My Advice to Young Indonesians Who Aspire to Write in English

 

As many of you might have known, I teach courses in writing at a university in Malang. Writing has been my profession for seven years, and since then the task of filling an empty space with words has been a blessing. Not only has it provided me food on the table, it has pushed me to constantly improve my communication skills through language. In a way, I think that if it weren’t for writing, there would be no reason to mount Durian Writer, my personal blog that brims of my ideas, most of them born from the fragments of thoughts I keep in my diary. Or, if it weren’t for writing, I would have shied away from joining Malang Toastmasters, where each speech project not only requires you to speak in public, but as well as to prepare for a speech that requires a process of crystallising the meat of your talk which shouldn’t go beyond 7 minutes.

I intentionally wrote this piece because there are many young Indonesian students who aspire to become writers in the English language. And to become one is a challenge. One huge factor is that English, like where I teach, is not the medium of instruction. What’s more, in this country, English is not the language for everyday conversation, nor the commonly-used language in mass media.

Of course, I do not mean to disparage Indonesia for this. What I’m concerned, however, is how the English language is taught in schools and how these institutions try to lure the students in enrolling into their programmes using Caucasians in their advertising materials.

There are many literary theories of writing. Therefore, in as much as I want you to read this with a willingness to learn, please do not take my advice as your lone guide to writing. I came up with this piece to share what I think many of the young Indonesian aspiring writers should put into mind.

 

Reading is the Religion of Writers

Just as a painter can’t become one without immersing himself to great works of art, a writer cannot succeed without making reading his religion. When I was practising journalism in the Philippines, my day begins and ends with reading the news to keep myself abreast to the current affairs. I also read newspapers and online reports because I needed to know how other journalists reported the news. One of the journalists that influenced my writing includes my dear friend Germelina. What I like the most in her reports is how she uses her creative writing skills which engage the reader. I had the chance to work with her sometime in 2013, when she was editing my journalism project.

Apart from her, I fell in love with the works of Jhoanna Cruz, a Palanca awardee and a literature professor at the University of the Philippines-Mindanao. Jhoanna happened to be one of the panellists of a writing fellowship I attended in the summer of 2014, where she and other award-winning writers generously critiqued my literary projects.

Other writers that informed my writing include Milan Kundera (The Unbearable Lightness of Being), Laksmi Pamuntjak (The Question of Red), Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Americanah), Adonis Durado (Not Everything that Falls Comes Down), Mikael de Lara Co (A Poem That Had Some Difficulty With The First Line).

If you want to become a writer and wish not to read, I say forget writing.

 

Writing Workshops Won’t Turn You into a Writer in One Day

Writing workshops nor your English lecturer won’t turn you into a good writer in a short span of time. And the same goes to, I’m sorry, language camps that promise you to become a fluent English speaker at the end of the programme. Enough of this craze. Improving your skill in writing is a lifetime process. Despite having been married to this profession for seven years, I still wake up everyday angry and ambitious. I have always been reluctant to give writing workshops because apart from feeling guilty of charging participants slash making money out of trainings, young aspiring writers should realise that they come to workshops only to gather inspiration to hold on to writing. Do not expect that you’ll soon be able to write a book after attending a workshop. My favourite writer took her more than a decade to publish her first book.

 

Write Everyday

Keep a diary and promise that you’ll fill it with words every day. Journals are a good exercise as it will help you get used to expressing yourself through the written language (in this case, the English language). In the beginning, writing each day could become a challenge. But hey, wake up. As the trite proverb says, practise makes perfect. Write down what goes in your mind. If a big idea suddenly appears, capture and find the words for it. Later, when you turn back the pages of your diary, you’ll be surprised of the things you were thinking about.

 

Grammar Matters

Once in 2012, a student quoted me as saying “grammar is dehumanising. It violates man’s freedom of expression.” First, I would like to clarify that when I said that, I was attempting to make the audience laugh. Seriously, grammar matters. Without it, our works would end up impossible to understand. (Also, I myself struggle with the English language grammar. And I thank my editors for saving me from humiliation!)

A lot of my students apologise for their terrible grammar before or after they submit their assignments to me. We all know how confusing the English language could get. But the constant asking for an apology does not make sense, most especially if they never take note of grammatical errors they’ve committed.

In Ayn Rand’s “The Art of Nonfiction: A Guide for Writers and Readers”, she said:

“Too many people today think: “I’m a creative genius, I’m above grammar.” But nobody who thinks or writes can be above grammar. It is like saying, I’m a creative genius, I’m above concepts” – which is the attitude of modern artists. If you are “above” grammar, you are “above” concepts; and if you are “above” concepts, you are “above” thought. The fact is that then you are not above, but far below, thought. Therefore, make a religion of grammar.

To the young Indonesians who wish to aspire to become writers in the English language, I wish you well. For those based in Malang, let’s meet! 🙂

The Metaphorical Durians

This is an extended version of a Project 2 speech I delivered on April 14, 2016 at Malang Toastmasters Club. Originally titled Durians and Southeast Asians, I decided to rename this post The Metaphorical Durians so as not to confuse with my older piece in January, which by the way is what influenced me to discuss about a similar topic, this time delivered as a speech before fellow Southeast Asians.

Continue reading “The Metaphorical Durians”

Toastmasters: My fear of the letter I

 

This is a Toastmasters Project 1 speech I delivered on April 7, 2016, at Malang Toastmasters Club. Project 1 is the first speech project of new Toastmasters members, where they are tasked to introduce themselves to fellow club members.

Esteemed guests, fellow Toastmasters (finally), good evening.

A week ago, Thea told me that introducing one’s self shouldn’t be difficult. You know what? I totally disagree. And tonight I’m going to share to you why

Fear of the letter I

My name is Mick Basa, and over the years, my profession has always been to report the news. As a journalist, my task is to tell the truth without fear . But if there is one thing that journalists are scared of: it is the fear of the letter I.

On the very first day I entered the realm of journalism, my editors made it clear: avoid putting one’s self into your stories. To write in the first person is a mortal sin, almost equivalent to bribery and plagiarism.

So that’s an explanation for those of you who wonder why news reports are never written in the first person. There’s no I, but only he, she, them, and they.

Apart from that, we are told not to disclose our personal views, our political alignment, and religious beliefs. It’s not that they do not matter, but in the spirit of impartiality, these are rules that we ought to abide.

How we introduce ourselves

So here’s how we usually introduce ourselves. We say our our name, and the news organisation we represent. You can say your nationality, but never the presidential candidate you’re voting for.

For nearly 10 years of keeping my personal life from public scrutiny, here’s a journalist trying to do a Project 1 speech — which is breaking the Ice — with the use of the letter I.

But I would like to take this opportunity to get myself used to the letter I.

Indonesia and I

I left the Philippines to take a short break from work in the hope that I could spend time searching for myself.

And what better way to do that by moving to a country with a name that begins with the letter I? Indonesia, a country that’s imagined by many bules as a place for soul searching.

However, instead searching my self, I found myself listening to the stories of the locals. Sometimes, I would take pictures of them. Wherever I go, whatever I do, no matter how far I go, journalism is that mystical ghost that keeps on haunting me.

So, who am I?

Ladies and gentlemen, my dear friends, if you ask me the question who are you over and over again, I don’t think I have an answer apart from this: my sense of self will always be tied to being a journalist.

And here I am standing before you, attempting to do a Project 1 speech — while actually evading the very task of sharing details about my life.

But since I joined Malang Toasters Club, I have not felt the need to refrain myself from sharing you my personal stories. And I thank all of you for sharing your warmth. In fact, I have made friends with some of you here in just a short span of time. Perhaps, without Malang Toastmasters, journalists like me would have no way of bracing the phobia of the letter I.

My dear friends, fellow toastmasters, we all have reasons of joining this club.

Fatur said, it’s for his child.
For Lita: this is her passion.
For Adi, it is to excel in public speaking.

And for me, it is to embrace my fear of the letter I.

So tonight, let me do that by formally introducing myself, using the letter I.

I am Mick Basa, and I am very glad to be a part of this club.

Back to you.

Almost Indonesian

February marked my first year of living in Malang, the longest in my history of transient life, surpassing my length of stay in Manila, Jakarta, and Balut Island near the Philippines-Indonesia maritime border. In case you wonder, why Malang? I’ve written a post about that here. Continue reading “Almost Indonesian”

Durians and Southeast Asians

And the question has been thrown to me once again last Sunday, January 24, 2016. Why Durian Writer? Two things: I come from Davao, a city outside the Philippine capital which is known to cultivate the best varieties of Durian in the country. Second, I am a writer (among many other things that I do).

Continue reading “Durians and Southeast Asians”