Category Archives: writing

Wanted: A Love Interest for My Protagonist

Long time ago, I wrote a list of my fictional crushes. This list hasn’t changed much throughout the years, though, because I don’t often find a lot of fictional love interests that are believable.

Most of the time they seem more like the author’s fantasy of a romantic partner rather than an actual human being. And instead of being swoonworthy, these characters just fell flat. Can we agree that perfect people are boring? At some point I just stopped caring because they always do all the right things and say all the right stuff. They never mess up, so what’s the point?

The reason I’m saying this is because last week I filled out a character sheet for my protagonist’s love interest, and later, I found out in horror that I was guilty of the same crime.

In my previous writings, romantic relationship never played a major role in the storyline. Only when I decided to add a little romance to spice things up did I realize how hard it is to create a believable love interest.

I decided to rewrite the character, but until now I can’t even get past his physical characteristics. He needed to be flawed, but how much? Describing him with adjectives like “tall, dark, handsome” just felt dry. I find myself struggling with describing physical appearance without boring myself to death with eyes and hair details.

Leigh Bardugo did a fantastic job describing Kaz in Six of Crows:

Kaz shook his head, dark hair glinting in the lamplight. He was a collection of hard lines and tailored edges – sharp jaw, lean build, wool coat snug across his shoulders.

And how Inej saw him in her POV:

Inej knew the moment Kaz entered the Slat. His presence reverberated through the cramped rooms and crooked hallways as every thug, thief, dealer, conman, and steerer came a little more awake. Per Haskell’s favoured lieutenant was home.

Can we have a moment of silence to appreciate how powerful this sentence is?

I’m no Leigh Bardugo, though. So I better start working on it soon.

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Mostly just rants about (not) writing

​I never thought I would be the kind of woman who would put off her career to take care of her kids. Because that implies I had a career to begin with, which I didn’t. Hahahahahahaha.

Okay, here’s the thing with not writing: I’m not going to starve. I’m nowhere near of being homeless. I don’t have people begging me for a sequel. Other than the frustration of having my thoughts bottled up inside and the bitter feeling when scrolling through my news feed and watching my “friends” making money and changing the world, I will be okay with not writing. My point is, sometimes it’s hard to remember why I wanted to write books in the first place.

I just hit 10k word count for my new novel yesterday. If this was my first book, I’d have reached that milestone in 20 days. If this was my second book, 10 days. As it is, it took me 6 effing months for this book. To be fair, I can’t put all the blame on my toddler who can’t see me in front of a laptop without wanting to take over and punch the keyboard excitedly. Oh, I want to say it’s all her fault, trust me I do, I’m a mean mother like that. But that’s not the case. I spent way too much time reading trashy fantasy YAs and baking chocolate chip Oreo muffins when I should be writing.

Anyway, due to the case with overexcited toodler I mentioned above, I finally settled on writing on my phone. It took me around a month to find the perfect setting:

– no fancy word processor because it slows down my phone,

– simple note application is best. I use Google Keep; I write 500-ish words at a time and sync them to my laptop when DD is asleep,

– write whenever DD is distracted!

I also became pretty good at distinguishing between writing and not writing. The only thing that counts as writing is putting one word after another. That’s about it. Fixing typos is not writing. Making an outline is not writing. Filling up character sheet is not writing. Researching is not writing.  And those classical music playlists can go to hell because choosing a writing playlist is definitely not writing.

Oh one last thing: ranting about this in my blog is also not writing.

Anyway. 10k written, which means around 30k more to go. O god can I die already?

When It’s Over, It’s Over

After the release of Teka-Teki Terakhir two years ago, I decided to read my work in printed book format, from cover to cover. The first thing I found, of course, was a typo. An author–it could be Neil Gaiman, but I’m not sure–once said it was the rule, that as the author, the first page you open will contain a typo.

But typos were not the only thing that bothered me. Some dialogues sounded awkward, some parts made me cringe, and in the end I came to a conclusion: I could have written this better. So when I set off to write my second novel, I swore I would revise, revise, and revise and would not submit it until I was fully satisfied with every sentence.

It didn’t work, of course.

The thing about writing a book is that basically you are forming a relationship with your manuscript. You need to have a commitment to show up and write, you have to invest time and energy to fix things that don’t work out, and finally you have to be able to tell when it’s over.

I spent almost a year revising my second novel. Then there came a point when I realized: I’ve worked as hard as I could. This is where I leave you. So I closed the document and sent it to my editor.

A writer–again, I forgot who–once said, “A book never gets finished. It just gets published.” In the final version of A untuk Amanda, there were still parts that I considered raw and unpolished. It could be better. Then again, it could always be better. I could work on it until the end of my life and it could always be better.

But I have said what I wanted to say and decided to be happy about it and move on to the next project.

And then it got published and some people liked the parts that I considered cringeworthy, while others cringed at the passages I was so proud to have written. And they get to know Amanda and it’s not the same Amanda I have in my head. It’s not right or wrong. Just different. I think it’s true that no two people ever read the same book.

When your book is published, it’s no longer yours. It’s up to the readers to read between the lines, to interpret it in their own ways, to fill every cliffhanger with their own endings. You do not get to say, “You’re missing the point. That’s not what I meant at all.” This is why I believe in readers’ right to write bad reviews.

And then, whether the work was good or bad, whether it did what you hoped or it failed, as a writer you shrug, and you go on to the next thing, whatever the next thing is.
– Neil Gaiman

This is the lesson I carry as I’m starting my third novel now. I’m still struggling with the beginning that I can’t even imagine finishing the story. But when (when? If? Am I going to finish it at all?) the time comes, I’ll have to remember that when it’s over, it’s over.

On Being A Community Writer

Akhir Januari lalu saya mendapat tawaran buat bergabung dengan blogger community-nya The Jakarta Post. Awalnya agak ragu sih. Gimana caranya coba nyari waktu buat nulis artikel berbahasa Inggris; buat nyukur bulu kaki aja ga sempet (TMI banget ya ini).

Tapi waktu itu kebetulan saya lagi ga ada proyek nulis. A untuk Amanda udah kelar edit dan siap terbit. Kerjaan saya cuma ngurus rumah dan Amel (ngurus Amel dibilang ‘cuma’, cih). Anyway, maksudnya sih udah lama ga bikin sesuatu buat diri sendiri.

Ketentuannya adalah saya harus nulis minimal 4 artikel sebulan, selama 3 bulan, setiap artikel terdiri atas 500-1000 kata. Dan rupanya, it’s totally doable! Meskipun ngerjainnya jam 3 pagi, sambil nenenin Amel. Meskipun semua artikel ditulis di hp, curi-curi waktu kalau Amel lagi main. Bikin draft-nya sih ga lama; paling 1-2 hari kelar. Mikirin topiknya itu yang susah.

Rupanya lagi, I suck at choosing titles. Ga sedikit artikel saya yang judulnya diganti supaya jadi lebih menarik bahaha.

Ini dia 12 artikel yang saya tulis.

On Life:

Why we should quit jumping to supernatural conclusions

5 things to consider before a detox diet

Constantly self-doubting yourself? You’re not alone

Coping with Loss: One year later

10 lessons you learn from living solo

On Reading and Writing:

Book review: When depression leads to a suicide pact

Have an unfinished novel? Here are some tips to overcome writer’s block

10 reasons it’s OK for adults to read young-adult novels

Book Review: Behind the doors of theatrical killer whale shows

On Parenting:

Born too soon: What it’s like to have a premature baby

Preemies and RSV: It’s more than just a cold

On Travelling:

Six things you need to know about Malta

I’m too lazy to think of a title

When I started writing my first book, I was really, really insecure (you might knew this already, as I probably wrote about it here a thousand times before). I couldn’t stop thinking: nobody’s ever going to like this. People want to read about epic love stories, zombie apocalypse, a farmer boy sets out to save the world from a wizard-mutant dictator … Who wants to read about math? Oh God, my writing looks like it’s been translated from foreign language. Honestly, does anyone talk like that in real life?

Then last November, I was ecstatic upon finding out a major publisher wants to publish it. I thought to myself, this is it, this is the end of the Monster of Insecurities. Now that I know I’ve written something publishable, all the self-doubt and insecurities will go away.

Well, they don’t.

They’re still here, lurking under the desk as I write the next novel. They told me it’s never going to be remotely as good as the first one, and now that everybody expects me to write about mathematicians, nobody wants to read about high schoolers; people have had enough of that already. Once again I find myself wondering: does anyone ever want to publish this? Will my readers like it? Will it create so many troubles if I make my protagonist an agnostic?

This is the part where an old man is supposed to approach me and say, wisely, “My child, all the self-doubts aren’t going to go away; they are part of every creative process. It’s a never-ending, day-to-day battle.” Only there’s no old man here, so I’m just going to say it myself (please don’t be too hard on me; I spend most of my time alone).

But I won’t stop here, because even though there are only a few things more annoying than getting unsolicited advice, they are fun to give. So if you happen to be a writer doubting yourself, let me tell you to keep on writing, and to write fast enough so that by the time your insecurities tell you, “Don’t write that word down, it’s shitty,” you can just shrug (metaphorically, of course) and tell them, “Too late now. I’ve written the whole novel.”

P.S. those things are easier to do with caffeine.
Which reminds me, I haven’t had caffeine in 10 weeks. Gah, this is hell.

because I have the best taste of music in the whole multiverse

You do not have to believe the title of this post, of course. Though I would be very happy if you do.

Usually when I sit down and try to write, I’d practically do almost anything not to start writing. I would spend hours on Goodreads, browse through writing mixes on 8tracks (which, fyi, is the coolest social media), get up, check the fridge, make some tea, check the fridge again, sit down again…

Today, though, my procrastination led to a very essential step in novel-writing: I made a soundtrack for my novel! Such a brilliant idea, right?

Or not. Whatever. This is it, in case you’re interested: http://8tracks.com/nisaihsani/for-reasons-unexplained.

(And to think that I once had tulips on my desk and Emacs open on my laptop…)

By the way, I started this novel as a rewriting of the one I talked about here. Except that I kind of butchered it (sadly, none of the old characters survived), so it’s a completely different story now. Let’s see if I hate it less 40,000 more words from now.

P.S. Perhaps you want to check out my other mixes too. Because you care.