Sunday, September 05, 2010
Freeing the Writer Within
---Dian Kuswandini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Mon, 08/30/2010
For some people, putting their thoughts into words might be as easy as falling off a log. For others, however, writing is simply difficult.
"I can’t write for nuts," confessed 31-year-old Badai Aqrandista. "I usually get stuck after the first two or three paragraphs and don’t know what else to write after that," he added.
An IT programmer by profession, Badai is starving to write---he wants to create magic with words and make wonders with few sentences. But because he just doesn’t know where to start, he’s considering to take up a writing course.
"I think it’s cool to be able to write; to persuade others through writing," he said. "Back in Australia, I searched for writing courses, but ended up finding nothing but classes that had long durations, like one year."
So, on his return to Jakarta, Badai is once again looking for a writing course, while keeping himself motivated by reading a book titled Keep Your Hand Moving, written by Anwar Holid.
"I just need to find out how to turn this [writing] obsession into a burning passion," Badai said.
Badai is not alone. Swistien Kustantyana is another aspiring writer, who although didn’t start from scratch, felt she needed a boost to unlock her talent.
"My short story was once published in a magazine, and it made me go like, ‘wow, I can actually do it!’" said 28-year-old Swistien. "That experience tickled my inner writer so much I felt I needed to attend a writing course," she added.
In October last year, Swistien signed up for a short-story class at FixiMix writing school in Jakarta.
There, she learned how to develop her imagination, create characters, make a plot, as well as discover different writing styles.
"Let’s say, to develop my story’s characters, my mentor [author] Kurnia Effendi taught me to start from people who are close to me---I can just develop from there," Swistien said. "We also get some useful tips on how to get our writing published in magazines. For example, magazines would look to [religious-themed] stories nearing Idul Fitri, so we can start sending short stories three or four months before that," she added.
Attending a writing course, for Swistien, is also an opportunity to meet new people and expand her network.
"I met with many new friends, including some insiders of certain magazines," said Swistien, who later signed up for a film-scenario writing class at FixiMix. "From there, I could develop my network, which has helped me a lot in building [a writing career]."
Crafted writing skill, insightful tips and an expanded network aside, Swistien was also surprised to rediscover herself as a highly confident person.
"I truly gained my confidence after that; I became so productive writing," said Swistien, whose dozens of writings have been published in several media outlets. "Now, I at least have one of my short stories published every month."
People like Swistien and Badai---who wish to free the writer within them---is just the reason why people from writing schools such as Anwar Holid of Visikata, Jonru of Sekolah Menulis Online and Henny Purnama Sari of FixiMix step forward to offer their assistance to writer wannabes.
"Most people I know just have so many ideas in their minds, but they don’t know how to translate them into words. They simply don’t know how to begin," said author and editor Anwar Holid, who teaches "Basic Writing" at www.visikata.com. "One of [my course’s] participants confessed he would get nervous every time his boss asked him to write reports, while another one wanted to know how to write without having to feel pressured."
While these people started from scratch, Anwar went on, other participants were actually born with writing talent yet they did not have enough confidence to develop them.
"Some people I know just aren’t sure whether they’re really talented," Anwar said. "They just need someone to ensure them that they write well. Thus, a writing mentor is just there to offer a second opinion," he added.
Established last year by Andre Birowo, Visikata opens virtual classes for basic writing, copywriting, opinion writing and fictional writing---all under the guidance of a senior and experienced writer. Adopting the method of interactive learning, Visikata aims to make writing courses more flexible for busy people.
Participants can visit their "classrooms" whenever they want to get their course’s materials, and on scheduled days, usually at around 8 p.m., they can "meet" up with their mentors to discuss the materials and exchange ideas with other participants. Their mentors would also give them assignments, and evaluate and discuss them on the next session. For a class combining basic writing and opinion writing, Visikata charges Rp 625,000 for each participant.
Just like Visikata, Sekolah Menulis Online also adopts interactive learning method. According to its founder Jonru, this is to give more access to people from across Indonesia.
"I found out that most writing schools are only opened in big cities, while I also realize that many people out there want to attend such a course," said Jonru, writer of Menerbitkan Buku Itu Gampang and Cara Dahsyat Menjadi Penulis Hebat.
"I aspire to embrace people from all over the place and break down the boundaries. They can learn writing from wherever they want," he added.
Jonru, also the founder of www.belajarmenulis.com and www.penulislepas.com, said that since Sekolah Menulis Online was opened in 2007, there were some 400 participants, including those from abroad, signing up for his classes.
"Some need guidance to get into the publishing [industry] and we would help them with that," said Jonru, whose online school charges from Rp 170,000 (US$18) to Rp 2.5 million for various types of writing classes.
"Some others just need advice to boost their confidence in writing."
Meanwhile, novelist Henny Purnama Sari, founder of FixiMix, said people who learned writing at her place came from various backgrounds.
"We have some junior high school students to employees and housewives in their 40s joining our classes. They want to learn how to write because they wish to have their writing published in magazines and newspapers," said Henny, who started FixiMix in 2007. "The funny thing is, we were surprised to find out that middle-aged people are very eager to write teen-themed short stories."
Henny said she initially established FixiMix as a community center that promotes fictional writing and script writing for film and theater. As a community, she thought FixiMix needed to encourage people to be creative through writing.
"That was how the idea to open writing classes came up," said Henny, adding that up until today, FixiMix had attracted around 70 people. "We started with a sinetron [soap opera] scenario writing class, and now we have short story and movie scenario writing classes."
With a wide network of qualified writers and people with hands-on experience with TV series and movie productions, Henny adopted a unique concept of "Café Classroom" to lure would-be writers. The idea is to meet some friends---a pleasant contradiction to the stereotype of the lonely, distressed writer.
"Our motto is relaxed but serious," she said. "We cooperate with some cafés, holding our courses in their places. We don’t want conventional classrooms with boring teaching methods. We learn, eat and have fun."
Another special thing about FixiMix, Henny said, was the way it opened opportunities to talented writers to get their work published in media.
"We cooperate with magazines such as Cita Cinta and Chic---the best three students in our classes will have their stories published in the magazines," Henny said.
Swistien is one of Fiximix’s best three students, whose path was opened after her writing was published in one of the magazines. Another one is Hilal Ahmad, who like Swistien, feels very motivated after attending the class.
"I felt really supported by people with the same interest there," said the 24-year-old student and volunteer, who paid around Rp 470,000 to attend the class. "Before attending the class, I had difficulty pitching ideas and was very curious why the writings I had submitted were never chosen for publication."
But after attending the class, Hilal went on, "I got to know some tricks. I was exposed to some standards applied by the media, and learned how to compete [with other writers]."
Even long after he "graduated" from the class, Hilal said he still had that urge to be a productive writer.
"We have this forum, where each of [the alumni] post updates," he said. "So, seeing your friend’s writing is published in Femina (magazine) and another’s in Gaul (tabloid), will make you go, like, ‘oh, I need to get my stories published too’," he laughed.
"You know, the more curious you are, the more you want to explore your talent."
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