A Writer Writes About Writing

Ghina Furqan

Raised in Qatar, Ghina Furqan is a writer of Indonesian heritage based in West Java.

Known for her poetry, Ghina has been experimenting outside of poetry and with longer-form written pieces such as personal essays. 

Notes on Fear

“You’re afraid because you care” is something that I really needed to hear.

This was said to me by my mentor Rain Chudori during one of our call sessions that we do to discuss writing and beyond. We’ve been doing these coaching sessions for quite some time now, I feel better and comforted when I’m talking to Rain. But afterwards I’ll stare at a blank page with a fear so all-consuming that I end up running away, then I resent myself for it, and the cycle goes on.

It’s ironic for me, as a spiritual person who keeps telling herself to lead with faith, to be scared of everything including but not limited to a blank page which I can’t seem to fill with a single word. As I’m typing this now, I’m scared of where it’ll go, what could happen, and who I’d be at the end. It seems so simple of an act, just sit down and write, but here I am all in my head trying to do so much all at once. Just take it by one word, one sentence, a paragraph, and another, and full-stop. I can handle now and I’ll handle what’s later (i.e. revisions) when it’s, well, later.

I come back to fear quite a lot these days, though the beauty of it wasn’t something I could see before Rain said it in words. I’m scared because I care, and I care a lot. And perhaps too much. I find myself becoming protective over my characters, my readers, even myself, but that’s not how a meaningful reading experience and writing journey is born. Trying to control everything might be the death of a creative process because there’s no room for growth when you’re too protective. Just like my overbearing Asian mum, I had to learn to let go and trust that everything will be okay.

I still care. I’ll always care, and it’s because I care that I continue to type words onto this empty canvas, hoping it’ll find you well, dear reader. Whoever you are, I thank you for being here. And if you’re scared too, then you must care so much. It’s beautiful to care in spite of fearing the unknown. It might even be revolutionary.

Whichever season of life you’re in right now, I hope you feel braver, even if it’s just slightly, than you did yesterday.

A Writer Writes About Writing

An utmost unoriginal idea for a personal essay, but worthy of an attempt nonetheless so here we go…

Why do I write? An answer to this question is said perfectly by Zadie Smith in her essay Something to Do from her collection of essays titled Intimations: Six Essays (2020) — in short: writing is something to do. If we really think about it, a lot of the ‘Why I Write’ essays, including this one, at its core is about how writing is something to do to fill our time. Because what else is there to do with time other than to fill it with something?

But of course, it’s not that simple. I personally don’t have the energy to write all the time. In fact there’s moments I can’t write even though I want to. After I’ve put down the pen or closed the text document, I find a way back to it despite thinking I might never return. It’s like a form of time travelling, or rather the closest I can get to that. I leave behind who I was when I filled that blank canvas, then I come back to my past as a new person who’s different and somewhat the same. I won’t say that writing makes me a better person. Sometimes it does, but ultimately it’s an old habit of mine that, as the saying goes, dies hard.

I can hear my conservative Muslim mother yelling at me to fill my time with prayer and not writing right now at this very minute. She’s frowning at me and I feel disappointed at myself then angry for the traces of my Muslim guilt that I can’t seem to let go of. I can never really say what I want to say to her. I want to explain that hyper-focusing on my religious practice does the opposite of cleansing my soul and only makes me suffocate, just like how actively thinking about how one is breathing can cause hyperventilation and well, you can guess what happens afterwards. But she’s my mother, so I nod and I pray she never leaves me even if it means I have to deal with her constant nagging at my every move.

The issue is not that I don’t pray, it’s that I’m not doing it enough. There’s always something as you grow older, isn’t there? At least one thing is going to feel like it’s not enough, but I’ve outgrown the need to reach the magical finish line of enough. I can barely see that far to spot it in the distance probably due to my short-sightedness (another something thanks to adulthood), and I’m too tired to reach wherever it is anyways. And what if as God is writing what is meant for me in my life’s story, He has also written as you wish?

A muscle. That’s what writing essentially is to me at the moment, a muscle that needs training and not a God-given talent waiting to be turned on at will. As a practice, it’s lonely and daunting, but also gratifying to align my habit with a purpose, even if it’s not capital-P-u-r-p-o-s-e. There’s a lot to be done with words: create another world, connect to another soul, scream it into a void, etc. and I intend on exploring as many possibilities as I can.

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