Celebrating Hope’s Day

LEGEND has it that a woman named Pandora in the Greek mythology had a box and out of her curiosity, she let out everything evil kept in it. But things were going to be alright as hope is still kept inside the box. Such folklore may be the best way in old ages to motivate people to keep going when the going gets tough. But perhaps not many modern people believe in it any longer.

So the task has to be undertaken by modern novelists, as it seems. J. K Rowling once said that she created Harry Potter because she wanted a boy who – despite his damage and flaws and fragility – continues to battle against the more mighty Voldermort. Heroism draws her admiration as I saw her on the family-tree documentary of “Who Do You Think You Are?”. On it, she cried as she found out her maternal grandfather  who was French and an unexperienced soldier at war had managed to kill some German soldiers to defend their territory. It was a moment of discovery that made her drench in pools of tears.

That is hope and heroicism with good and happy endings. Harry Potter finally wins over Voldermort after all, somehow, as she makes sure of it (because no readers want a book with an easily murdered protagonist).

But sometimes such heroism is much too surreal or even too unreal. Admirable heroism and abundant hope in reality most of the time have to succumb to their opponents. They have to get down in their knees and get beheaded brutally like John Foley, that war journalist with an unfitting end of life.

While I was browsing for my source of writing inspiration, something nudged me to get to this webpage. And then I realized that January 17 is now named Hope’s Day.

So what’s special about the date anyway? It’s the birthday of the conjoined twin sisters from Iran, Ladan and Laleh Bijani, who had been so brave to encourage themselves to try a highly complex surgical procedure to separate their joined heads – and brains. The fact that their brains were also closely rooted with each other had made the surgery named Operation Hope end tragically. It was announced that they died on July 8, 2003 at the age of 29 (BBC). They exactly knew the surgery was going to be tough and rough. It lasted not for hours but days. Around the clock.

I wish I had that insurmountable valor. They might have scared as well but they kept continuing anyway. And the death is not a defeat itself. It’s a struggle to clench faithfully to the idea of “either now or nothing at all” or staying in the comfort area of “let’s stay here”.

To live in such under such a condition is another form of bravery itself. However, to decide not to live under it any longer takes not only bravery but also confidence and preparedness of the worst scenarios, which may also be construed as history for posterity.  (*)

 

Monetizing Your English Writing Skills

(Foto: Setyo Jojo)

A writer is a reader, listener and thinker who writes.” – Akhlis Purnomo

There’s nothing better than sharing your experience with all the people around you. When it comes to experience, even sharing what seems so trivial, no-brainer, basic and little to us may mean a lot and proves insightful and inspiring to others.  So I decided to also share this with you all on my blog.

The title of the piece itself was derived from a presentation title I served in the middle of November 2017 at the English Department, Universitas Jenderal Soedirman (Unsoed). The presentation brought some nostalgic ambiance, I have to admit, as it’s been a while since the last time I taught a bunch of young folks in a classroom and it gave me quite a shiver. My teaching days were over but the urge to share can’t fade that easily. It’s embedded permanently in my DNA. Which explains why no matter how hard I try to dissuade this urge, I fail again and again miserably.

The bedroom writer

Teaching was a career path I decided to abandon after I resolved writing is the best career for the future Akhlis. This started quietly in my bedroom in 2009. One night I started blogging (armed with a brand new laptop and a CDMA phone as the modem, which worked painfully slow).

At the time, blogging was a relatively new thing. And the more I wrote for my own blog, I found it more interesting day by day. It was because of the internet marketing opportunities which were and still are limitless. It was tempting for an introverted for me to be able to make money without even seeing too many people out there. Even networking is doable via social media and email.

The idea of becoming a professional blogger sparked on my mind and I thus began blogging soon after that. I browsed the entire web days and nights to learn how to make money from my blog. By then, all I knew was Darren Rowse (with his problogger.net), Brian Clark (with his copyblogger.com), Deborah Ng (with her freelancewritinggigs.com), and some other professional bloggers from Anglosaxon countries (Australia, the States, or the UK). I bought their ebooks and got hooked by the offers of the ease of making money with websites and content, which I can produce on daily basis because I can write in English.

But my main problem was the connection speed. My hometown was not a place where the internet providers operated the best. Their quality of service sucked a lot. They existed but gave me more frustration more than convenience. Of course, I still could exchange emails (with lots of trial because the connection might be cut off in the process) but viewing images and videos was an ordeal still at the time.

And then I stumbled upon a great blog called thoushallblog.com. It was clean, simple and interesting, with high quality content that I liked a lot (I recently visited the blog but sadly it wasn’t live any longer). I somehow managed to contact its owner. He was a Malaysian internet marketer named Yan Susanto, if I’m not mistaken. He confessed to have grown up in Tasikmalaya, some town in Western Java province but then his family made a move to Malaysia and since then never came back.

That year (2009), I learned a lot about internet marketing from Yan. We chatted a lot via email and I actively asked him about the nuts and bolts of it. I suddenly found myself glued to my laptop days and nights. I wanted to buy a domain for my first personal blog (hosted by blogger.com), a PayPal account, and a software. All was because I wanted to be like Yan. A financially-independent internet marketer.

In the course of that, one thing I realized was that I lacked technical skills. While it seemed that Yan was more skillful at it. His mastery of web development and SEO (search engine optimization) was impressive and I saw myself as ‘a little kid in the neighborhood’. I knew almost nothing. But Yan was willing to help me through this learning phase by giving me some guidance on how to make great quality content. He taught me on link building techniques, how to rewrite a piece of content so it looked fresh and new and unique, how to write a product review in English. He paid me as a contributor and helper of his SEO campaigns.

Things changed. From 2010 on, I launched my writing career by moving to Jakarta as an Indonesian-English translator and web content writer for an illustrious property company’s  web portal in the heart of Jakarta’s business district.  In the course of my writing career, I was given another new responsibility which was beyond my imagination. I had to see and talk to people. Real people this time. It was no people on screen just like what I did with Yan. Awesome. And from there I was officially appointed online reporter/ journalist in the company.

Along with that, I also began to learn more about social media. After I made content, the time had come for me to know how to market it on the web. So I  set up a convincing social media presence on Twitter and Facebook and Koprol (an Indonesian social media site which was then acquired by Yahoo). From time to time, I studied and practiced social media management and boy had it taught me a lot of things!

Another phase of my writing career was about to occur when in 2015 I ran into a friend working in the publishing industry. She wanted me to work with her on an English book writing project. We were working in tandem and tackling whatever issues together. I learned much from this writing gig. It was about the workflow, the researching, writing and editing process, all of which were quite different from the ones I’ve been familiar with in the web publishing industry. That was my first time to immerse myself in the book writing process.

Happening simultaneously was also the publishing of some of my pieces (columns and opinions) in the country’s big news portals (more on this, kindly go to my ‘portfolio’ article on this very blog) like detik.com and kompas.com. Whereas, Indonesiana.com also picked some of my pieces to be published on Koran Tempo (both are affiliated media under the same holding company).

Later on, I also managed to get published as a solo writer of my own content by working as a magazine writer. This was quite challenging because I had to be responsible for all the content of a certain edition. The content ranged from translation of English articles (as the magazine was part of global franchise network) and some authentic content I had to acquire (6 articles altogether). All these were my entire workloads to finish within only a couple of weeks (yes, two weeks only!). It was so tight a deadline.

Almost at the same time, I was also preparing another project on a different theme. This one was primarily concerned about social media.  It was rather tough as well as I had to be preparing three different sets of materials for three different government clients. In this project, I was the social media expert invited to share my 5-year experience in my previous company.

What a journey…

To the English Department students of Unsoed, I hurled a rethorical question of this.

What it takes to be a successful writer?

Here were my answers for them:

  • Passion: Passion is NOT overrated, as far as I’m concerned. It’s the fuel of your long long career journey. It’s the thing that enables you to stay on track when others start to give up, succumb and switch paths. It’s one thing in your very essence that enables you to be stubborn as you’re spearing ahead, laser-focusing your efforts towards one single career objective.
  • Discipline: This is one of the essential skills to have and nurture in a writer’s soul. Yes, writers are artists working with words but that doesn’t mean you can get lazy with your work. Set up your own schedule if you have no employer (act as your own employer!) and stick to it. And discipline makes you a better writer working in a team. Or else, you can be much hated because of your insanely awful attitude, believing you can only work when inspiration comes along. No, a professional writer doesn’t wait for inspiration. S/he builds one, instead.
  • Focus: You may be working at a cafe or office or your own bedroom. Space is no big deal as long as you can focus on your work and get it all done on time. There’s no use to splurge on an expensive beverage but you miss your deadline and enrage your editor after that.
  • Tenacity: Writers at times must be tenacious. Surely it feels like you’re banging your head onto the solid brick wall until you bleed and unconscious. But one really has to be that strong-willed to be a writer.
  • Carefulness: Select your words, punctuations, characters carefully as these may determine your success and failure.
  • Attention to details: Again, small things matter. Remember, small successes accumulate and build up your bigger successes. At least, that’s what I believe and really happened to me (though luck and serendipity also did contribute – in an unreliable amount though). Of course, some people argue that a few writers don’t pay attention to details that much and yet they achieve magnificent attainment but believe me, they must have something else to compensate for that ‘flaw’.

The perks of a writer

Speaking of perks of working as a writer, there’re myriad. And these are some of the best that I think you ought to consider.

Ultra flexibility

The best perk as a writer is the flexibility. For a free soul going after inspirations, there’s nothing better than being able to move around  or stay at a certain spot as you like (as long as you can immediately meet those deadlines). Most of the time, I don’t work at a given worksplace like any other employees or corporate workers. I can always choose to work anywhere I wish. But of course, there’re times when I need to go to a certain place to take part in a meeting with clients or teams I’m working with. Yet, these meetings can in fact happen anywhere. And as long as things are resolvable via email or online networking, we can set aside the idea of going out every single day. On a typical day of work, I can just wake up and work on my draft in my own bedroom if a day’s weather doesn’t seem so agreeable. As for me, I work at my own pace mostly and this makes me really happy. As long as deadlines are met perfectly and punctually and no client complains too much, I’m safe and sound working at a place of my choice. Being an office rat is something you no more have to endure during your productive years. You can still make money and go on with your journey.

Less social fuss

Not all writers are introverted. But most of them, I‘m sure, are. This is the first and foremost reason why I left my teaching job and resorted to writing in the first place. I can conveniently turn down any invitation to unnecessary in-person meetings and only meet people whom I feel important in project finalization.

While we have learned the brightest side of the profession, I also feel the necessity to inform you this.

The downsides of working as a writer

The price you have to pay for all the conveniences is quite high though.

Possibly long working hours

Writing – to most people out there – is likened  to typing. If you have fingers, eyes, paper, ink or something to type on and with, then chances are you can make money by writing. This is not quite right. There’re soft skills one has to acquire and master to really succeed at this realm of writing. Writing (read: the typing work) is actually easy and effortless, intellectually speaking. But what takes most time is the research (because you have to learn many topics and hence understand what you write and form your own proposition on all these subject matters). Rewriting one needs to do after writing because rewriting the first draft – which is usually awful, highly disorganized and thus hardly understandable to readers other than the writer herself – is inevitable unless a writer has hired and teamed up with a very very competent (and patient and kind-hearted and soft-mouthed) editor with much free time to lend a hand to perfect the draft.

The emotional turbulence

Emotion is also a noteworthy point. I mean the movement of your writing spirit may fluctuate from time to time. There’re ups and downs along the way. One day it can really overwhelm you until you can’t stop jotting down all the ideas on your mind. But there’re also days when ideas don’t flow as easily as usually. You drag yourself while writing, as if you were crossing through a desert as vast as Gobi and Sahara Desert combined.

Sedentary lifestyle

Another major issue I have to deal with as a writer is the sedentary lifestyle, which is destructive in the long run towards your wellbeing in general. Some writers find themselves gain weight more easily and as the writing career progressing, the worse their obesity issue is getting. I’m not going to preach about the peril of adopting the lifestyle of George R. R. Martin who needs to pay more attention to his ideal weight for the sake of his health or Lee Child who smokes and works till late at night and never feels remorse for that. In this aspect, I prefer adopting Haruki Murakami’s approach to the unhealthy and sedentary lifestyle of writers by breaking the vicious circle of disapproving habits such as smoking and eating junk foods on daily basis and setting up a daily discipline of resting and working which is in accordance with the circadian rhythm of our body (the natural rhythm of how our body works and takes rest). After a few years in his twenties running a night club, he realized it was impossible for him to keep up with the demand of writing if his lifestyle remained similar. He sold the club and quit waking up so late before noon and started to wake up and go to bed earlier than he used to. And guess what? He began regaining his health and productivity. And at the very same time, he shed all those extra fats by taking up running as his main workout regime. He succeeded after all. Thank God, yoga came along and since the very first time I gave yoga a try, I slowly but certainly reclaimed my long-lost physical health (and mostly strength and later, flexibility) and then my peace of mind (which is really essential because writing is an intellectual and cerebral toil). Meditation, which is one part of the yoga practice, proves to be quite useful to counterbalance the bad effects of perpetual mental work which I do during the writing process.

Let’s say you’re interested in this kind of career. You may ask:

What writing skills that are in high demand currently?”

Many. But in essence, there’re three of them:

1. Web content

2. Business writing

3. Creative writing

For all the hopefuls out there, learning how to write well may lead you to many career paths. It’s not confined to writing books or articles in magazines. Modern professions for writers among other things are:

Content writers (websites)

This is the entry-level job mostly opened for fresh graduates. But even if you’re still students, employers don’t mind your lack of work experience or academic credentials. A few of them are even opening jobs like this for high school or vocational school graduates. They just need – as it may seem – the ability of typing and arranging words in your mother tongue (obviously this is a simple and much less intellectually demanding job) and publish it every day. Grammar and punctuation and flow of ideas might not be a big deal here. The focus is getting messages across to audience. These are like sweat shop workers in the modern era. The difference is that they don’t produce cheap goods sold with super pricey price tags. Rather, they generate an enormous amount of content at a speed of light because readers must be attracted and then spoonfed with novel, fresh, easily digested, interesting and visually pleasant content that cater their reading taste (or what content publishers guess is their reading taste) as often as possible. This is because pageviews is the ultimate goal for most online media business owners. More pageviews, more visitors, more advertisers and hence more income. It’s all about bottomline. Profits and money.

Copywriters (media/ agencies)

Being more lucrative than the content writing industry, copywriting is quite challenging even for middle-level writers and veterans. This is because generating copies for companies need a long learning curve. The stamina and concentration must be maintained along the process because it’s very formal by nature (therefore there’s no excuse for fatal typos) and contains sensitive data and information to convey to their valued shareholders and stakeholders. What you need to bear in mind is how to bring positivity and good images to readers even when the real situation is far from positive. I’m not saying you act as a spin doctor here but you have to know how to convey facts without evoking undesired reactions from the market and public. When a company books an outstandingly high profit, you have to find words to convey the message humbly so your wordings don’t attract too much attention from ‘nosy’ bureaucracy. But on another occasion, when you see a company generating a very miserable sum of profit (and even in more pathetic cases, suffered from huge financial losses owing to massive frauds or scandals), you as a copywriter must figure out a way to pick words that won’t kill that company’s image once and for all but at the same time, you can’t lie and have to tell the truth to audience. That said, it takes so many skills for someone to master to become a fully-fledged, seasoned copywriter. Not to mention a particular style one has to adopt in the writing process, and the workflows which may vary from one business to another, and workloads which get stuffed mostly in the first semester of each year (January-May is the busiest period because most business entities are to issue their annual reports by the end of May or June). Copywriters though must also be able to work in team and present their ideas well in front of potential clients (so if you’re an abnormally shy and solitary type of person, this is a job offer to refuse to accept or else you can get some heart attack in public). Once clients say yes, copywriters can move on with elaboration of the proposal. It’s highly complicated and stressful but rewarding as well.

Journalists (press companies)

Working as a journalist is another alternative to capitalize on your English writing skills. In the epoch of hoax like (cough) these days, there’s no profession as much required as a professional journalist with moral and proper journalism ethics and good work ethos. Such a species is rare and hard to find. Public wants it so much (though they also still want to read hoax – in their subconscious mind). People need truth to be told as it really is. Hoax is not tolerable at any rate whenever we are dealt with a crucial public event that not only affects our private life but also a nation and the entire human race’s future, such as a presidential election (I don’t have to elaborate on this). And however hard we educate people on the significance of identifying a hoax-spreading media outlet, it’s fruitless without looking for and recruiting the right people. And great writers are also good journalists for their readers as well. Take a look at Ernest Hemingway who worked as a war journalist during the World War I before plunging himself into the literary world or Gillian Flynn who worked for a magazine as a reporter and writer prior to being sacked and launching her own fiction writing career.

PR officers (corporations/ brands)

It may sound odd at first for a writer to work as a PR officer. But companies – small and big – need people who are competent enough to play with words, to polish their images before the public. This sort of job requires you to be skillful at writing press releases, corporate newsletters, business correspondence, dealing with media workers (journalists).

Bloggers/ social media officers

As more and more people blog these days (but fail to be fully committed to regularly keeping their blogs as well), companies also need content to attract visitors to their websites. Blogs cheer up ‘dry’ and boring corporate websites with fresh and engaging content. Social media presence is also getting more priority recently. All of this requires a separate team or at least a couple of people to handle (depending on how seriously a company takes their image).

Ghostwriters

If you happen to know a lot of important and influential people with abundant ideas and great track records around you and they don’t have any books (print or electronic) to sell their ideas yet, you can help them do so by working as their ghostwriter. Let them know you can write and show them your portfolio (samples of your writing, which can be in the electronic or physical/ printed form). Once again, you may find your clients by chance as you tell people you’re a writer and simultaneously broaden your network. I canNOT stress more on the importance of having a wide network. It’s as important as your fingers to scribble and type.

Travel writers

Leisure economy is in the rise. Everyone is following the trend. Tourism growth is soaring. The majority of tourists is of course travelers who just take photos to publish on their Instagram feeds as they sightsee tourist attractions around the globe. But there’re also very few of them with some writing and photography  (and maybe videography) talent and seem very keen to capitalize on their traveling lifestyle. They succeed as influencers in this newly-invented domain. And you can also be one of them. The qualities of great travelwriters, as far as I know, are many but the most fundamental ones are details (meaning you need to take notes on almost every detail of a trip you take), consistency (you can’t succeed if you just post once and wish you’ll be famous overnight), and financial stability (most of tools to make a high quality travel writing piece are NOT cheap at all).

Fiction writers (novelists)

Fiction writing is of course lucrative – if you’re J. K. Rowling. I’m sorry to wake you up from this dream, but it doesn’t work that way AT FIRST. As a beginner in the fiction writing industry, you might have to expose yourselves to a lot of people out there and make as many works as you can to be known. And if you’re talented and lucky enough, someone will help you get a book deal which leads you to a publication. But it’s a long long process to undergo from anonimity to fame. No one knows the recipe or formula to be a successful novelist. What you can discover is only assumptions, clever guess or data-driven speculation (like this blogpost I wrote).

Practice 1 (15 minutes)

Find a news item, or pick an event that interests you. Using the ‘who, what, when, where, why’ of the item – and your imagination – rewrite it as a detailed, interesting narrative story consisting of around 300-400 words. Post it on your Facebook wall afterwards. See how people react to it. More reactions (likes and comments) may mean your writing is more successful to attract readers.

How to monetize your English writing skills

Finally, we arrive to this section! You’ve gone a long way. And I admit I’ve never written a blogpost this lengthy. Here’s the formula that I’ve extracted from my 8-year experience as a writer.

  1. Publish a blog and update regularly: This is even more important for novices. Because setting up a blog is relatively easy and cheap these days. If you have no money to spend on renting a domain and to host your own blog, why not setting up one on some popular free blogging platforms like blogger.com or wordpress.com? Or if you want more exposure and recognition, go to kompasiana.com or indonesiana.com. Both are citizen journalism sites where you can upload your writing for free.
  2. Build a strong personal brand as a professional writer: Being a writer means you’re more careful with words and always attentive to your language. On social media, try to present yourselves as a thought leader or social media darling. I’m not saying you must be fake but instead of exposing your personal sides that don’t support your writing pursuit, try to reveal the writer side of yours to the world. After all, this is the best way to convince people that you’re seriously into writing.
  3. Write where the money is: At first, as a novice you can write for free but as you go along on your career path, writing for free should no longer be an option (unless you’re willing to). Give yourselves sometimes to get exposed and then be professional about your craft. Charging a certain amount of money for your hard work is not cruel because everybody DOES!
  4. Build networks with publishers, fellow writers, editors around the world: Facebook and Twitter can be a good start. But for more serious gigs and job offers, I recommend that you go to LinkedIn.com. It’s more professional and you’re less likely to find any distractions like what you find in other social media.
  5. Find opportunities on the web: There’re a zillion of opportunities in the web if you’re willing to surf and believe me, you’ll never run out of writing gigs or job offers.

Practice 2 (15 minutes)

Write a 400-word blog post (the theme is up to you) on your own blog and promote it on your social media accounts. See how your friends or followers react to it.

To conclude the post, I’ll describe my typical daily writing process as follows:

  • Writing freely in a personal journal: A warmup ritual for me in the morning or at anytime I want to. Writing skills are like muscles. Use or lose them!
  • Reading/ observing anything, anyone I like (and don’t): Open your eyes, hear things, feel more, think more and take notes more.
  • Writing as a professional: This time of the day I work on my project.
  • Getting my behind off the chair: Work out even if you think you don’t have to. Writers must live long enough to write.
  • Hydrating: Drink more water or juice. No soda or softdrink, please.
  • Nourishing: Stuff yourselves with healthy foods and drinks. Snacks are okay but limited and occasional.
  • Taking a rest: Close your eyes and go to bed. Stop seeing computer screens if your eyes get uncomfortably dry.

Last but not least…

  • Fake it till you make it: Don’t lie but give impression that you’re serious and professional. And walk the talk.
  • You’re what you do: You’re called a writer because you write every single day in your life. Do it now!
  • Mind the deadlines: Never miss a deadline. But if you do have to, make sure you have a very very strong reason (such as maintaining the quality of result).
  • Reread and rewrite: Polish your works until they gleam with perfection.
  • Educate yourself: Read and read and read. Feed your thought with great quality stuff. Don’t read hoax! (*)

Digital Journal

IF you ask me when and where we first met just like what some people did on Facebook, instead of relying on my grey cells that are reluctant to save trivial social information well, I will try to leave through my diary that I have kept for the past several years.

I have started documenting people I have encountered since the first day and it feels marvelous because I can revisit the memory again and again even if the person in question or circumstance has changed a bit or a lot. 

At first, I simply wrote it down in a notebook but then I changed my mind. One main reason is that it will never provide you the security and privacy. And what makes it more disturbing is that people who are the most likely to trespass your privacy line are the ones who are the closest to you. That means they can be family members or best friends with unnecessary curiosity. This is why I ditched the idea of keeping a journal in its physical form. Too unsafe to keep from the uninvited readers.

By shifting to the digital form, it is very much easier and more secure to jot down and save every bit of memory and experience and emotion from the eyes of the unwanted. And even if a hacker can go through your digital diary, we are least likely to suffer from indignation or shame simply because the information is deemed valueless in the hand of someone without any meaningful relationships. Yet, that would not be the case if the hacker is one of the people who have interest or relationships in such a way with the digital diary keeper.

I know some authors who do not possess a single bit of interest in keeping such journals on daily basis. Joanne K. Rowling for example admits she never keeps a diary. She poured her creative energy into her fiction writing. They are way too busy with all these fiction works they are making.

But to me, reality is the inspiration of fiction works, and in some way it can supply myself with a huge number of ideas. And because my imagination thrives rampantly by things I see and perceive in the real world, keeping track of what I experience is vital to my fiction writing process. (*)

Daya Kata-kata

Mendiang Pramoedya Ananta Toer di masa mudanya (Sumber foto: Wikimedia Commons)

Sebuah rekaman suara tanpa judul itu saya putar kembali pagi ini. Rekaman yang tertumpuk dalam gudang digital saya. Sebuah ceramah bernas mengenai kekuatan kata oleh seorang pekerja sastra kampiun bernama Martin Aleida terdengar jelas di dalamnya. Saat tersebut namanya saya ingat cerita seorang teman yang berceloteh bahwa Martin ditakuti oleh seorang penulis lain karena riwayatnya yang dicap sebagai tahanan politik yang membuatnya dijebloskan ke penjara dahulu kala. “Saya takut akan dibacoknya karena ia komunis,” kata teman saya mengutip reaksi spontan penulis temannya itu.

Akan tetapi, bagi saya wajah Martin tak menunjukkan bekas kebengisan. Raut muka dan gaya bicaranya santun. Ingatannya memang masih tertancap di masa lalu. Luka-luka dan usia yang renta itu membuatnya terus membicarakan masa lalu dan tak banyak membahas masa depan.

Penderitaan sebagai pesakitan politik rezim Orde baru itu menjadi tema besar karya-karyanya. “Sastra memihak kalian, para penderita,” klaim Martin yang pertama kali saya temui secara langsung dalam sebuah seminar berbayar singkat di Taman Ismail Marzuki beberapa waktu lalu. Saat itu ia tampil sederhana dalam sebuah acara yang menjadi rangkaian Asean Literary Festival 2015.

Terkait daya doa dan kata-kata, Martin menjelaskan sebuah cerpen gubahannya,  yang menceritakan perjalanan seorang pria yang terobsesi untuk mati dengan diiringi doa. Pria itu tak mau mati seperti ayahnya yang dicangkul kepalanya dan dibiarkan jenazahnya membusuk begitu saja tanpa ada prosesi pemakaman yang layak. Sejak itu, ia meneguhkan tekad agar bisa meninggalkan dunia dalam perpisahan berbalur doa-doa indah dan menyejukkan telinga, hati dan pikiran.

Untuk mewujudkan ritual kematian yang indah itu, ia membawa bekal seekor anjing kintamani bali. Tujuannya berkelana mencari dan menemukan orang Bali yang berdarah murni di Sumatra.

Dia yakin akan menemukan orang semacam itu di sana. Ia sewa jasa seorang sopir dan menjelajah lewat jalur darat. Untuk membiayai kebutuhan hidup sehari-harinya, pria itu juga membawa monyet dan alat-alat pertunjukan jalanan dan mereka menari untuk mendapatkan perhatian dan sedekah dari orang-orang yang lewat.

Begitulah perjuangan seorang manusia ‘hanya’ untuk mendapatkan sebuah doa, yang berupa kata-kata di penghujung kehidupan fananya. Ini sungguh sebuah ironi yang menyayat hati. Terutama karena seuntai kata bisa diproduksi begitu mudahnya, sehingga seolah membuat derajatnya hampir nihil.

Kata-kata (baik yang terucap maupun tergurat dalam material konkret) bagi saya memiliki kekuatan, daya, dan energi. Saat kata-kata itu bermunculan terlalu acak dan tanpa tujuan yang jelas apalagi sampai mencederai inti dari interaksi yang sebaiknya penuh dengan kebajikan dan keselarasan, itulah yang namanya “diare” atau “berak” dalam hal verbal. Diare kata-kata ini Anda bisa temukan di berbagai tempat, baik fisik maupun elektronik. Baru-baru ini saya mencoba untuk menghentikan kebiasaan “berak” verbal itu di aplikasi percakapan virtual dan media sosial. Sungguh, kemudahan mengeluarkan kata di mana saja dan kapan saja, tanpa harus ada misi dan visi tertentu menjadi sebuah bumerang yang mematikan. Selain memudahkan orang menyebarkan energi baik lewat kata-kata positif, ternyata manusia lebih mudah takluk pada hasrat menyebarkan atau melampiaskan energi negatif itu melalui kata-kata negatif pula. Atau mungkin kata-kata yang sebetulnya netral tetapi karena kesalahpahaman terhadap konteks yang rumit, terpantiklah sebuah konflik. Bahkan saya menemukan kenyataan bahwa diam melulu di sebuah ruang percakapan maya juga bisa mengundang cacian.

Kembali pada Martin, sastrawan veteran ini kembali mengajak kita untuk lebih cermat dan hemat dengan kata-kata yang kita keluarkan dalam bentuk lisan dan tulisan. Dicontohkan kasus sastrawan legendaris negeri Pramoedya Ananta Toer. Kata Martin, buku-buku Pram yang diterbitkan melalui penerbit Balai Pustaka lebih enak dinikmati para pecinta kata karena lebih tertata. “Kata-katanya terjaga, terjamin, konsisten,” tukas Martin.

Setelah lepas dari Balai Pustaka, Pram menerbitkan buku bersama sejumlah penerbit lain. Dan titik ini, Pram sudah diakui sebagai sastrawan besar dibanding sebelumnya. Maka dari itu, ia diberi kebebasan dalam menulis, yang artinya tanpa kekangan dari para penyunting. Mereka percaya tangan sastrawi Pram saja sudah bisa menghasilkan karya sastra berkualitas unggul tanpa campur tangan siapapun. “Pram tidak seperti orang kebanyakan yang sebelum mengeluarkan kata-katanya secara terbuka pada publik — bersedia membaca ulang beberapa kali hingga benar-benar yakin bahwa yang terbaiklah yang tersaji untuk pembaca. “Ia mengetik dengan sepuluh jarinya karena terlatih sebagai soerang juru ketik (typist) dan begitu cerita itu jadi ia tidak pernah membacanya kembali,” jelas Martin. Seorang sahabat Pram bernama Idrus bisa dikatakan menjadi penyunting andal bagi sang pengarang. Begitu besarnya peran Idrus ini sampai Pram sendiri memanggilnya “guru”. Itu karena Idrus memiliki kejelian membuang kata-kata yang tidak perlu dalam karya-karyanya. Karena kebebasan merangkai kata yang terlalu banyak itulah, kualitas karya Pram selanjutnya malah kurang terjaga, demikian disiratkan Martin dalam pernyataannya.

Mirip halnya dengan pengarang Amerika Serikat Ernest Hemingway yang awalnya menulis novel The Old Man and the Sea dalam bentuk yang jauh lebih panjang. Begitu panjang isinya sampai ditolak karena tidak bisa dimuat dalam majalah Look. Menerima penolakan karena alasan terlalu panjang, Hemingway pun mencari akal dengan membaca berulang kali karyanya dan memangkas dengan ‘sangat keji’.

Perampingan karya yang ‘amat keji’ semacam itu konon juga menjadi salah satu kiat bagi J. K. Rowling dalam menulis dan menghasilkan karangan yang apik sehingga laik baca. Dikatakan sendiri oleh Rowling dalam sebuah interviu dengan novelis Ann Patchett, sebuah bagian panjang dan rinci mengenai adegan otopsi terhadap jenazah karakter utama dalam novel The Casual Vacancy dengan sangat amat terpaksa ia hapus karena dianggap tak sesuai dengan harapan. Rowling meratapinya sampai sekarang karena bagaimanapun juga ia sudah mengorbankan banyak sekali waktu untuk meriset seluk beluk prosedur medis otopsi yang riil.

Pengalaman yang sama ‘menyakitkannya’ mengenai pemangkasan radikal sebuah karya hasil kerja keras yang ternyata harus dibuang begitu saja  juga sudah pernah saya alami sendiri. Sakit hati? Tidak bisa. Karena jika saya menganggap semua penghapusan itu sebagai sebuah tindakan personal yang menyinggung maka saya hanya akan melelahkan diri. Tujuan mempertahankan keutuhan karya malah menjadi sebuah perjuangan demi keutuhan ego saya saja. Padahal ada tujuan yang lebih besar daripada keharusan memelihara keutuhan ego seseorang dalam penulisan sebuah buku. Selama bekerja sebagai blogger, mungkin saya tak banyak mengalami penyaringan dari penyunting (editor) namun begitu saya harus terlibat dalam penulisan sebuah buku, saya mau tidak mau saya harus memilah-milah kata dengan jauh lebih cermat dan detil. Dan saya bersyukur bisa mencicipinya sebagai seorang penulis baru. Pada akhirnya, kita harus akui bahwa kesuksesan seorang penulis bukan cuma terletak pada kepiawaiannya menata kata tetapi juga pada kekompakannya bekerja dengan penyunting dan semua anggota tim lain.

Bagaimana Menulis Membuat Anda Lebih Sehat

Menulis menurut Haruki Murakami adalah salah satu aktivitas yang kurang sehat. Ada betulnya memang. Bayangkan Anda harus duduk di sebuah kursi di dalam ruangan selama belasan jam lamanya setiap hari sampai lupa (atau melupakan) kegiatan lainnya seperti makan, minum, atau beristirahat di malam hari sesuai kebutuhan tubuh yang
sebenarnya. Itulah mengapa novelis Jepang kenamaan itu mengimbanginya dengan berolahraga lari dan berhenti merokok, sebuah kebiasaan tak sehat yang kerap kita jumpai di komunitas penulis. Sudah lumrah kita jumpai para penulis yang juga perokok dan penggemar berat kopi atau minuman berkafein yang sampai berkata,”Saya tidak bisa menemukan inspirasi tanpa rokok dan kopi.” Haruki berbeda. Ia ingin berkarya lebih lama, dan karena itu, ia harus tetap sehat dan berumur panjang. Masuk akal.

Saya tidak hendak meyakinkan Anda untuk meninggalkan kegiatan menulis dengan memberikan paragraf pembuka seperti itu. Saya hanya ingin memberikan gambaran bahwa kegiatan sebaik apapun, termasuk menulis, jika berlebihan bisa berdampak negatif pula pada kita sebagai pelakunya. Itu sudah menjadi hukum alam.

Akan tetapi, jangan cemas. Bila Anda menulis dengan mengindahkan keseimbangan dalam hidup ini, manfaatnya justru akan lebih banyak.

Menulis sendiri memiliki manfaat yang tidak hanya di dunia akademis hingga dunia profesional. Kemampuan menulis yang baik juga menjadi bagian penting dalam kemampuan berkomunikasi saat ini. Saya sendiri pernah menjumpai seseorang yang mengaku sangat kesulitan saat harus menulis di ujian akademik atau ujian masuk kerja yang mengharuskannya menulis ringkasan eksekutif atau esai singkat. Bahkan hingga dekat dengan detik-detik terakhir ujian pun, yang ada di kertas jawaban hanya beberapa baris kalimat. Belum sampai menjadi paragraf yang utuh. Padahal ia tahu ia memiliki banyak ide dan pemikiran di dalam benaknya. Cuma ia tak tahu bagaimana merangkai kata-kata itu agar layak dibaca.

Kini ada alasan kuat mengapa siapa saja harus mencoba menulis lebih sering, meski bukan penulis profesional. Ternyata aktivitas menulis yang dilakukan secara rutin dalam waktu 15-20 menit selama 3-5 kali sepanjang 4 bulan menurut sebuah studi tahun 2005 sudah bisa memberikan manfaat yang signifikan pada kesehatan fisik dan emosional para subjek studinya. Artinya, menulis secara ekspresif (menuangkan uneg-uneg dalam sebuah catatan harian atau membuat cerita fiksi, misalnya) memperbaiki suasana hati, mengurangi tingkat stres dan gejala depresi. Tidak heran J. K. Rowling pernah mengatakan ia pasti akan gila jika tidak memiliki menulis sebagai pelampiasan. Menulis, selain membuatnya kaya raya, juga membuatnya lebih waras dalam menghadapi fase-fase tersulit seperti kemiskinan dan perceraian dalam hidupnya.

Dengan menulis mengenai kejadian-kejadian emosional, penuh tekanan dan membuat kita trauma, kita akan berpeluang lebih sedikit terserang penyakit dan akan terkena lebih sedikit dampak negatif dari trauma yang pernah kita alami di masa lalu. Mereka yang menulis secara ekspresif mengenai hal-hal tersebut juga akhirnya menghabiskan lebih sedikit waktu di rumah sakit. Tekanan darah mereka lebih terkendali (tentunya dengan juga memperhatikan makanan dan minuman yang dikonsumsi) serta memiliki fungsi hati (liver) yang lebih baik daripada mereka yang tidak terbiasa menulis ekspresif.

Pada kenyataannya, menulis ekspresif (expressive writing) bisa membantu kita menyembuhkan diri dari luka fisik lebih cepat. Di tahun 2013, para peneliti dari Selandia Baru memantau pemulihan luka-luka fisik setelah prosedur biopsi yang wajib dilakukan secara medis pada 49 orang dewasa. Semua subjek penelitian ini disarankan untuk menuangkan pemikiran dan perasaan mereka dalam bentuk tulisan selama hanya 20 menit, 3 hari secara berturut-turut, 2 pekan sebelum biopsi dilakukan. Sebelas hari kemudian, 76% dari subjek studi dalam kelompok eksperimen yang menulis sebagaimana disarankan telah sembuh
sepenuhnya. Sebanyak 58% dari kelompok kontrol (yang tidak
diperintahkan menulis) belum sembuh. Studi ini menyimpulkan bahwa menulis mengenai kejadian-kejadian yang membuat para pasien tertekan membantu mereka memahami kejadian-kejadian itu dan dengan demikian membantu menurunkan tingkat stres.

Bahkan mereka yang dinyatakan menderita penyakit-penyakit tertentu bisa meningkatkan kesehatan mereka melalui menulis. Studi-studi ini menunjukkan bahwa orang yang hidup dengan asma dan meluangkan waktu untuk menulis memiliki serangan yang lebih sedikit daripada penderita asma yang tidak menulis. Para pasien AIDS yang menulis memiliki jumlah sel T yang lebih tinggi. Sel-sel T ini merupakan limfosit yang diproduksi atau diproses oleh kelenjar timus dan secara aktif berperan dalam respon kekebalan tubuh manusia. Para pasien kanker yang menulis cenderung memiliki perspektif yang lebih optimis terhadap kehidupan secara umum dan kondisi yang tengah mereka hadapi. Dari sana, kualitas hidup mereka – terlepas dari sembuh tidaknya – biasanya lebih baik.

Jadi apa yang membuat menulis baik bagi kita semua? Seorang peneliti bernama James W. Pennebaker melaksanakan riset mengenai menulis untuk menyembuhkan diri secara alami selama bertahun-tahun di University of Texas di kota Austin, AS. “Saat orang diberikan kesempatan untuk menulis mengenai gejolak emosional yang mereka alami, kesehatan mereka biasanya lebih baik,”tulis Pennebaker. “Mereka lebih jarang
berkonsultasi ke dokter. Mereka mengalami perubahan dalam fungsi kekebalan tubuh.”
Bagaimana ini bisa terjadi? Pennebaker meyakini bahwa aktivitas menulis ekspresif ini memungkinkan orang untuk rehat, mengevaluasi diri dan bagaimana mereka menjalani kehidupan ini. Alih-alih terobsesi secara tidak sehat terhadap sebuah insiden atau memori di masa lalu, kita bisa memfokuskan diri pada bagaimana bergerak maju dalam hidup. Dengan demikian, tingkat stres kita bisa menurun dan kesehatan niscaya akan membaik. Tentunya sekali lagi, dengan diiringi perbaikan gaya hidup dan cara pandang terhadap kehidupan.

Kita tidak harus menjadi novelis atau cerpenis penuh waktu, kolumnis, blogger yang setiap hari menulis demi mencari nafkah (karena menulis untuk mencari nafkah malah kerap meningkatkan kadar kortisol juga). Cukup menulis catatan harian (diari) yang Anda simpan sendiri (jika Anda termasuk orang yang tertutup) atau mengetiknya dalam dokumen dengan kata kunci agar tak seorang pun bisa membuka dan membaca curahan hati Anda.

Menulis blog juga bisa membantu. Menurut sebuah studi, disimpulkan bahwa menulis blog bisa memicu pelepasan hormon dopamin yang efeknya mirip dengan efek berlari atau mendengarkan musik kesukaan. Jangan cemas curahan hati di blog bisa dibaca orang-orang yang tidak dikehendaki karena blog juga bisa diatur sedemikian rupa agar tidak bisa dilacak Google atau dibuka orang lain kecuali Anda mengizinkan mereka masuk. Di platform-platform blogging besar seperti Blogger, WordPress, Tumblr, saya pikir ada fasilitas semacam ini. Blog bisa diatur privasinya: publik atau privat. Jika tidak mau menutup akses ke semua tulisan di blog Anda, Anda juga bisa memberikan kata kunci untuk satu artikel alias postingan tertentu yang dikehendaki agar tidak dibaca sembarangan orang. Dengan demikian, Anda bisa lebih leluasa menumpahkan perasaan dan pemikiran Anda yang berpotensi memicu konflik dengan orang lain atau membuat Anda malu jika mereka membacanya.

Pertama kali menulis, Anda tak perlu cemas dengan standar-standar yang ada. Abaikan EYD, tata bahasa dan aturan sejenisnya yang mengekang. Menulislah seperti kita berbicara pada seseorang yang Anda sangat percayai dan tidak akan membocorkan rahasia Anda. Dengan begitu, kata-kata akan mengalir seperti air.

Jadi siap menulis sekarang?

(Sumber foto: quora.com)

Tackling Depression through Writing

Writing and depression are no strangers to each other. The late American writer Ernest Hemingway who we all now know for his literary masterpieces, I suspect, also struggled hard to combat the depression in him. He saw many murdered during the World War I and also managed to survive after a couple of airplane crash incidents, as long as my memory serves. He then indulged himself in liquor a lot and took his own life at last.

Such a depressive mindset almost ruined Joanne Rowling’s entire life as well in her early 30’s. A broken marriage, being a single mother and financial downturn dragged our dear author J. K. Rowling to another chapter of life – the stardom she ‘instantly’ built after Harry Potter series – which saved herself and Jessica, her baby. In one TV interview, I recall her stating that writing is what kept her alive and moving forward. She was lucky indeed to have a happy family, something she always longed for since the bitter childhood.

Another novelist – a fictitious one I saw on a K-drama – admitted how writing had saved him from the darkest past memory. His marriage was so close to ideal. He loved his wife so much and vice versa. Then an accident struck without warning. She was at last dead, leaving him forlorn and so desperate he wanted to take his own life. He simply got depressed, shunning social life and so forth. Psychologically and mentally dying the man was. Wanting some ‎improvement in his life, a close friend introduced him to writing world. He managed to gain huge success by writing thriller novels, dubbed the Stephen King of Korea, perhaps. And his good looks worked so well to build even more staunch female fan base.

‎An old adage says:”An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Now I invent my own adage, saying:”A composition a day keeps depression away.”

Maybe if only Robin Williams liked writing even more, everything would be more bearable to him. But that is just maybe…

J. K. Rowling Tulis Cerpen tentang Harry Potter Dewasa

‎J.K. Rowling telah merampungkan penulisan sebuah cerpen terbaru yang isinya mengenai petualangan si penyihir “unyu” Harry Potter.

Kisah tersebut diunggah ke situs Pottermore yang dimiliki Rowling, kali ini dengan menggunakan sudut pandang karakter Rita Skeeter, jurnalis gosip yang diceritakan menulis untuk Harian “Daily Prophet”.

Cerita tersebut membeberkan kondisi kehidupan Harry Potter di umur 33 tahun. Potter dituliskan tengah mengikuti final Piala Dunia Quidditch dengan beberapa teman Hogwartsnya. Rowling (48) telah mengunggah serangkaian tulisannya yang bertema Piala Dunia Quidditch di situsnya sejak Piala Dunia 2014 dimulai di Brazil Juni kemarin.

Kisah itu juga menghadirkan karakter-karakter lainnya dari seri buku terkenal tersebut seperti Ron Weasley, istrinya Hermione Granger, istri Potter Ginny Weasley dan anak kedua pasangan tersebut.

Para pengguna harus masuk ke Pottermore.com untuk bisa menikmati cerpen bertema sepakbola ini.

The Franzenstein Effect: Jonathan Franzen on the 'Eternal' Battle of PC versus Mac

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Those sharp eyes and the stare! (Image credit: GQ.com)

As he was reading his own essay on the Kraus Project, the contemporary renowned American author Jonathan Franzen showcased his bitter, cynical view towards the latest progress of the world of technology. And that makes him so much intelligently ‘sexier’ than any other authors, in my view. I’m glad that he spoke about it with utterly no regret.

During his brief reading, anyone can notice the underestimating tone he was using to explain Apple’s product that J. K. Rowling said while interviewed by Anne Pachett to have changed her own life because of its light weight. Thanks to the slim design and dimension of MacBook Air, the British writer admitted she now can write “really anywhere”.

But, Mr. Franzen begs to differ! He’s got his own belief and stance.

And I coined the term “Franzenstein” to show you how much I love this dark, studious and super serious literary monster, like one created by Frankenstein in a gothic novel by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (the creator’s name is commonly used to refer to his creation). He is the man who obviously escapes control (of the society’s) and destroys its creator (society too).

Franzen refers to this as “Kraus’ dichotomy” of coolness and uncoolness, content versus form.

He lashed out with his eyes swiftly sweeping the audience and entire room he was in,”Is it the essence of the Apple product that you have coolness by virtue of owning it? Doesn’t matter what you’re creating on your MacBook Air, simply using a MacBook Air and using its elegant design of hardware and software is a pleasure in itself. Like walking down the street in Paris, while we’re working on some clunky utilitarian PC, where the only thing to enjoy is the quality of your work itself… As Kraus said in its Germanic life, the PC sobers what you’re doing. It allows you to see it unadorned.”

The author again added spontaneously,”This was especially true in the years of DOS Operating System and early Windows…”

To emphasize his point, he sheepishly whispered, almost unheard,”I like DOS…”

And he didn’t want to stop there. Franzen also criticized Microsoft on how messy Windows now has become since the corporation’s engineers decided to choose the pursuit of becoming more like Macintosh in and out. As Franzen put it,”One of the developments that Kraus would decry in this essay is the Viennese dolling up the German language and culture with decorative elements imported from Romans language and culture has a correlative in more recent editions of Windows which borrow ever more features from Apple but still can’t conceal their essential and uncool Windows-ness. Worse yet, it was chasing after Apple’s elegance, they betray the old austere beauty of PC functionality.

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The MacBook that Franzen says won’t stop teasing you switching from your virus-ridden, sluggish PCs.

If Writers aren't Allowed to Write

“I think I would be very mentally ill, if I didn’t write. Maybe… I remember reading Virginia Woolf was told she mustn’t write. And I could remember that was horrific. How could they stop her writing?? ” J.K. Rowling

Writing could be one of the best emotional and psychological outlets. It enables us to survive the raging stress of the typically mundane modern life routines we all hate and love.

Write Freely, Edit Cruelly

“I find that discussing an idea before I’ve written it is often the best way to kill it stone-dead.” – J. K. Rowling

casual vacancy

Doesn’t it sound too obvious? I’ve known this since like… forever? Discussing about an idea with anybody else prior to writing it and push the wildest imagination to the point of exhaustion is such a foolish suicide committed by any novice writers, whether they be bloggers, fiction authors, non-fiction authors, or even creative web copywriters.

On writing Harry Potter, Rowling herself admitted that never did she let her drafts read by anyone else before getting done. Afterwards, she allowed only her editor (and maybe her husband, Neil Murray) to scrutinize the drafts. She stated this before the audience of the publication of “The Casual Vacancy”  at David H. Koch Theater.

That being said, I can directly relate that to myself who happens to be one of the haters of anything called “writers club” where several writers mingle and chat and discuss. That doesn’t particularly work for me. I feel like I was born free, so was my mind. So I need to free myself too while writing, setting aside any of those unwanted foreign influences (because some external influences are wanted to enrich ourselves).

Sounds too lenient uh? Wait until the editing comes. “Write freely, and edit cruelly,” that’s all I can say when you really want to produce a great piece of work for readers out there.