Good Readers Make Good Writers: Five Authors That Affect Me the Most

There’s only a few things I hate in the world, not too many that I could name them one-by-one: dog-eared books, reckless taxi drivers, and arriving late to a meeting, among others. On top of this, however, is my perpetual loathing towards ‘How to Be a Good Writer’ workshops.

I MEAN, SERIOUSLY.

[Disclaimer: I take writing (and reading, as well as other literary-related activities) personally. So personal that I easily get offended when the notion of profit or profanity in general make its way into my romanticized world of literatures. And I could be offensive in return.]

First of all: no great writers had been born from a two-hour seminar.

It takes years of writing shapelessly, then a period of finding your own writing character (length may vary), then every-now-and-then-looking-back-with-embarrassment at your old writings, then finally settling down with your own identity—first without confidence, and later with (if you’re lucky enough to be surrounded by an audience of your kind).

Bottomline: it’s a pretty long process, and I’m quite sure it involves a lot of practice, confusion, temporary assurance, second confusion, and so on.

Second of all: good readers make good writers. Surprise, surprise, but it’s sort of the law.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that one is supposed to read more shall he/she want to write better. Yes, doing that can help you store richer perspectives in your mind palace and wider vocabularies in your word bank, but they would not necessarily sharpen your ability to argue or creativity to develop a moving story.

I’m saying that a writer’s opus always reflects the collection of the books that captivate her/him the most throughout his/her course of literary exploration. In my case, there are five major writers (and therein elements) whose writings have been an influence to the voice of my own:

1. Ayu Utami

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There was a period back when I was under the dilemma of fiction/non-fiction dichotomy—never been quite assured that I belonged in either of the two. As much as I enjoyed developing story lines, I still thought that a writer could only do his/her writing a justice had he/she used it to make a bigger, factual point. One book that later made a huge impact on me by answering this was Ayu Utami’s. An in-depth, research-based criticism toward militarism, monotheism, and modernism, Bilangan Fu is also an eloquent novel about three young lovers.

On one occasion, she told me (and a room of starstruck audience) that it is the duty of a writer, or artists in general, to make truth a little more bearable. She’s the queen of both worlds I look up on.

2. Alain de Botton

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The second writer who gives a huge impact on me is, apparently, a British bloke. I love Alain de Botton not only for his wide range of topics (read through this blog and you’ll see that I never really succeed in trying to stick to one theme) and his generalist point of view (an inseparable consequence of the first notion), but also his intellectually astute, eloquent way of elaborating a profound observation. In Essays In Love, de Botton uses diagrams to point out how we often feel like a different ‘amoeba’ around people we love. He writes above dull rhetorics and cheap philosophy, resulting in pure, golden thoughts. He shows me the magnitude of brilliance you can create with just words.

3. Pramoedya Ananta Toer

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Pram is a one-in-every-century writer whom you shall not compare with other writers. It is already a literary sin to put him on a list like this, but some sins are worth it, and I just have the urge to bring this up: that the greatest writers are great because they capture not just stories, but an entire civilization. His Child of All Nations effortlessly helped me understand the initial confusion of our identity as a nation, and later growing consciousness of being ‘Indonesian’ throughout the colonization area.

This, fellow aspiring writers, is just not something that you can acquire. This takes real experience and personal contemplation, something that our generation had no privileges upon. I learned a great deal from you, old man. I am so grateful that you had access to pen and paper.

4. Joanne Kathleen Rowling

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Spending 10 years of my childhood coursing through Rowling’s story of Harry Potter and the wizarding world, it would simply be a lie (a lame one) not to say that her writings inspired me big time. For one thing, her seven books set the standard of how well-developed characters could make a very significant difference to your story. If there’s any writer who treats the characters in their novel like treating actual children, it’s her. She wouldn’t stop at only giving a very well-thought name, she would go as far as making a separate chapter of background story for them. If we’re now familiar with the humane side of villains, remember that it was her who first made us fall in love with Snape.

I mean, come on. It’s been years since she finished the series and she still thinks that maybe Hermione would’ve be happier had she been with Harry.

5. John Green

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Rara insisted that John is too cengeng of a writer. I am aware that some of you might agree with her, but I would rather call it innocence. We don’t need to debate on that, though, because obviously it is not his teenager-ian stories that bought me; it is his unique way of grammar-mixing ability to cook new form of words and sentences that give you enjoyable pops in your head. If you notice my liking of writing whispers inside brackets “(…)” or Capitalization of Words that Are Not Somebody’s Name or neverending-dash-to-make-a-sentence-a-word, the credits go to him.

John hosts literature crash courses on YouTube, all the more proof that, beyond his preference of writing overly-young adult stories (I really enjoyed Looking for Alaska, btw), he loves English.

6. The List Goes On…

I know I should stop, and I will, in fact, stop, but I have to say that my quick overview suggests that there are four kinds of awesome fiction writers:

  1. ones with strong characters (where authors spend enough time to help us understand them, such as J.K. Rowling and Harper Lee);
  2. ones capturing the status quo of a civilization very well (the writer was lucky enough to be born in a historic scene, including Pramoedya Ananta Toer);
  3. ones supported by really good, extensive research (Dan Brown and most of the other science-fiction writers, besides Ayu Utami);
  4. ones depicting what’s might happen in a utopia future (I worship George Orwell and Aldous Huxley’s works for their imagination wild enough to soar in possibilities but also grounded enough to make us think that it might actually happen).

Do you have a different idea on what makes a book great, or want to share which authors make the hugest impact on you? Feel free to write it down in the ‘Comments’ section.

Good night.

P.S. in case you haven’t, also read: A Personal Note on Reading.

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The Sign of Four

To all Sherlock fans out there: apology—this post has nothing to do with that Jonathan Small case. It of course does not altogether mean that you shall not be interested in reading it through. For what it’s worth, it’s gonna try to answer (or at least start a discussion about) the mystery of constantly repeating quartet patterns around us. You see, sociology has probably explained so much about human’s dyadic (consisting of two people) and communal (typically uncountable) interactions, but little effort has been put into shedding more lights upon bonds between four individuals.

The more relevant question to begin this with is probably:
do such quadrangular connections actually exist, or is Afu just completely wasting my time into a delusion of a non-existent order?

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Well, my shallow belief contends that either you’re part of one, or you know a group of four close friends who seem to be a real match to one another. I don’t just mean any random friendship of four, but a strongly-tied relation whose balance is reached exactly because there are four nodes and not less or more. Shall one of the people in the group leaves, things don’t seem to work out.

In case you’re none-of-the-above, then here are some fictional references of the Great Division of Four (different personalities):

  • The four female characters in Ayu Utami’s Saman surely have something in common, but they are four different animals by nature: Shakuntala the undomesticated, Cok the ever-thirsty, Yasmin the spoiled, and Laila the curious.
  • In Candice Bushnell’s Sex and the City, each of the foursome stands out with their own, unique qualities (Carrie Bradshaw the columnist, Samantha Jones the businesswoman, Charlotte York the art dealer, and Miranda Hobbes the lawyer) but they are also a perfect combination for one another and make a greater whole than sum of its parts.
  • Lastly, the fact that all of us feel like we belong in either of the houses in Hogwarts (Gryffindor the courageous, Ravenclaw the clever, Hufflepuff the nice, and Slytherin the ambitious), must mean that somewhat there’s gotta be an explanation behind J.K. Rowling’s division of four.

Have psychologists came across this interesting pattern?

Well, the truth is, they have. Despite the fact that it is not their mission to untangle the mystery of human interactions (since they usually focus on self-discovery or person-per-person psychoanalysis), they have—through the ages—been coming up with personality categorizations that focus on four quadrants:

  • Time-traveling back to the ancient times, there was Hippocrates who came up with four temperaments that he thought shaped us all: the Choleric, the Sanguine, the Melancholic, and the Phlegmatic—each of which reacts differently to various stimuli. Now I’m not sure why exactly he got the four combination, but it is interesting to further look at.
  • Only recently, psychologists develop personality test for companies/organizations to figure out what condition suits their employees best—it says that we’re either one of the four colors: blue (the relationship way), gold (the action way), green (the logical way), or orange (the organized way) in day-to-day working situation. Knowing this, companies/organizations can set up better, enabling conditions that would allow them to be more productive.
  • Last but most compelling to me, is the famous Myers Briggs Test Indicator (MBTI), which puts us in four major boxes: the Idealist, Rationalist, Artisan, and Guardian. It revolves mainly in four elements of personality: 1) introversion/extroversion, 2) intuition/sensing, 3) thinking/feeling, and 4) perceiving/judging.
    Later this builds up to 16 different combinations of personality that explains (or even predicts) an individual’s behavior.

Now literatures might not offer the same level of wonder since we can simply blame the authors for arranging stories around the omnipresent four, out of personal, arbitrary decision. But those psychological theories, typically based on close observation of human behaviors, really fascinate me.

Having said this, however, I would still have to say that the difficult part is to connect the dots in real life. Luckily enough, my laboratory for social experiment sits right here in my own friendship. Let me quickly introduce you to Diku, Kiki, and Ipeh—three girls who probably have the biggest impact in my life, especially for accepting my unusual obsession towards patterns. (Trying my best to maintain the scientific tone of this post and not get all emotional here.)

So one day Kiki, Ipeh, and I had a dinner where we laid out our MBTI results (after some 30-minute rants on boys and politics), which looks like this:

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Now I would lie to say that this finding did not excite me. As I’ve been repeatedly saying, yours truly is pretty much a bitch for patterns (why do you think I bother to make this post from the first place), SO YEAH IT DID REALLY THRILL ME TO HAVE THIS DISCOVERY!

From then on, some derived premises have been knocking on my overthinking brain’s door:

  1. It is not that the four of us happen to like the same things or possess identical personalities; rather, the four-node balance is formed because we are both similar and different from one another. To be precise, each of us is actually excluded from the rest at one specific aspect—Ipeh for being the sole extrovert, Kiki’s rather extraordinary sensing ability, Diku’s feeling-based rationality, and my, well, slow progress toward making conclusions (I have a subconscious tendency to keep things open-ended).
  2. We dig into really engaging conversation when we are together because there’s a shift of balance of power (a.k.a. topic-driver) every now and then, making a dynamic to its flow. Imagine if we’re all thinking machines or sensing analysts—our friendship might not be as exciting (and enriching) as I remember it now.
  3. Our friend (Diku’s boyfriend) Sindhu, later convinced me (through Diku) an alternative view: that we’re a circle of clicking personalities. It goes Diku-Afu-Kiki-Ipeh (and goes back to Diku). This would explain not only why Diku-Kiki needs me to connect, me-Ipeh needs Kiki to connect, and so on, but also how Kiki connects best with me and Ipeh, or Ipeh with Diku and Kiki.

Ah, patterns. I could continue talking all night but I’m sure you’re starting to lose interest at this point, so I’ll just stop. I also know that these are all premature hypothesis—ten years from now, I might find this post obsolete or the four of us might actually stop being friends to one another because we lose the balance (psychology does support the idea that personality is ever-changing). But even then, I would be grateful to ever experience being part of a sociological artefact that could explain the link between quadrangular personalities and sociology of four.

Even then, I would cherish this little infinity of (almost) five years we’ve been together. Cheers, girls.

***

Thought-bibliography:

  • Sindhu, for coining the phrase ‘sociology of four’ and being our first and so-far-only interested observer who came up with the proposal from the first placealthough, to be fair, I had it at the back of my head since the time of Ayu Utami and Candice Bushnell (long before we had our first conversation).
  • Diku, for shoving Sindhu’s staggering (yet effortless) examination into my head, and adding a lot more sense to it through your advanced comprehension upon human behavior and outstanding ability to elaborate.
  • Kiki and Ipeh, for simply being yourselves and finding us at the right place and the right time—you know how obsessed I am with patterns and your mere presence is already a gift (note that this is a sociological remark, of course you bitches mean a lot more).
  • Rizky (and plausibly two currently-non-existent boyfriends of mine and Ipeh’s as well), for stimulating follow-up questions in analyzing our respective counterparts—to be curious about whether or not a pattern of eight puzzle pieces exists at all.