On Writing


Goenawan Mohamad, Indonesia’s renowned poet and essayist “Catatan Pinggir” of TEMPO magazine, wrote in the foreword of his book:

Just like forming a saucer that never wears out, writing is actually a restless work.

His words have multiple meanings.

Physically, forming a saucer requires clay, spin-table, water, agile fingers, imaginative design, consistency, patience and restlessness (because the saucer will never be perfect) …

However, his words can be interpreted differently, that is: writing (i.e. producing own ideas) is not mechanistic: it goes by means of asking the right questions, being anxious, searching for the answer, testing the answer, reading manuscripts, brainstorming with like-minded people, constructing a skeleton of the writing, being persistent of looking for sources or books. It’s all colored by logic, sense and psyche. Writing is also an endless journey. Writing occasionally exhibits repetition, a periodic pattern. It’s not something final. Instead, writing will set you free and prolong the intellectual journey. When the writing piece becomes the truth (even a relative truth), it may set you free. (Suddenly, I remember the Latin verse engraved at the library of Minami Osawa campus: “Veritas Vos Liberabit” – the truth will set you free!).

Back to keyboard …

Currency of a researcher or a research student is a scientific paper. A paper is a product of formulation, comparative studies, experiments, observation, discussion or proposition. A paper is usually detail and lengthy (it may be boring; thus, some colorful images in the manuscript would certainly refresh our eyes!). Writing a manuscript, in this regard, has its own challenges. The reason is, writing a manuscript (read: pouring own ideas), which is a construct of thought-observation-calculation, needs a structured mind. A manuscript has a story; it has a beginning and an end; it has some objectives; it has a climax and anti-climax. A manuscript is a guide to a supposed-to-be-fun adventure. “Dry” writer will loose readership. “Fresh” writer, who is able to insert humor within a serious piece of work, just like philosopher Karl Popper (his book – with witty beginning – can be found in the bookshelf of International House in Minami Osawa), captivates the readers. But, for science or technical papers, humor should be removed from the ‘menu’; anecdotes would, of course, invite criticism from the reviewer and it may end up being rejected (same feeling when your love was rejected by your supposed-to-be-the-first-love – no shaman was consulted). Writing a scientific paper is a skill, not knowledge. A good scientific paper will be produced when the author has done sufficient practice. Say, 10,000 hours. This number was proposed by Malcolm Gladwell in his best-selling book Outliers. 10,000 hours is a limit whereby someone can be considered an expert (in music, writing etc) if he/she has practiced for more than 3 hours per day for 10 years; no holiday! But everyone has his/her own learning curve. Some people are speedy learner (because they have unearthed their talents), some people are sluggish (due to inconsistency or slothful). So, not everyone requires ten years.  If your learning curve is normal, don’t panic: you belong to majority (you have many friends indeed!).

But if you can’t write don’t be afraid. Gary Larson can’t write yet he’s extremely wit and very inspiring.

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