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
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
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
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
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
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.
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:
- ones with strong characters (where authors spend enough time to help us understand them, such as J.K. Rowling and Harper Lee);
- 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);
- ones supported by really good, extensive research (Dan Brown and most of the other science-fiction writers, besides Ayu Utami);
- 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.
P.S. in case you haven’t, also read: A Personal Note on Reading.