is having an appointment with an eye specialist next week. Wish me luck, guys! I  hope you guys healthy and happy or at least feeling okay!

The picture is taken from here.