Saturday, January 19, 2013

Must I Write?

“Confess to yourself in the deepest hour of the night whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. Dig deep into your heart, where the answer spread its roots in your being, and ask yourself solemnly. Must I write?”
― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

At the moment, I'm reading Rilke's beautiful book, "Letters to a Young Poet". Now, you have your reason why you read certain book with certain theme. Sometimes I read funny book because I feel stressed, other times I read generally encouraging book to motivate myself. Or, I read philosophy book because I'm tempted to know other perspectives other have about essential things in life. Or just want to look like a book snob. Nah. For this book, my reason to read it is pretty tragic but also (maybe) normal. I'm uncertain about my feelings towards writing. I can't lie, I think about quitting, or maybe taking a break from writing.

The book is simple, it's about series of letter exchange between Rilke and a young poet. Rilke talks about literature, art, and basically everything to this young poet. I read the first letter in, and that particular quote I put in the beginning of this blogpost kinda hit me in the head. It asked the question I avoided to answer all these times.

Must I write? Would you die if you were not allowed to write?
And when you say "I must", can you commit on it?

Under the guilt I had for a while, I must admit I kinda gradually have been losing my interest in writing. It's a really weird and torturing feeling for me. I've known writing, especially fiction writing, since I was like 7 years old. I wrote my first short story at that age, about my friend in elementary school. Since then, even though I didn't show it to people, I kept on writing short stories on novels in notebooks, and also in my parents' computer. I kept it on my secret folder. It was for fun. I could finish novels in matters of weeks. I trusted a good friend of mine to read it in junior high school, the only friend I showed it to. I told her all of my ideas on the phone. She mysteriously was just willing to hear all my weird imagination back then.

And then everything changed in high school. I had another dream. I wanted to publish my own book. I saw other teenagers published their own book and I was willing to work hard to get my book published. It was fun as well. I showed the first chapters to my classmates and they were eager to read more of it (I don't know if they mean it but those first chapters of what-soon-would-be-DanHujanpunBerhenti-spread-to-another-classes). I then found out that writing novel wasn't easy. That it took a lot of time and energy, especially to revise it, to send it to the publisher, to overcome rejection and try again. But I never complained. Never once. I really enjoyed the process. I just wanted it to be published. I loved writing to the bone. I wrote a lot of pages a day.

Then my dream came true. A publisher was interested in publishing my work. I was beyond happy. It was the best days of my life. After 3 years of struggle, write, revision, rejection, my dream came true. I was happy to just see my book being displayed in the bookstore. I thanked a lot of people in the acknowledgement section in the book.

The book changed my life, and also changed my writing. I couldn't say it was the best writing I ever had, but since then, it's still the most enjoyable writing sessions I've ever had. The book sells well, I have readers commenting on it, and surprisingly, a recognition from an award committee. And even more, I also had reader who sent me an email to say that the book prevented him from killing himself. I told my mother I wanted to keep on writing my whole life. I wanted to write more books to express myself and to help people.

But after that, writing isn't the same anymore. I try to step up my game. I read a lot, I studied method of writing even more, and I kept thinking, "So, what else can I offer? How can I surpass my first book and satisfy the reader?". It was like challenge. I got stuck for some years, then I came up with the second book. It didn't do as well as the first, but I liked the book even more than the first. But nevertheless, the game has changed.

I noticed one thing after that. I started to feel sick, unhappy, when I write. I'm only happy when I write just random weird things I want to write like "Why I want to change my name", "Things I hate about the mall", and just random things I write in my notebook that will never be a novel or short story collection to "sell". I feel unhappy and uninspired to write things like short story and novel. It becomes like work, labor, without love. I don't mind working and laboring, but it feels hard when I don't love it. And at one point, for months, I could not write at all, except in Twitter or Facebook, which doesn't count. I tried to keep up with writing by attending the writing club I have joined for years. It worked, but after the session, I just still didn't want to write anything.

Maybe other authors will comment, that's another side of being a writer. To keep the discipline when you don't wanna write at all! To keep working when it's tough, when the words don't come out! I know that, but somehow it's not enough.

I have ideas in my head, but I think, "What for?". I doubt myself, I doubt my writing. I try to reminisce about the old days, how I enjoyed writing more than everything. Writing was my escapism, when things go really wrong, when I want to have fun with the stories and the characters in my head, when I want to tell people about something. Now it's more than that. It's more like I need to escape life and my feelings and go through the story. Shouldn't I pour my feelings and life experiences into it?

But must I write?

What will happen if I stop writing? How much would I hurt? I've been chasing other things in life and I've avoided writing for a while, and it felt safer. But I don't want that to keep on happening.

I have a writer friend who told me the same thing, "I just... stopped. I just lose the interest to write. I don't have it anymore. I don't know why". I don't know if the feelings to write just come and go. Some writers, like Harper Lee, doesn't even write any new book after her tremendous success of "To Kill a Mockingbird". Does being published kill the joy of writing? I don't know. I don't know if I can blame it to that.

It was my thing, it was my own secret, and now I give access to people to read it. It was my dream, indeed, to have my works read by people. It still is. It's fun to share your feelings and thoughts with people. But to what length? What if I start to be stressed with that? With the feelings that I'm being watched and judged?

I know I'm in a race to finish my third book, which, even the first draft has been finished, the second hasn't. These questions and doubts, and the lost of interest, keep bugging me, keep knocking me on my head.

Why did I write, back then?

I want to make sense of my life. There are some moments that I can't bear myself, and I need to express it. I want to capture others' lives too, and the feelings, the nuances, the beauty, the ugliness, human, and interaction between them, in a simulation of real world. I want to express my thoughts. I want to amuse, scare, interest, sadden, and stimulate the readers. I want to leave my mark in this world. I want people who experience the feelings or situations like depicted in my writings not to ever feel alone anymore. I want them to enjoy the words.

I still love writing. I really do. Even when I declare that I'm sick of it, I'm writing this to you now.
But must I write?

Maybe it's a question I need to answer, sooner or later. Maybe I'd feel it, how it feels not to write. Or not to publish what I write. Like the one quote in that same book:

“I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet


  1. You must, Kak :) Saya selalu suka baca-baca tulisan kakak. Walaupun cuma baca dari blog ataupun tweet kakak. Saya selalu suka tulisan kakak. Tetap menulis ya , Kak :D Saya bakalan kangen kalau kakak gak nulis-nulis lagi :p Selama kakak rasa tulisan itu "aman" buat di publish, kenapa tidak? Kita mendapatkan berbagai ide juga dari membaca tulisan orang kan, Kak? Siapa tau kakak bisa semakin menyebarkan inspirasi kakak dengan menulis. Oh ya kak sebagai penutup saya punya quote nih :
    Pramoedya Ananta Toer said, "Menulis adalah bekerja untuk keabadian."

  2. Farida Susanty-chan- it's a bitter-sweet thing for me to say -- you are wise beyond your years and, as you are wise beyond your knowledge; you hold gems within your text that you haven't taken fully to heart.

    You need to take the middle path. When you were a young student you were grounded with responsibility and obligation, which made you write out of freedom and expression. Now you write out of pressure, stress, and fatigue. This is not a fertile ground for authors.

    Please take care of yourself first. Writing out of labor and work offers no respite. Writing to the bone will leave you injured, take a break from writing, mix up your media, do what it takes to make writing an expression of yourself, not a forced labor.

    Take time for yourself, without preservation of author, there is no preservation on literature.

    -An admirer