Thesis It!

My board exam tips continue to be useful to a lot of people. Recently, I have not taken any more licensure examinations so it’s a thing I have put behind me along with my old posts. I still continue to answer inquiries from people who bump into this blog when googling board exam tips. I am incredibly grateful to those people who encourage me to keep writing tips. And so, here I am making more series of tips that will hopefully bring positivity and change.

This time around, I want to introduce a new series called THESIS IT! It’s a series of blog posts I will be making that will give some advice on how to survive your thesis writing struggles.  I am just now sure how long this series will take in between posts but I will do my best to finish it before I give birth. I am planning to do around 7-8 blog posts in this series. It can be more, depending on how my outline will turn out. I am still deciding how to tackle the topic because it covers a lot of issues from deciding on a thesis topic, to narrowing down your techniques, to just getting the willpower to finish it.

Like my board exam tips, I welcome questions from readers and I will do my best to incorporate them in my blog post series for this new topic. 

Informally, I have been assisting friends with their thesis writing and providing critique and the much-needed encouragement when they are feeling particularly crappy or demotivated to finish the final stretch. I also find people asking for general writing help like essays and articles and PR pieces, but the thesis project is extra special because friends tend to need extra long-term support until they prepare for their dreaded panel or defense.

A disclaimer: I won’t really call myself a thesis coach, but I think that observing these friends I have helped along the way gave me some insights that I think are worth sharing in this blog.

Occasionally, I get paid for thesis or academic writing assistance, too. I usually just get offers and I don’t actively seek them out. Specifically, I successfully assisted one businessman finishing his master’s degree in urban planning with a 200-page thesis about using iPhone sensors to detect road roughness, one high school teacher finishing her master’s degree in education with a 150-page thesis about an avant-garde curriculum approach (I was in high school when I began assisting her for this), one particularly feisty client who had to turn in something about first and second tier exclusive economic zones in China (he’s basically a nasty human being who treated me like a slave so I forgot the details of his work),  and some online friend who needed to turn in a term paper for his doctorate that involved proving a calculus theorem using words.

Through this, I got used to charging per page, per hour, or on an agreed lump sum basis for my consultation services. I continued to provide support after defense panels have pitched in their correction or revision requests. If you are in this industry and you want to know how much the going rates are, just leave your email address and we’ll talk. 😉

This year, I provided super friendly support to three key people in my close friend list: one who created a heroic land data model in his thesis, another who created this cool Boracay predictive land use scenario, and another who is using econometric models to help shape the future of the Philippine education sector. The first two are finished already. Really cool stuff. That’s how I learn about different things in various industries outside of engineering. I like picking my friends’ brains so I enjoy knowing what they do, what they are passionate enough to write about in this academically challenging manner, and where this research can eventually take them.

Friends usually just feed me with my favorite food after they’re done with their gruelling ordeal with their manuscripts. 😀 It’s really nice to do things for my friends while I am on my bed rest. Right now, I am also assisting two friends who are setting up their travel and food blogs, respectively, but it’s not as intense as the assistance required from thesis writing. Helping people is more fun than twiddling my thumbs until I give birth.

Back when I was a struggling working student in college, I survived famines of contributing for magazines by ghost writing for one of those foreign term paper websites. It helped get me a more regular income. Eventually, I stopped doing them because I felt like I am assisting lazy students to turn in their homework and get grades they don’t deserve. I was reprimanded heavily by my spiritual mentor about the repercussions of doing other people’s work. In the working setting, though, outsourcing writing work is not a crime. It’s efficiency.

Now, I have other options, writing-wise. But I did these projects long enough to survive my own college semesters so that I have money for basic student needs like food, books, and transportation. Occasionally, I go to the spa to treat myself for my sanity. I only get projects like this when I need to earn a considerable amount. These days, I have a range of options to write professionally and I just pick what I want to do. If anything, though, thesis assistance is a really lucrative form of income generation if you want to earn big in writing. I’d typically use it as a last resort when I am running low on funds and I need a quick boost.

Having explained that, I think that although I never really studied the science of writing a thesis formally, I may have some particularly specific and useful ideas for people who are writing their thesis. All these years of assisting people with their thesis writing struggles eventually ended up with me creating my own system that makes it faster and more achievable. I don’t particularly flinch with the volume of writing work required, in the way some of my overwhelmed friends do. Not because I am better than they, but simply because I’ve seen so many of these in my lifetime. Most people only have to do it once or twice in their lives and it can drive anyone mad to produce such volume of writing work.

My recent approach in assisting my friends involves enabling them to write their own thesis and not have me ghost write for them. I can do both, but I prefer encouraging people to find their own writing voice and just be the nagger/guardian angel pestering them until they meet their deadlines for graduation.

I really hope that this new series will also help people in the same way that my board exam tips has.  I look forward to hearing about your thoughts, too, if you find this post somewhere in my lair. 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Genuinely Wonderful Things

There are two brand-related articles that I need to piece together today, and I am in this process of free writing and decompressing my thoughts before I prepare for these two and other “adulting” errands that I need to run today. One of my recent hobbies is cursive writing or resurrecting my natural penmanship through writing instruments like brush pens and calligraphy pen holders. A more awesome and portable addition to this humble collection is the Jinhao 500 ivory medium fountain pen for beginners recommended by Jillian and Keshia of Everything Calligraphy. Just holding it and gliding the tip of this pen on paper makes me feel like every word I write is worth a million bucks. I’m converted after being initiated in this wonderful world of fountain pens, and I am even using it for basic jotting down of notes and filling out of forms (as long as the paper GSM can handle it).

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Writing really inspiring messages or words using this nice pen filled with iron gall purple ink has turned into a hobby. This particular quote I wrote on my 80 GSM book paper notebook is one of the most inspirational ones I have seen online this month and it’s worth highlighting:

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I had to make a lot of tough personal choices this year. One of them involved the direction I wanted to take professionally. I was cruising along in my comfort zone, finances were somehow sufficient, fun was always in the corner, and despite my simple life, it’s still far from subpar circumstances I had in life before.

My initial plans in 2015 did not pan out at all. Today is totally different from my expectations. But I am grateful that things turned out this way instead of what I had in mind. In a world of practicality, being genuine was a tough and expensive thing. When I was young, I think I already knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. But I always considered other people’s needs, other people’s expectations, and other people’s dreams for me.

A month ago, someone just one year older than me died of an uncontrollable illness. Her death jolted me to what matters to me, and solidly drove home the important concept that there are no rewinds. Every single day that I postpone the actionable things that will allow me to accomplish my dreams is a wasted and irreversible day. Based on that single standard alone, I have been wasting my time for a very long time now. 

A week after that, I took a leap of faith and suddenly took baby steps in the direction of my dreams. And I found it amazing that the doors just opened for me, welcoming me as if to tell me: “Where the hell have you been and what took you so long to acknowledge that this is what you need to do with your life?” All this time, it was right under my nose and I kept insisting that I fit my square peg in the world’s round hole. The moment I stopped basing my life decisions with other people’s grand ideas was the moment I started to live genuinely. I am my own person now. I am 30, what I want is crystal clear, and I am walking–nay running– towards it.

Now that I have found the things I genuinely want, I am gripping it tight and writing constantly to remind myself how hard it was to gain these insights and how ferociously I should guard them now that I have them.

Apart from these, I also made personal choices to just SAY NO to things I don’t like. I said no to people, event, and things that do not contribute to my well-being. I block off my own negative train of thoughts. I detect the triggers and firmly tell myself: you’re not going in that direction again.

This is the best part: I get to start over. Picking up the pieces after last year’s ground zero is extremely difficult. But somehow I made it. The world did not necessarily run out of problems to give me. As we speak, there are large personal challenges looming before me and my family. I am potentially dealing with major and life-changing losses. But somehow, I am managing it much better that I did before. Something in my mindset has changed me permanently. And it was a good change.

Since I had space in my life for new and better experiences and relationships, the details are happily working itself out. I was able to see the best in people and this brought out the very best version of me. It was not like before where every single day was a crazy hustle for survival, where I always look on people with guarded suspicion and a general instinct to keep myself in my shell. It’s still a struggle for daily survival but somehow I already gained the muscles and the mindset to keep going. My pace has been established. And even if it’s a very small or invisible accomplishment by the world’s standards, I know that I have made genuinely good progress in my unique race in this life. After all, you cannot make an impact or change other people’s lives if you do not begin the hard work inside of yourself.

I know that I could not have made it without my husband’s support, without the genuine desire to change things. I now fully believe that when you have the best intentions and you do your best to execute these intentions properly no matter what curveball is thrown, the world takes care of all your needs and points you to the right direction in a way that’s impossible to miss.

So, here’s a personal blog post to mark new beginnings, the pursuit of my most authentic life dreams, and the vice-like grip I have on the genuinely wonderful things.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Incurable Itch

There are some things I have to force myself to do and I end up doing it with sheer effort. But the most special thing is the thing I have done since I was little, the thing that never feels like work and always feels like play, and the thing that stays constant in the flows and ebbs of life: writing. I love it so much that even if I don’t get anything out of it, I feel happy filling out a page with words. It just comes out. Even if other people don’t read it, the reward is in the writing itself.

It’s probably a disease with no cure. I don’t really mind a lifetime of writing. I just end up writing anywhere I go and it’s a good thing, I guess. It is some sort of anchor to an otherwise chaotic thread. It helps me sort things out, it helps me convey my deepest and shallowest thoughts, and it is part of who I am as a person. I can’t even recall when I started doing this. I’ve been doing this for as long as I can remember. And I don’t see myself stopping anytime.

What is it for? I have used it for a great deal of purposes already but I think I want to explore more this year. I want to write more and do more things with the technique and I strongly believe that the time is ripe to do so.

 

 

 

Writing for Writing’s Sake

“By the same token, the amateur—that is, lover of—the game does not suppose  that because he can catch felt on catgut three returns out of five, he is just a lucky break away from Wimbledon. He does it for the doing. Because although it’s hard to get revved up for it, once you start the momentum carries you; because you get better when you work at it; because the effort makes you sweat and it feels good to have done it. I think we ought to think of writing more like that.” -Janet Burroway

This is just one of the best metaphors I have read about writing so far. I used to just read the novels that I like and think that it will teach me the techniques. All those years, I think I have been doing it all wrong, because professional novelists are good at making their craft appear easy and seamless; you will not know the extent of the mechanical labor required behind the scenes to make it happen. I had the desire but I was looking in the wrong places.

And since July is the month for showing Papertowns the John Green movie, I am throwing in another quotable quote from Green that supplements this mindset from Burroway. “Each story is written by a person who is inescapably themselves and for me the process of writing is about trying to escape that self, trying to inhabit a different world, trying to get out of that prison of consciousness that we’re still stuck in for the whole time that we’re here.”

I have been writing since I was a little girl. Strictly speaking, I have been keeping a diary for the last 21 years and I still have one at home, offline and only available for my husband’s (and doctor’s) eyes. My only regret is that I did not get to keep some of my sloppy childhood writing, although I highly doubt that there’s much good in re-reading how I felt paralyzed at P.E. class after seeing my crush.

I have been writing for 21 years and I am still an amateur to many genres I want to explore. Instead of feeling feverish and impatient (like I did for the last 5 years), I decided to step back and change my approach. I decided to be more kind to myself, writing-wise. I loosened up my expectations and let the words flow.

Success stories in writing are anomalies. Usually, the aspiring writers do not have much and they have to take supplementary or odd jobs to get by. The real aspiring writers get depressed and they hit rough patches and they keep constructing pieces until they hit pay dirt.

When I was working as assistant editor for a publishing house, they were so careful about throwing around the word “writer,” giving it the sacredness that it deserves. And I laud those people for being like that because it helped me to set high standards on who is a writer and who is a “writer.”

For my own self-assessment, I was not good enough for the authentic writer title even though I write FEVERISHLY, OFTEN, and EVERYWHERE. 🙂  But like what that Burroway quote states, no one gets laughed at for not being a writing legend. We don’t get shot in monuments for loving writing for writing’s sake and producing content to express that love.

Sometimes, I get lucky that people like what I write in different places. However, I realized this: other people liking what I write is a mere bonus to the gift of writing, which is writing itself. There are pieces that I write for certain purposes.

But there is this writing that is like a virgin forest, unsullied to what others think and stashed away in my drawer for mental safekeeping. I use ink and paper for that, as I have always done when I was a little girl. I used to have a typewriter to play with before the age of computers and I cannot recall the numerous attempts to try a manuscript but I always ended up throwing it away after the first chapter. 

Well, I am turning thirty now so I spend less time throwing my time and my creations around. And who knows, maybe the next chapter 1 will have a chapter 10 to it… I am just full of optimism. And if I fail to earn the title real writer in this lifetime, I died happy because I did what I loved the most, that thing which I will continue doing even if nobody paid or asked me to do. 🙂

 

 

The Healing Power of Art

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In between hospital trips, I managed to do some work. Very light work. And one of these was a visit to Eastwood’s Art Market last weekend. There was a healing experience in each artistic expression. I wanted to embrace it fully. I always have. I always will. Now people have formal art schooling and writing schooling. And I have none of those. I only have the passion and the fire to keep writing to my heart’s content. In this blog. In another person’s blog with a platform of readers. In a magazine. In my diary at home. In a news website for Hollywood gossip. Anywhere. As long as it’s writing. I really cannot live without writing; it’s just something that I need to do regularly to keep myself normal and sane. Personally, it has been 19 years of writing. Professionally, it’s 11.

I have found this year as one of the most difficult and fascinating of times in my life. This is the time where I am more fully aware of my strengths, my weaknesses, and my triggers. I think that I have been staying on the fence for far too long and it has cost me my health to do so. I was on the fence and I did not want to go certain directions to please other people.

This year, I was really jolted when my husband told me: “Just do whatever it is that you want to do, not because you need to, but because you want to do it.” And it had a liberating quality to it. I was able to find healing in different places, especially in art. I gravitated towards things I did not formally train for. Like a magnet, I continue to be drawn to writing even when everything else falls apart. It’s the one thing that keeps me glued enough to stay in front of a computer screen and at least do something in a day, anything. Even just one tiny paragraph. A well-taken picture. A walk in an event that needs to be covered. Streams of words flowing in my head and I try my to catch each of them before the moment passes me by.

I was in high school when my father first told me not to take Creative Writing in a university of my choice. He said it was an expensive school and that there is no money in writing. I took one that supposedly had more money and explored my other favorite subject math: engineering. He held no objections to this math-intensive background. But you know what’s so ironic? Every single time that my life falls apart, I fall back in that soft bed called writing and it sustains me. Right now, it sustains me again when I am at my lowest. As it had done infinitely many times in the past. For something that has “no money” in it, I found a lot to live for and give and take from what I have written personally and professionally. How many times do I have to resist the fact that I am actually meant for this thing? How many breakdowns… How many dilemmas.

I continue to be thankful for being able to finish an engineering degree. I still get stymied by writing opportunities that discriminate with badges of “For Journalism Graduates” only. There is always this stigma over a piece of paper that you chose to work for in college. I find myself not able to handle a field surveying instrument (cause I took a computer-based line of work then) in the same way that a mediocre journalism graduate can have a good job job but not have the actual skill. These are all just pieces of paper, in the end. What you do after is what makes you.

I honestly don’t know what to make of this now. This world is full of things that do not make sense. I’d gladly give over my license to someone who has been doing traditional survey for 40+ years and still cannot get promoted only because he could not pass the multiple choice exam. I am more than 50% sure that I no longer hold any interest in working within the degree I originally signed up for. But anytime I do I still get paid higher than the non-passing veteran dude because this world is unfair like that. It will never be fair. It was never a given that life is fair when we enter this world.

 

 

 

Helena on Youngblood5 Book

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It was already rewarding to be published at the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Youngblood section. Two years since then, I have used the article link as a writing sample for clients.

So imagine my surprise when I saw the announcement that my article was one of the 66 essays chosen for Volume 5 of the Youngblood collection. The book will be launched this May 30. Euphoria. I was on Cloud Nine all morning.

What other prompt from the universe do I need? I keep asking what my life’s work is and these things stare at me in the face. Doors open for writing in ways I can never imagine. As an engineering graduate, I find myself unconvinced about my ability to write. I make excuses. I do not have the workshop or writing fellow experience. I am not a journalism or creative writing major. Stuff like that.

So I just wrote as a hobby, just for the sake of writing. Merely for the love of it. I kept this blog as a running thread, no matter what career decisions I make or what personal calls I involve myself in. And I find in it a certain kind of flow that I do not find anywhere else. The I-cannot-live-without-it vibe. I just wrote anywhere I can. Recently, I wrote some more. And I did not really realize that I had been doing this for 11 years now.

Eleven years. And I still doubt myself. I still find a thousand things to work on. It still makes me feel on fire. That same feeling I had when I was talking about my crush when I was a little girl, on a locked brown notebook that nerdy fourth graders like me keep in their cabinets. At age 30, I still feel the thrill of discovering things and elucidating them in words. I am never going to be cured of the writing bug. It will stay for as long as my hands are able.

No one is paying me to fill this page and I keep doing it. Because that is a part of who I am and what I am wired to do. Some people run content mills for the money. I get hired for writing jobs but there is a marked difference between the writing I do for clients and the writing I do for myself or just for writing’s sake. It is not the same. It never will be.

Up until this day, I kept asking about my authenticity in writing. Another person brands me a certain way. I think the biggest disservice of anyone who is trying to write decently is when you question your own skill and not give it a chance to flourish. You get so conscious of how others will take what you wrote and you miss the point of wriring as the reward itself. It’s normal to have haters who pelt mud at you from the outside but it’s a million times worse if you are your number one hater.

So if there is anything that today’s announcement taught me, it’s this: not having an English-related course is no limit to what becomes accepted in a well-respected compilation like Youngblood. Boundaries and categories are arbitrarily created by people but you can be an engineer and a writer and a technopreneur and a web developer without having to feel sorry or doubtful about either. People establish boundaries that you have to limit and mold yourself to a fixed role because they are AFRAID of whàt crossing the lines will entail. Those lines are not set in stone.

Those lines are just made of chalk. And I just jumped over those lines like a childhood game of piko, hopping in and out as I see please.

The lines on my face as I get older may serve as a visual timeline of my personal history, but deep inside, I will always be that giddy little girl who likes the swirl of ink on a piece of paper, weaving words for every adventure.

“Real” Writing

So what is “real” writing?

It’s really subjective, to be quite honest.

I was inviting people in my network to feature this really cool shooting range. It was a fun afternoon so I wanted to share the love. Out of the blue somebody just messaged me and told me that writers outside of Metro Manila are more “real” with their writing and should be better considered for a schedule with the PR person. I did link her up to the PR person for the shooting range because she is a good friend and she writes really well, not because she is outside of Metro Manila and as such, is more “real” with what she writes. I honestly did not know where those things came from, but I still maintain at this point that she probably means no harm for what she said. It just came out like a Freudian slip that she thinks Metro Manila people who try to write are inferior or something. I can choose to look at it like she insulted me on purpose but I give her the benefit of the doubt because she was just having a bad day.

Prior to this conversation, I did not even know that these things exist in the writing world. I did talk with some intellectual elitists before who are really Palanca winners or writing workshop fellows and they do look down on mainstream novels like Nicholas Sparks and Paulo Coelho because they think of it as some form of puff pastry. A mentor I highly respect had a recommended reading list and warned me not to consume garbage literature.I took his advice because I have seen his work and I really aspire to create something decent in the future. I continue to prioritize his recommended reading materials although I keep my eyes open for other things, too.

There is a considerable amount of blogger-hate from journalists as well.This has been a long-standing issue between traditional news sites and blog sites with a community of contributors. Debates on news worthyness, ethics, and other topics surface as the roots for this blogger-hatred.

I am used to all of those. But I don’t usually find the region-centrism I have observed from my friend. Usually, it’s mostly just because of writing style, plot, ethical considerations, or depth of writing that they criticize another person or group’s work.

So… what is “real” writing for me? I still don’t have an answer to that, really. All I know is that if you have the skill to convey real writing on your outputs, it will just reveal itself and you do not need to explain yourself to anyone else when you do it. All you have to do is DO YOUR BEST. Then, you let the output speak for you and for itself. 😉