Your journal is not messy.
It’s immediate and spontaneous. It captures your thoughts and feelings in the spur of the moment. It’s without hesitation. It’s flowing freely, quickly, and intuitively.

Your journal is not boring.
It’s practical and simple. It’s straightforward and minimal. It is what it is. It works for you and lets you organize your thoughts and feelings in a way that suits you best.

Your journal is not embarrassing.
It’s private, raw, and honest. It’s uncensored. It’s where you are brave enough to be vulnerable with yourself. It’s your safe space to open up, reflect, learn, and grow.

Your journal is not ugly.
It’s freeing and liberating. It’s full of things you need to let out and let in, full of memories you want to forget and memories you want to remember. It’s authentic and genuine.

Let’s not judge our journal harshly.
Know that it doesn’t need to look a certain way.
Stop determining the worth and preciousness of our journal by comparing it with others.
Our journal is worthy and precious because it is the archive of our thoughts and feelings through every stage of our lives—a mirror of how we’ve grown through thick and thin throughout the years.

It’s us, documented.


I recently have this fear: I would not have enough time to read all the books I want to read.

Every time I glance at the pile of to-be-read books on my shelf, I feel overwhelmed. Soon, there will be new books: new releases praised by BookTubers or shortlisted by Vulture or Esquire, new translations recommended by indie booksellers like POST or published by Marjin Kiri or Penerbit Haru.

How can I keep up?

And still, every time I go out, I browse the little free libraries around the city (most often the one at the corner, across the canal), hunting for surprises. Amsterdam had gifted me some excellent titles these past few months: Judy Blume’s In The Unlikely Event, Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled, Brady Udall’s The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint (which gave me Sherman Alexie’s vibe), and Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park among others.

From time to time, I visit Scheltema’s web-listing of second-hand books (despite struggling with their website’s not-so-friendly UI/UX), trying to find out if someone has sold some of the books on my wish list.

I am still finding myself coming home to tiny bookshops or climbing the stairs of 5-storey bookstores when I have no idea where else to go. The sight of those shelves comforts me. The words hidden inside rows and rows of closed books promise me another story, another world, another reality.

When I was little, I lived vicariously through the books I read, mostly Enid Blyton’s and Hitchcock’s. When I read a novel, I was a student in a British boarding school; I had a summer picnic and stumbled upon mysteries to solve; I played lacrosse; I had new neighbours with tree houses; I was a girl with five siblings.

I could be anyone I wasn’t.
I could be anyone I’d like to be.

Over ten years ago, a friend of mine said that he wrote like crazy because he was afraid that one day, he couldn’t write anymore. At the moment, I couldn’t understand the sentiment, but as I grow older, I realized that I feel this way when it comes to reading.

The clock is ticking. I only have so much time, while there are still so many books I want to read. I can feel myself getting anxious when I think of how, for sure, I won’t be able to catch up.

I have a book-FOMO.
And I guess I’ll just have to live with it.


Maybe you’ve realized that you want to change direction.
Maybe you’ve had enough.
Maybe you won’t tolerate certain things any longer.

Maybe you have found something better, healthier, or more rewarding.
Maybe you no longer want to stay where you are.
Maybe you don’t care that much about what people would say or think anymore.
Maybe you want to be your own person.
Maybe you’ve tried or worked so hard, and you are on the brink of burnout.

Maybe you want to persevere somewhere else, for something else, with someone else.
Maybe you want to grow.
Maybe you want to expand your horizon.

Maybe you want to risk it.
Maybe you want to know if you can quit.
Maybe you want to see what can happen if you quit.

Because quitting is also an option.

Because quitting can also be a courageous act.
Because quitting can also be an act of self-care and self-respect.
Because quitting can be a great relief.

Just because you quit, it doesn’t mean that you’re weak.
Just because you quit, it doesn’t mean that you can’t get back on track.
Just because you quit, it doesn’t mean that you’re not good enough.

Even if you quit, at least you’ve tried your best.
Even if you quit, you can always start over.
Even if you quit, you are still worthy.


Accompanying #journalingprompts: Do you think ‘quitting’ can be an option? Why? Have you ever quit? Why? Or why not? In which way ‘quitting’ can be good for you? In which circumstances ‘quitting’ can be bad? Why?


What are the things you would do anyway, even if you know you would fail?
What are the things you would do anyway, even if you can’t make money out of it?
What are the things you would do anyway, even if you know you won’t be great at it?

I wrote in my journal that 2021 will be my year of PLAY. After such a heavy and tumultuous 2020, I realized how much I missed living life with a playful attitude: being spontaneous and silly, doing things just for the fun of doing it, being curious and full of wonder.

Psychiatrist Stuart Brown, the founder of the National Institute for Play in Carmel Valley, Calif, said, “Play is a basic human need as essential to our well-being as sleep, so when we’re low on play, our minds and bodies notice. Over time, play deprivation can reveal itself in certain patterns of behavior: We might get cranky, rigid, feel stuck in a rut, or feel victimized by life.”

Last year, I had been so focused on ‘understanding my purpose’ and ‘being purposeful’ it made everything felt heavy. At the end of 2020, I felt so overwhelmed I had a little breakdown.

I started questioning why I should continue doing the things I do if they don’t produce tangible results; if there’s no direct outcome.

But I forgot some things.

I forgot that life is more than just producing tangible results and direct outcomes.
I forgot that you can live a good life even if it seems like you don’t understand (or confused, or unsure, or unclear about) what your purpose is.
I forgot that ‘to have fun’ can also be a purpose.
I forgot that ‘to play’ can also be the answer to the question: “WHY?”

I realized that I had forgotten how to play.

So, this year, I want to learn to take myself (and my work, and my art, and everything else) less seriously.

Lately, I find myself asking these questions while working, designing stuff for my shop, having a call with a client, washing dishes, walking at the park:

  • Can I make it a bit more fun?
  • Can I inject more playfulness into it somehow?
  • Can I find something to help me enjoy it more?
  • Can I drop the importance of it and focus on having a pleasant time?


Most of the time, the answer is yes.

“What all play has in common is that it offers a sense of engagement and pleasure, takes the player out of a sense of time and place, and the experience of doing it is more important than the outcome,” Brown said. “To benefit most from the rejuvenating benefits of play, we need to incorporate it into our everyday lives, not just wait for that two-week vacation every year.”

So, if you know that you will fail at it, won’t make money out of it, and won’t be great at it, what are the things you would still want to do anyway?

Do it.
Let’s play.


Llia (Aulia) Halimatussadiah is a writer of 30 books, from novels to how-to books. She is also the co-founder of, an online self-publishing platform, and, a social storytelling platform that allows writers to do direct publishing digitally. In the past 3 years, she’s been writing biographies of successful Indonesian Entrepreneurs. Her latest book ‘Done is Better Than Perfect’, is a biography of Indonesian Digital Marketer and Serial Entrepreneur, Denny Santoso. You can read more interviews with Indonesian writers here.

1. What is your view about productivity, discipline, and inspiration?

Llia: I’m not productive, I just have a lot of things to say. The abundance of my curiosity and energy has led me into a series of learning, from books, classes, workshops, people, situations. And every time I learn something new, I just have to share it. It can be in the form of social media posts, writing books, podcasts, and videos. Inspiration comes when you’re living with a sense of awe and wonder of the world, just being aware of the present moment. It’s so natural when you’re in the state of accepting, receiving, and allowing, you’ll get inspiration. I meditate every morning and night for at least 20 minutes, being still helps me a lot to be in coherence mode, and the effect of calmness inside will last for hours.

Once you’ve decided to create something big, for example, a long book, then inspirations alone are not enough.

You will need a plan to keep you accountable for your commitment. You need a structure. You need to be disciplined. I always said, structure before substance. Create outlines first, then pour your heart into it. I am proud to be able to be balanced (most of the time!), balancing my yin and yang, masculine and feminine energy that governs creation.

2. Do you have a writing routine?

Llia: I write a gratitude journal every morning, writing the evidence of the things that work well in my life based on my intention. For writing as in book project, I also do it first thing in the morning usually from 7 to 9 am, then I’ll get ready to go to the office. I am not writing full time, but my job as CMO at my own startup allows me to have words, a big part of my life.

3. How do you manage a writing project? How do you organize your thoughts, your resources, and your time?

Llia: When I get inspired to write a book, it usually because I’m curious about a subject and I have spent enough amount of research that already benefits my life that I’d like to share with others. So I started a project with a clearly articulated objective, what the impact the book would make to the world when it’s done.

Then I would create a mind map to see how the book outlines would look like from start to finish. Then I’ll set the book launch date and count down from that date to figure out my researching time, my total writing time, my first draft, my proofreading time, my editing time, to my final draft. Then I’ll usually figure out from that schedule, how many pages per day I should write to be able to reach the goal on time. If I have to write 3 pages a day and I skip one day, then the next day my goal would be doubled.

When I’m writing a book project, usually my mind is fully occupied with my project, so I’m focusing on my energy and time to my writing project ’til I finished at least the first draft.

4. You are writing different types of books: novels, poems, guide book, self-help, travel book, spiritual, movie script, etc. Why? How do you want people to remember you or your work as a writer? 

Llia: I’m bored if I’m doing the same thing over and over, I like some challenges when I do my work, that’s why when writing gets a bit too easy for me, I add the challenge by writing books on different subjects. The latest and heaviest challenge would be writing a biography book of entrepreneurs’ stories. The difficulty level is so much higher because I need to dive deep into another person’s life and become them for some time. It’s tough!

I want to be remembered as a person who falls in love with life. And it shows through my passion for words and my variety of books.

5. What do you “discover” when you write?

Llia: I discover more about myself when I write. I was almost sure I was an ADD because I can’t sit still. I can’t even sit comfortably at a cinema because I just need to move from one thing to another, mentally and physically. So, when I write, I need to stay with myself for a little longer, it needs a bit of forcing my body to sit down and type the words coming out of my heart and mind. And when you’re able to be at peace, your mind clears, and things come to you like a light bulb. You suddenly get it.

Whether about the content that you’re trying to write and the correlation with your reality, to the way you handle yourself to be able to finish the book. People you need to meet will also appear to show you what you missed. Writing invite you to a new piece of land you never knew existed inside you.

6. How is your stoicism reflected in your writing or in the way you approach writing and publishing?

Llia: Nothing is bad news for a stoic. When my manuscript got rejected by a publisher, I turn it into a print-on-demand business that later grows into a new company, a social storytelling platform. You just kind of take whatever life has thrown at you and turn it into profit (laugh).

As for my writing, I guess I’m very practical in my view about life because of stoicism, my writing is simple and to the point. I kind of joke to my friend Henry Manampiring, the author of Filosofi Teras, that I need more drama in my life, otherwise I would never be able to write a novel any more!

7. How would your perfect day as a writer look like?

Llia: My perfect day started as I wake up in my little villa overlooking the hills and the pool. Then I open my wooden door, feel the fresh air in my face, then take a deep breath. I started to meditate for 20 minutes to expand my heart and reach out for my journal to write and be grateful for my day the day before.

I walked to my writer’s room just beside my pool and open my laptop. Took 15 minutes to read books on the table and start to continue writing while sometimes rest and see the forest view on my window. I will write for 2 hours then take a break to walk in the forest around my house for an hour. I start writing again after having a light lunch until around 2 pm.

I’ll sunbathe by the pool for an hour then take a 2 hours nap. I woke up to get ready to go to the beach and watch the sunset. Then taking notes for any inspired words coming out of my brain. I’ll have dinner with friends until around 9 pm then heads home. I can watch movies or read books related to my writing until around 10 pm.

Then I’ll meditate for 20 minutes before I sleep. 




NOTE: From time to time, I turn to you (yes, all of you) when I have no idea about what to write on this blog. Feel free to drop an email or DM me on Instagram if you have any ideas/questions for the blog!

Q: How to leave a toxic relationship?

Disclaimer: I am only sharing my personal take/experience related to this issue. I am not an expert, so please do not consider this post as your final answer. Take it with a grain of salt, do your own research, and reach out to an expert/authority figure if you need professional help to get out of a toxic relationship.

A: I guess I would answer this question with another question: “What makes you stay in that toxic relationship?”

I believe that to know how to leave a toxic relationship, we need to know why we’re staying there in the first place.

However, before going further, let’s make sure that we’re on the same page. Here’s an excerpt from a TIME article about toxic relationships:

Dr. Lillian Glass, a California-based communication and psychology expert, says that a toxic relationship is consistently unpleasant and draining for the people in it, to the point that negative moments outweigh and outnumber the positive ones.

Dr. Kristen Fuller, a California-based family medicine physician who specializes in mental health, adds that toxic relationships are mentally, emotionally and possibly even physically damaging to one or both participants. And these relationships don’t have to be romantic: Glass says friendly, familial and professional relationships can all be toxic as well.

With that being said, logically, we know that we need to get out of a toxic relationship. That’s crystal clear. The problem is, we don’t always feel like we’re capable of getting ourselves out of that relationship, for many different reasons (one can be more complicated than another).

However, most of the time, it’s fear. We are afraid to leave.

What do you get out of that relationship?

We’re afraid of leaving that relationship because we believe that despite being toxic, we get something out of that relationship. Maybe we get the feeling of being loved, assurance, friendship, comfort, a sense of familiarity, security, or financial support. The fear is about missing these things in our lives if we decided to leave the toxic relationship.

Now, the question is, how can you get those things you (think) you need outside of this relationship? How can you give yourself those things? Are there other people that can provide you with those things and who are they? How can you get them to help you?

Make plans on how you can get those things that you need (or want) outside of your toxic relationship. Get it from other people, or get it from yourself. Once you know that you can have the things you need outside of your toxic relationship, you’ll gain the confidence you need to leave. You won’t be afraid to leave anymore because you know that what you need (or want) can still be obtained outside of that toxic relationship.

This is what I did to leave a toxic relationship I was once in.

Do you think this toxic relationship poses a serious threat to your life, either physically, emotionally, or mentally?

If yes, immediately reach out to a psychologist, a psychiatrist, a social worker/activist, or an authority figure you respect. If that sounds like too much of a stretch, reach out to a friend or family member you trust. Yes, it can be hard, but do it. Save yourself. Your life matters. Love and respect yourself by seeking help to get out of the relationship as soon as possible.

Cutting ties.

While you’re in the process of getting out of a toxic relationship, when possible, I find it best to totally cut ties with the other person. Do not stay with them, be with them, talk to them, or meet them. For me, this is important to prevent me from swaying or changing my minds (oh, maybe s/he’ll change. oh, this time s/he promised. oh, s/he said sorry).

It will be more difficult and more challenging to get out of the toxic relationship if we are frequently in touch with the other person. Their pull can still be so strong, and we’re risking ourselves to get sucked back into that relationship again.

However, if it’s impossible to totally cut ties with the other person at the moment, try reducing your time/interaction with him/her. Surround yourself with people that make you feel good. Sign yourself up to join various activities that you love. In the meantime, reach out to the people you trust and make plans about how you can distance yourself from this person.

But, I love him/her. I want to help him/her.

I know that this, sometimes, becomes our excuse to go back into a toxic relationship (I was guilty of this!). However, we need to know that we can’t love them if we can’t love ourselves. And we can’t help them when we have terribly wounded ourselves. The best thing to do is to love ourselves first by healing our wounds and nursing ourselves back to health. Once we’re completely healed and strong, once we’ve gained our confidence that we can be completely OK outside of that toxic relationship, then we can decide if we want to ‘help’ the other person, or if we want to get connected/interact with them again.

I hope this helps!


Intuitive Journaling Challenge: Why?

Well, first, it was because of #inktober–the 31-day challenge in the art community to draw something with ink throughout October. I was thinking of joining, but I wasn’t sure that I could actually do it for 31 days. Drawing (or painting) is still something quite new to me, and I’m still trying to get a hang of it.

However, I always love the idea of challenging myself to complete a tiny project, like when I posted about the things I’ve learned every single day for 28 days in February. Then, as I migrated into my new bullet journal this morning, I thought, “Why not having a journaling challenge instead?”

I was trying to come up with something that won’t take a lot of time to do and won’t need any specific tools/supplies; when it suddenly dawned on me that in 3 months, we’d say goodbye to 2018! How time flies! So, I thought, why not having a journaling exercise that will help us to reconnect and discover something new (or old) about ourselves–thus, we have 2 more months to prepare for our smooth transition to 2019?

And just like that, this challenge was born.

Intuitive Journaling: How to Do It?

Some refer to it as freewriting or automatic writing. The idea is to set a timer for a certain period of time: one minute, three minutes, five minutes, ten minutes up to you (although for this challenge, we’ll do a 3-minute session per day).

As the timer starts, begin writing (with pen and paper) in your journal, without really thinking, without really stopping.
Write whatever crossed your mind.
It doesn’t matter if things appear to sound weird, funny, or senseless.
The idea is to translate your tangled and busy mind into the paper.

Here’s the secret: DO NOT stop as you write, not even for a split second. Do not think. Just write until your time is up. Follow the chaos of your mind and write everything down. Everything.

You could even write something like, “I don’t know why I am doing this, oh, I’m so hungry, like so, hungry and my foot itches and what should I write this is strange really…”

It’s OK.

Keep writing no matter what until your timer beeps.

I like to call this technique ‘intuitive writing’ or ‘intuitive journaling’ because after doing this practice for a while, you will notice the magical moment when your intuition starts talking to you from the chaos of the page.

This is exactly why you need to relax and let go of the need to control; set aside the urge to think, to edit, to look for the right words or sentences.
When you’re still trying or thinking, you are not letting your intuition take over.

So, let it flow. Let whatever needs to come out from within you find its way onto the page.

How to Join This Intuitive Writing Challenge and More.

Here’s how it’ll play out:

  1. All you need is a pen, a notebook to write, and a timer (you can use the timer on your phone). Set the timer to 3 minutes to start your intuitive journaling session. Can you do more than 3 minutes a day? Sure. However, remember that we tend to go strong at the beginning of a project and then lose our drive a little bit more every day. Personally, I believe that completing the challenge by writing 3 minutes a day for 31 days will benefit you more than writing for 15 minutes a day, but stopping after the first 7 days. And please only write by hand! Why? Find the answer here.
  2. Every day, before 8 am, I will post your intuitive journaling prompt on this page (at the end of this post). I don’t want to post all the prompts right away, because I think it will be overwhelming. Plus, there will always be that temptation of “thinking” about what to write for tomorrow’s prompt, which is something that will beat the purpose of intuitive journaling. So, every day, when you’re ready to write, open this page and see that day’s prompt. I will also share the prompt via my Instagram Stories.
  3. If you want, you can share your experience of going through each challenge or even share what you write. But you don’t have to do this. Just know that you’ll benefit from it even if you want to keep the journal to yourself. Don’t feel the obligation to share if you don’t feel like it.
  4. I am using the hashtag #intuitivejournaling #writeandwander and #octoberjournal to talk about this challenge/project on social media. I might not share what I have written throughout the challenge, but I might want to share some lessons, memories, or sentiments that come up when necessary. You can also share your experience by using those hashtags, so we can find each other. Know that you don’t have to share or use the hashtag if you don’t want to. You know I’m not fussy about those kinds of things 🙂
  5. Have fun, and don’t forget to set your intention to use this challenge as a way to discover something about yourself, or to hear the message you need to hear.

The 31-day challenge.

Happy journaling!


We met through an online site when I was 18.

I couldn’t remember how our conversations started, but after messaging one another back and forth for quite some time, we left the site and started emailing one another more frequently.

He was around my age—at times bold and rebellious, other times mellow and deeply curious about life, and always in love with reptiles the way people are in love with a purring kitten. Our friendship flows through words and thoughts, bursts of emotions and lines of secrets, alphabets, symbols, and pictures—these were the things that form our alternate universe.

We sometimes wondered how amazing it was to keep such a long-lasting friendship with a stranger: with someone who lives in another part of the world, someone we have never even met, someone we have never even had any phone conversations with.

But ours is the kind of friendship that blooms naturally, in a genuinely platonic manner, and lasts for another 16 years after our first online encounter.


I don’t check my Facebook messenger unless someone sent me something there, and told me to have a look. Just like a few days ago, when I opened my messenger only to check a message left by a friend. As I hovered around to find it, my eyes caught a message from unknown contact.

Usually, I would disregard the message without opening it, but that day, somehow, I clicked it.

Hanny, we never met, but I’m T’s Mom. It is with great sadness that I have to inform you of T’s death. He left me a small list of people he cared about and wanted them to know. Again, I’m so sorry.

I needed to read this message over and over again, each time with a sinking feeling in my stomach. I knew what it meant, but I just couldn’t grasp the cold reality of it. I couldn’t even cry because I couldn’t digest things properly at the time.


T left me a message about a week before.
It was one of our casual what’s up messages.

In the middle of my workloads and hectic business trips, I decided to save my reply for the next weekend, when I would be more chill and have the time to write longer. This wasn’t something strange in our friendship.

In 16 years, there were times when T would reply to my email two months later, or I would respond to his 2-3 weeks later, and there were also times when we did not write to each other for 5-6 months altogether. Nobody would chase anybody for a reply, apart from leaving some lines like hope-all-is-good or happy-birthday or congrats-for-that-thing.

We trust.

We know that no matter how infrequent, we would always get back to one another with longer updates and replies and intense email marathons. It’s like an unwritten rule: we will always get back in touch—no matter how late.

But maybe, this time, I was late.


I know that T had been dealing with depression his whole life.

A month into our friendship, he told me about the things he sometimes saw or heard, and when I responded to this story with more questions and curiosity, he said I was probably the only person that didn’t label him crazy.

Probably it was this trajectory that enables us to talk about T’s depression, medication, and his ways to cope up with it openly—along with other things in our lives: like the movies we watch, the song we listen to, our passion, our dreams, our current crush, our heartbreaks.

We didn’t have any agreement on this, but somehow we knew that if he emailed me saying, I-want-to-talk-to-you, this would be his way of reaching out during his lowest days. I would know to respond right away, and we would be emailing each other back and forth until he dropped our email intensity: a sign that he already felt a little bit better.

But what did I know?
The thing is, I know nothing.

We know nothing even about our closest ones.

What if I responded to T’s casual what’s up right away a week ago? Would things change? Would we talk things out? Would he still be alive? Was that even his usual and casual what’s up? Why did I come to that conclusion? What if that was his signal of reaching out, instead of the usual I-want-to-talk-to-you? What if, in reality, there was nothing casual about what’s up, ever?

These were the things that came to mind the first few hours after I heard about T’s death. I spent a few days after receiving the news of his passing by rereading our old email exchange, trying to bring back the feelings and memories of our friendship.

Maybe, I was looking for a clue.

How did I miss this one? How did I miss him? The day when he left me his last message, did he think about leaving? Did he make up his mind already?


I didn’t want to wake up. I was having a much better time asleep. And that’s really sad. It was almost like a reverse nightmare, like when you wake up from a nightmare you’re so relieved. I woke up into a nightmare. | Ned Vizzini, It’s Kind of a Funny Story

My partner told me that sometimes he wondered if people choose to leave to ease their pain or to free their closest ones and family members from the pain and trouble they thought they are causing. I sometimes wondered, too. And still, I didn’t know the answer.

However, this is what I know.

I know that T had the dream of coming to Asia and Australia, working with reptile researchers and conservationists. He used to send me pictures of his snakes and the baby alligator he’d been working with at a reptile hospital. He believed that reptiles were kind and gentle, but they were generally misunderstood.

I know that T decided to stay home after his sister moved out from their family house because he didn’t have the heart to leave his mother alone—although staying means putting his dreams on hold. “What if something happened to her and I didn’t know about it until hours or even days later?” he said.

I know that these are two of T’s happiest times: 1) when he worked with reptiles and 2) when he went to Hawaii and got to run through a rainforest barefoot.


A few weeks ago, I just wrapped up the writing of a book: a self-healing journal about nursing heartbreak and dealing with loss. At the time, I didn’t know that I would need this book for myself this soon.

Maybe, subconsciously, I wrote this book for myself, for the memories of T, and for those who have their hearts broken by depression every single day, struggling to survive another day.

I see you.
I hear you.


Bernard Batubara (Bara) is an Indonesian author living in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. He begins his writing career as a poet. Today, his works have been published in newspapers, literary magazines, literary web portals, as well as several anthologies with fellow authors. His books are Angsa-Angsa Ketapang (2010), Radio Galau FM (2011), Kata Hati (2012), Milana (2013), Cinta. (2013), Surat untuk Ruth (2014), Jatuh Cinta Adalah Cara Terbaik untuk Bunuh Diri (2014), Jika Aku Milikmu (2015), Metafora Padma (2016), Elegi Rinaldo (2016), and Luka Dalam Bara (2017). Radio Galau FM and Kata Hati are now major motion pictures. He occasionally gives lectures on creative writing in high schools, universities, and communities.


How does Bara—the writer—see love and heartbreak in his writings?


Bara: My first novel draft was a love story. I wrote it when I was in junior high school. It was about the life of a rebellious high school student and a love story that blossoms with a classmate. A cliché, I know. Like a template. But it was only this kind of story that crossed my mind the first time I tried to write a novel. The draft was completed in 2 years.

I sent it to a big publishing company in Jakarta and got a rejection letter 6 months after.

At first, love-themed stories (and heartbreak; these two are actually a unit; it is impossible for each one to be written on their own) became the fuel for my writing. Simply because I felt that these stories were the ones closest to me. It was a theme I thought I understood the most. Actually, I wanted to write fantasy like Harry Potter novels, but all the monsters I could imagine already made their appearances there. I felt less imaginative to write fantasy and I didn’t read enough to write a historical novel. So, I wrote romance.

As time passed by, with 2-3 of my books were still talking about love, my readers (generally they are younger than me) labeled me: Bernard Batubara—the romance writer.

I started to be known (or seen) as a romantic guy because I write love stories. There was one time when I tried to ditch the label because it felt like I have been somewhat dwarfed by the market. I do possess other interests apart from writing love stories. However, now I accept it and think of that label (the romance writer) as a good opportunity to deliver various ideas outside my ideals about love itself.

My other books, although the ‘outer packaging’ is still revolving around love, are actually talking about a wide array of issues. I talk about illegal logging, horizontal conflict, social condition, law, modernism, urban living, existentialism, religion, and many more. Love stories are used as packaging, a prelude to my ideas.

One of the heaviest tasks for a writer is to make the reader feels connected to what he writes. Love (and heartbreak) story is the easiest material to get people to resonate with it. I use love stories as a bridge to talk about other things with my readers.

Bernard Batubara


How far do you process real-life experience into fiction?


Bara: At first, I thought one of the most important skills a writer should possess is imagination. Writing is about creating things that once did not exist. That’s the joy of writing.

However, lately, I feel as if I am not too clever in making things up. It’s easier for me to write about the things I have experienced.

I don’t need to find the scenes, characters, or situations that don’t exist. I need only to daydream for a while, remembering a situation or a scene from my past, then write about it.


But of course, it’s not always easy to write about your personal experience. There were times when I didn’t want to remember the things I needed to remember. I want to write about the things I have experienced, but I don’t want to write them all.

However, censoring my memory means a betrayal to memories itself.

At the end of the day, I just face it. Anger, disappointment, sadness, all the negative feelings that surface when I remember certain parts of my memories… I learn about them. I dissect my memories. I ask myself why it happened this way or that way, to the point in which I am able to digest those negative feelings and understand them; while turning them into stories.

The first step to remember is by reminiscing the most important part of my experience. For example, if I am writing a love story based on my experience with my ex, I will remember the most impressive moment of our relationship. Usually, that part contains a conflict, and this becomes a conflict in the story as well. I will start writing them down. From here, I can move in many different directions. I can go forward, or backward to past experiences until those memories turn into a full write-up.

How far do I go? Radio Galau FM—almost all of it is based on my personal experience. Kata Hati only takes some ideas and conversations that happen in the real world. Cinta dengan Titik is about someone else’s experience (my friend). Milana, part of it is a personal experience, and the other part is not. And there it goes.

I am most straightforward in my latest book, Luka Dalam Bara. In some of my social media channels and talk shows, I told my readers that the book recorded my romantic experience with someone (most of them know who this someone is).


Someone says, write only for one person. Do you agree with this?


Bara: I would say that I am quite in agreement with that suggestion. It reminded me of one of my favorite writer’s advice, Kurt Vonnegut. He said, write to please just one person. “If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.”

Another favorite writer of mine, whose name I do not wish to mention here, once said that he writes only for one person: himself. I think I have done the same thing, writing only to please myself, and I did it because it’s easier than pleasing everybody. (Everybody means 7 billion people on earth? Scary)


All stories are love stories. How do you feel about this? Is this something you believe in?


Bara: Yes and no.

No, because there are good stories I have read, and the writer does not write about romance at all. Some good stories talk about war, violence, political intrigue, glum future world, and many more. Good stories are not always about love.

However, I think even in those stories where love-themes are avoided, at a certain point they will indirectly tell us something about love. Love becomes something subtle and inherent in the story of life, and this—at times, enables us to see love stories in novels that don’t fall under the romance genre. When I read 1984 by George Orwell, I read a love story between the protagonist and his female partner, although Orwell might want to tell a story about the forlorn future of humans.

All stories are love stories—this could be true for the previous reason: love is something inherent in life and it takes different shapes. We’re not only talking about eros love or platonic love but many different kinds of love. Just like it is impossible to write a story without a mention of human sufferings, it is also impossible to avoid bringing forth a love story, however subtle, in a story.

Bernard Batubara


As a writer, how do you see the difference between your male and female characters when they fall in love or heartbroken?


Bara: Male characters in fiction works I’ve ever read face their broken-heartedness in a way that is not too different from my male friends in the real world. First, they will deny it. Second, they find distractions. Third, they regret the things they have done. Fourth, they know it’s impossible for them to turn back time, so they’ll enter the next step. Fifth, they accept the fact that they are the real problem in that broken relationship.

The same goes for female characters. They’ll weep, mourn until their tears dry up, and in no time they find someone new to love.

I guess because fiction is a reflection and a result of contemplation of real-world events, the characters’ actions would not be that far different from what we have seen in the real world. These are also the things that make us feel connected to a novel or short story we are reading. We feel as if we are seeing ourselves (or our friends) in it.


How is your attachment to your works? How do you deal with compliments and criticisms?


Bara: I would think of myself as a writer that could move on easily when it comes to my work.

At the time a new book is being published, I no longer think about it. I am already focusing my mind on the next one. Sometimes, during talk shows, there were questions from readers about certain scenes in my book—and I had to dig my mind really hard to answer that—since I had detached myself quite far from that work.

I used to think of my published books as my children. In that sense, our relationship is like this blood-connection between a father and his children. But then, I thought, a good father could be one who lets his children grow independently and find their own ways to face the world. Furthermore, the world the children are facing is their own world—a world that is different from the world of their father.

My attachment towards my published works is limited to a chronological memory. Which book, published by when, or how I began writing that book… those kinds of things. But when it comes to emotional attachment or the like, I don’t think I have that kind of feelings inside of me.

I do not have enough energy to cultivate an emotional relationship with all of my works. Life moves forward and I invest my energy on my future works.

And speaking about criticism, I was once annoyed with the mocking of my works on social media. However, afterward, I realized that being annoyed had no benefit for me. So, that was it. Today, I think of all the responses to my work as appreciation. I only take into account inputs from people whose reading taste and thinking ability I trust.

The rest are just different forms of appreciation.

*) photos courtesy of Bernard Batubara
Hanny illustrator
I am an Indonesian writer/artist/illustrator and stationery web shop owner (Cafe Analog) based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. I love facilitating writing/creative workshops and retreats, especially when they are tied to self-exploration and self-expression. In Indonesian, 'beradadisini' means being here. So, here I am, documenting life—one word at a time.