7 Makes of a Writer


What is it that made them write like that? What is it that writers have?

man on floor

1. War

e.g. Seno Gumira Adjidarma, Ernest Hemingway, JD Salinger, Kurt Vonnegut, Naguib Mahfouz.

Whether they were there as reporters, bystander or serving in the military, being at war can fuel a writer for a lifetime. One would be lucky to survive war without losing sanity after witnessing humanity at its lowest, most brutal and meaningless. Going back to it, and reframing it in literary art is either suicidal or desperate call for survival.

2. Sexuality

e.g. Henry Miller, Norman Mailer, Vladimir Nabokov, Erica Jong.

The Timekeeper used to say that man is concerned with only two things: What’s inside the belly, and what's below it.

Sex, when done correctly, is never underrated or outdated. The trick is in figuring out how to channel that energy away from the pelvic regions, to the pen. Writing about an instinctive behavior is easy. Writing it with taste and reason, no matter how offensive, makes “Lolita” and “Fear of Flying” august.

3. Exile

e.g. Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Isabel Alende, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Khalil Gibran.

Someone once said, “We write from the most quintessential landscapes within us.” Whether voluntary or forced, exile seems to make everything about “homeland” so romantic. A lot of writers, including those mentioned above, seem to write better about the places they’ve left behind; because memory has the power to ferment facts into seductive spells.

4. Cultural Identity Issues

e.g. Amy Tan, Jhumpa Lahiri, Abdul Rahman Munief, Monica Ali.

People who are confused of their cultural identities tend to do extreme things. Second generation immigrants inherit memories of far distant places from not very distant ancestors, while affronted everyday with questions surrounding their origins. In Salman Rushdie’s words:

"It may be that writers in my position, exiles or emigrants or expatriates, are haunted by some sense of loss, some urge to reclaim, to look back, even at the risk of being mutated into pillars of salt."

5. Oppression

e.g. Pramoedya Ananta Toer, John Steinbeck, Thomas Mann, Milan Kundera.

A pissed off writer, if he can get away with it, has a lot to say. ‘Nuff said.

6. (Urban/Social) Alienation

e.g. Arundhati Roy, Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edith Wharton, Franz Kafka.

I actually wanted to call this category: “Boredom for having a too predictable life.”

I’m just saying, just because your life is boring and bland, and just because you have everything, doesn’t mean that you can’t be a good writer. My muse told me that, even though all the stories have been told, “the difference is in the details”. It’s in the details, after all, that glimpses of God can be caught.

7. Mental Illness

e.g. All of the above. Haha.

Not really kidding, though.

Not that normal folks cannot be writers, but it’s usually somebody with something off that made it to the timeless list of Classic Literature.

Creative folks, when they are that good, are wired differently. If you envy their success – or even consider being a writer yourself, think that a lot of good writers spend most of their lives being the rejected, sociopathic weirdoes.

Where do you write from?

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