A World of Letters

Some of my friends and colleagues have repeatedly me asked the same question time and again: “Why do you write so much?” Their accusation is true, as I compose quite a lot of articles in both my free-time and during my work-hours. As an example, I have had nothing at all to do during the writing of this piece, and it is the third one I’ve done so far. The night is still young, and I cannot yet tell whether it will be my last and final one for the day. What I know with utmost certainty, however, is that I would have my laptop up and running with my fingers tapping away on the keyboard. Yet throughout this paragraph, I have not yet answered the inquiry of my peers. This is not out of cluelessness—or god forbid, poor writing—rather a blankness left due to the vastness of the answer.

It is not easy to say why I write anything at all. For one, I rarely ever get paid for spending hours upon hours scribbling on notepads, and at times writing can be quite the laborious task. If writing was my primary vocation, I could offer up the simple answer of “to earn a living.” Sadly, it is not. And thus I had to think, to wonder why it is that I spend so many days alone, in a room by myself, with nothing but letters and symbols to accompany me. Perhaps, to begin my answer, I have to delve backwards in time, into the tender years of my childhood.

As a boy, I was not very sociable. I was quiet, stayed out of trouble, and could commonly be found tucked away in the corner of a classroom jotting something down on my notebooks. I was socially-anxious and was unable to make friends easily. By the time I finished primary school, I had managed to make a grand total of one companion, whom now I no longer keep in contact with. Yet as with many other children worldwide, I suffer from a common predicament in my early years: that of finding exciting activities whilst ignoring the babbling of teachers. Without my classmates to silently entertain me, I had to find other outlets for my boredom, and I found such a thing amongst the contents of my backpack.

Most students, if not all of them outright, are required to bring a set of stationary and blank papers to school. I didn’t dare sneak in anything else, and hence my backpack was filled with nothing but the objects I mentioned above and textbooks. Not the most exciting things in the world, I know. Yet an escape from the monotony of classrooms made itself available, in the form of my pens and binder. I discovered an entirely new world just by uniting the two items together.

Usually, my notebook was for, well, note-taking. However, I was never really interested in whatever subject the tutors were preaching about, and my notes were an incomprehensible mess as a result. What better way to use them than for writing what truly mattered to me? As a child, my areas of interest are of course quite limited: the slaying of dragons, the rescuing of beautiful princesses, the act of vengeance against the school bully, so on and so forth. Those were basically the gists of my earliest works. Not the most impressive of entrances, but it was a beginning nonetheless.

What surprised me was how interesting the malleability of the worlds I created was. I could do anything I wanted, be whomever I wished to be, cause to happen events unimaginable in this world of ours. I was the god of my own little universe, utterly free of judgment and completely without worry. The exact opposites of my then real world circumstances. And there they were, my first steps, my initial purpose to write.

Likewise with most childhood hobbies, my writing pastime nearly died out. As I overcame my social-anxiety it was easier, simpler to seek thrills not from my own imagination alone, but that of my friends. In middle-school I wrote nearly nothing except for the projects demanded by my lecturers. All of them, as I recently glanced over, are essentially worthless. Essays containing less than four hundred words, with no structure, pacing, or anything that makes for good writing. I began to recall a kind of falling-out, one similar to the forgetfulness a person experiences from leaving something once taken for granted. That is, one does not notice its absence, until far later on, when it feels that there is a space that should be filled but is empty.

That emptiness occurred far later on, when I turned sixteen or so. I was out of school, had nearly nothing to do except for hanging out with random crowds of people, drinking, smoking, essentially leaving my life an almost worthless shell of what it once was. There were no hours that I had to spend working, merely ones that I had to wait to pass. With an excess of inactivity, I had to find something to pass the time with. My out and about hours were above ten in the night, leaving me with more than ten hours of waiting for the paint to dry. As many readers have probably already guessed, this is the moment when I decided to take up the pen once more.

Writing, in my supposed-to-be high school years, had a vastly different character than the one I had known in my earlier years. I wasn’t pushed to conjure up essays concerning topics I had no interest in, there was no deadline, no minimum or maximum of words per document. I had no barriers, and was as free to write whatever I wanted as in my primary school days. It was an exhilarating experience.

I wrote short stories, reports, articles, essays, and anything else that came to mind. The topics of which are of my own choosing, usually related with the happenstances within my life back then. A problem rose up, however. I very quickly realized that no one would be reading my compositions. This is a disheartening realization, to say the least. Why write at all when it has no actual effect on the real world? On the people around you? Even the ones you write about. I tried my hand at blogging, but nobody ever really read my posts or even commented. Leaving my pages barren of readers. Of course, I felt a tad disappointed, and embarrassed at the amount of energy I’ve wasted at performing what amounts to nothing.

Again I stopped, and reevaluated how I might transform my creations from junk into what might be perceived as worthwhile. Now where could an aspiring writer find the guidance he needed to harness his skills? In the minds of authors whose works have transcended the walls of time, culture, and language obviously.

At age seventeen, I picked up my first two books. Both of which harbor substances of interest to me, and are each nonfictional in nature. The thinner volume being Sam Harris’s Free Will and the thicker one Richard Dawkins’s The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True. The pair were masterpieces to my virginal eyes, as they showed me how expertly one could write about subjects so abstract that they are nearly incomprehensible, yet understandable thanks in no small part to the skills of the writers.

What struck me as I first began to read was the way a published author presents his work. He or she avoids complexity and embraces simplicity, ambiguities were wiped away and certainties preserved; approaches that make it possible to build a bridge between the minds of readers and that of the author’s. For this realization, in a way, Dawkins and Harris became my first tutors, as they have shaped my style of writing, and still do to this day.

I didn’t immediately pick up the pen and paper again. I waited, still confused as to what manner of thoughts could pique a stranger’s interests. As time went on, the time for university-life dawned upon me, and I entered a not-so-prestigious institute with a somewhat illegal high school diploma. Yet there was the place for me to hone my talents, and finally find a purpose in conjuring worlds of letters.

Though not incredibly renowned, my first university had a unique method of teaching—at least here in Indonesia. Students were encouraged to write and think for themselves, instead of merely taking notes and memorizing for exams. We hypothesized, theorized, and presented our ideas in the form of essays. It could be through sheer luck, but my assignments and exams (which were basically more elaborate papers anyway) were quite well received by the campus’ lecturers. One claimed that a piece I had written changed his perception on certain subjects, and hearing such a comment granted me an epiphany.

My writings could actually act on the minds of other people. I practiced repeatedly, through homework and freelance jobs. Then, when I felt slightly more confident in my ability to compose, I started a blog, the one you’re reading right now. It’s nothing out of the ordinary, and I know that it is far from perfect, but Peculiar Ideas is mine and I’m proud of this small site. That sense of pride does not come without basis, yet is actually built by each and everyone of you, those who have kind enough to read, like, and comment on my posts.

I’m an Atheist and I have never really been shy about my beliefs. One of the first things I wrote about was a secular praise of humanity, one that promotes a more positive view on humanity and life in general through the eyes of one without faith. The post was viewed a view times as well as liked, but though the number of each categories did not even reach the tens and twenties, my confidence and willingness were significantly boosted. There was finally a platform for me to speak aloud my ideas to people, one that does not restrict the readership to just one evaluator. My hands could hardly be kept away from my keyboard in that initial period of blogging, but they were once more swept away by another blockade: what are my ideas for? A question that was difficult to answer, though one I have now solved.

If my thoughts cannot influence, protect, change the views of people, then they will not be written down. I write to find a place for myself in this world, to be more useful than the average young adult. If any of my articles have made someone unknown feel less alone, understand something better, become more tolerant of those different to themselves, then I have accomplished my goal. Even if it is just one individual who is affected by one of my projects, I would still consider it a success.

Here I am then, still tapping away at the keys of my laptop. I suppose it is partially to pass the time, but now I know I have a concrete motive in mind. When a friend, colleague, or whomever asks me why I do what I do, I would proudly say that it is to be of use in this world, to enhance others’ understanding, to assure another he or she is never truly alone, and to—if at all possible—increase the kindness, tolerance, and altruism of peoples I would possibly never meet.

And if it sounds like I’m looking for an ego boost, I’m not. A lot of my works have undoubtably been failures even though I scrutinize them endlessly, and the view counters and comments reflect such shortfalls. What this whole article has been about, essentially, is to show the various motivations that can propel a writer: from boredom, to the idea of being a god of a fictional world, to sending forth our ideas into the world, to perhaps being of some use to the wonderful few who peruse my writings.

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