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Monthly Archives: February 2014

Dealing with Writer’s Block

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Writer’s block is often caused by conflicted feelings. We want the writing to perfect, but we want the article done as soon as possible. We know what we know, but we don’t know what our readers know. We know how the article should sound, but we don’t have all the facts we need. We know what we have to say, but we are afraid that it won’t measure up to our expectation, our editor’s expectation, or our reader’s expectation.

Sounds familiar, huh? If you are writers, journalists, bloggers, students or anything you do based on writing, all of these feelings are normal and natural. Everyone finds writing a challenge.

When you are not just blocked, but you are stonewalled, try freewriting. Just sit down for 5-10 minutes and write down everything you can think about the topic. Without stop for the whole 5-10 minutes. Free yourself from paragraphs and sentences.

Right now, just writing down before you forget all data you have. If you can’t think of anything to say, write “blah, blah, blah” over and over. Just say it the way you think it. Once you know what you mean, it easier to refine the phrasings.

Freewriting is good for uncovering ideas. It’s a good way to find inspiration. But the main purpose of freewriting is you are moving. You are warmed up to continue your writing. When the block has passed (maybe not all, but some), you can rearrange ideas, put thought into complete sentences, edit, and polish.

“Writing about a writer’s block is better that not writing at all”
(Charles Bukowski)

 
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Posted by on February 26, 2014 in How to..

 

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It’s a Job, Not a Hobby: Your Identity as a Writer

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On a recent trip I asked my partner, Geoff, to indulge me in a simple word-association game.

“What’s the first thing that pops into your head when I say ‘writer’?” I asked.
“Stephen King,” he said.
“How about ‘journalist’?”
“Clark Kent.”
“Ha. OK, how about ‘reporter’?”
“I still have Clark Kent in my head.”
“OK, well, anything else come to mind?”
“I guess Watergate.”

Geoff may have matched the words to wildly different entities, but at least he viewed all three as shorthand for serious occupations (although how many stories did Clark really write?). I can assure you that this is not a universal reaction.

As I wrote in my “Avoiding Domestic Disasters” chapter in The Science Writers’ Handbook, one key to a successful career is setting clear expectations about your professional life with your spouse, family, and friends. Many of their assumptions, in turn, will depend on how you define your occupation.

Among our peers, “science writer” offers a well-established and widely acknowledged catchall for responsibilities that often include translating research, conducting interviews, and writing on deadline. That understanding, however, can quickly dissipate beyond work circles – especially if you add “freelance” to your title. Endlessly annoying misunderstandings often ensue. Here’s how a fellow SciLancer describes it:

My husband gets that what I do is work – not a hobby, not dilettantish play. He should, since I am more or less putting him through grad school on what I make. My in-laws however, do not get it. They seem to think that I am working on some kind of hobby or craft, and that all deadlines are infinitely extendable if I tell my editors that my duties as a mother call me away.

More than one SciLancer has likewise complained about moms who call during work hours and talk for 45 minutes or more. “I have to remind her that even though I’m at home, I am working and that we should talk later,” says one. “I admit it, I screen my calls.”

Not a trivial pursuit
My occupation seems to similarly baffle many new acquaintances. “I’d really like to try my hand at writing too!” one excitedly told me. I had to convince him that this is my full-time profession and I can’t just write whatever and whenever I want.

Why is it so difficult to convince everyone else that we work just as hard as they do? One unfortunate truth is that a “writer” often seems to evoke romantic notions of a person of leisure dabbling in the literary arts the way someone else might sketch the family dog after dinner.

I’ve found that these antiquated notions of writer as dilettante are often perpetuated online as well. Do a Google images search for “writer,” and you’ll find that a clear majority of the results feature a pen and paper, including more than one reference to a quill pen now used mainly for calligraphy.

When I was a full-time journalist at a daily newspaper in New York (OK, not the Daily Planet), everyone immediately grasped what I did. Do another Google images search for “journalist” or “reporter,” and you’ll commonly see a microphone, camera, or reporter’s notepad – all well-acknowledged tools of an active, professional trade.

Leaving a lasting impression
For those confused by your job description, try referring to yourself as a journalist and see if you get more traction. The word may spur its own faulty assumptions, but it also solidifies the notion that you have deadlines and a “real job.”

Once you’ve established those expectations, you can fill in the details about what your writing really entails. Refer to your clients by name. Choose a favorite project and develop talking points around what you did and where your work appeared.

A few weeks ago, I participated in an “elevator-pitch workshop,” with the goal of succinctly stating what I do for a living and making a memorable first impression. The exercise was more difficult that I had imagined, but refining my introduction in front of a friendly audience helped me understand what resonated and what was confusing. I finally struck a chord by introducing myself as “a journalist who loves translating science into stories.” With a few words I had become Clark Kent and established my true identity as a full-time professional – minus the superhero tights.

 

(Saya nemuin tulisan ini dari blog punya seorang science journalist bernama Bryn Nelson. Hmm.. cukup menggambarkan kegalauan yang sama hehehe..)

 
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Posted by on February 23, 2014 in Random Thought

 

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Selera Pasar

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Suatu siang, saya makan siang bareng seorang sahabat di Taman Ismail Marzuki. Santi adalah mantan wapemred sebuah koran nasional (tapi memilih ‘turun pangkat’ menjadi redaktur karena alasan idealis), seorang penulis buku politik — yang sekarang kayaknya salah satu karyanya udah masuk best seller, sekaligus mantan tetangga kamar kos.

Setelah ngobrol ngalor ngidul ngomongin project menulis masing-masing, kita sampai pada topik kualitas karya. Ya, kami senang banyak penulis baru di negeri ini. Hal ini menggembirakan karena bisa mendongkrak jumlah judul buku di Indonesia, yang selama ini cuma 18.000 judul per tahun. Jauh di bawah China yang mampu menerbitkan lebih dari 160.000 judul buku per tahun.

Tapi, ya ujung-ujungnya kembali ke Kualitas itu tadi. Kita mau pilih meningkatkan kuantitas atau kualitas? Bukan berarti kami berdua mencoba membuat kasta penulis (yang saya rasa, saya pun masih di papan tengah karena belum sehebat Alberthiene Endah atau Yuswohady. Saya hanya mantan jurnalis ekonomi biasa).

To tell the truth kami masih menemukan buku-buku asal jadi dengan kualitas seadanya. Buku dengan topik seringan kapas dan ditulis dengan teknik penulisan yang masih dangkal banyak dijual di toko buku. Tapi, ironisnya juga buku-buku itu lebih laku dari pada buku yang disusun dengan proses panjang, seperti riset atau investigasi lapangan.

Ini mengingatkan kami pada analogi sinetron atau acara joget-joget geje yang ratingnya lebih tinggi ketimbang serial dokumenter yang digagas dan disiarkan di stasiun swasta nasional. Selera pasar.

Ada dua opsi yang terbentang di hadapan kami, mau tetep idealis atau ngikut selera pasar. Idealis bisa diartikan sebagai tetap menyajikan topik berat sesuai background dan kemampuan kami, misalnya ekonomi atau politik, dengan teknik penulisan tinggi diiringi riset/investigasi mendalam. Kalo mengikuti selera pasar berarti nulis hal-hal ringan bin geje seputar topik yang lagi naik daun, gak perlu teknik tinggi, yang penting judul dan tampilannya keren. Satu catatan positif untuk para penulis itu adalah mereka bisa memanfaatkan momentum dan selera pasar.

Nggak mudah, memang, ketika seorang penulis dihadapkan pada kedua opsi itu. Ada semacam kewajiban moral di pundak penulis untuk tetap memberikan yang terbaik bagi masyarakat, yang kadang in return justru gak bagus bagus amat. Kalo penulis gak menulis tentang topik berat (yang kadang jarang dilirik), gimana nasib pembaca yang memang membutuhkan pengetahuan yang kita miliki?

Ini mungkin menjawab pertanyaan kenapa buku-buku bisnis yang bagus (dan jadi rujukan) justru banyak berupa terjemahan dari luar negeri. Sebab, di negeri ini, tulisan tentang strategi bisnis atau paparan ekonomi banyak yang berakhir di jurnal kampus atau ruang meeting korporasi. Belum banyak penulis yang mampu dan mau menyajikan analisa ekonomi bisnis dengan bagus. Ah, beruntung Indonesia punya seorang Yuswohady yang ilmu seputar bisnisnya oke dan kemampuan menulisnya juga oke.

Dari pada ikut-ikutan nulis chick lit (yang kadang saya tergelitik juga buat bikin bukunya hehehe..), saya dan Santi memilih untuk mengambil jalur aman. Tetap menyajikan topik berat, tapi ditulis dengan gaya ringan. Atau membantu para ahli di negeri ini untuk menyusun buku yang bakal dilirik masyarakat (hidup ghostwriter!). Mungkin itu cara kami untuk “menyiasati” selera pasar.

“The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.”
(Albert Camus)

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2014 in Random Thought

 

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Sum of Life

Sum of Life

There are three things that I’ve learned in life. One, we are all connected. Two, where you end, I begin. Vice versa. Three, no matter how hard we try to control it, nothing is really exactly what it appears to be.

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2014 in Random Thought

 

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Two Thousand Words

Two Thousand Words

Today, the average person will say 2,520 words to 7.4 other individuals. Yet change the language, one border to the next, and we are hopeless. Stumbling to explain the simplest of concepts: “I want.” “I am.” “I love.”

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2014 in Random Thought

 

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Seven Billion of Lonely People

Seven Billion of Lonely People

Seven billion people on a tiny planet suspended in the vastness of space. All alone. How me make sense of that is the great mystery of our frail existence. Maybe it’s being alone in the universe that holds us all together. Keeps us needing one another in the smallest of way. Creating a quantum entanglement of you, of me, of us. And if it’s true, then we live in a world anything is possible.

 
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Posted by on February 21, 2014 in Random Thought

 

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Pizza Ads on Train

Pizza Ads on Train

Bagaimana nasib dietmu jika kau berada di kereta yang penuh dengan iklan menarik seperti ini? Well, diet is starting tomorrow..

 
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Posted by on February 19, 2014 in Pariwara dan Para Pewarta

 

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