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

00-instagram-violin-lost-boy

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.

 

 

 

Sketchy Character Sketches

As a giant consumer of reading materials, I have always considered giving back by producing something bigger than what I have previously produced. But it’s hard.

I mean, I am half-convinced that most of the brilliant ideas of this Universe have already been pitched, marketed, packaged, written. What else can I give except this very quirky and occasionally dysfunctional lens with which I see the world that I live in? I don’t want to write yet another boring chronicle of a something-something by a twenty-something that others will just dismiss as figments of a woman’s hormonal imagination.I already get bitch-slapped for being self-absorbed in real life. It will be useless and uninteresting to replicate a character who is just like me.

Writing above my age range is out of reach. Writing below my age range is also difficult because my weird head finds it hard to translate my ideas it into something that a young ones will be able to digest. My sister always tells me that I make her nose bleed all the time (I don’t mean to!). So, what now… will I just succumb to book addiction without giving something back?

Always, writing gurus will say that everyone has a story to tell. I just was not sure which of these stories in my head are worth telling or can be considered uniquely palatable to the intelligent readers I want to give back to. More importantly, I am not so sure if I can actually construct the story in full. I cannot count the number of times I wrote the first three chapters and then I hit delete and empty my recycle bin. If I accumulate all those beginning chapters, I’d have a frigging saga of beginnings by now.  Some people already volunteered to review my work. I am afraid that they will kill my darlings so brutally but I think that’s part of the whole idea of reaching out to potential readers, anyway.

I guess the more logical thing to do is to continue trying. So that’s what I did for the last few months, weeks, days. I tried to make some vague sketches of main characters and some other supporting roles. Now I have this web of imaginary people who are not me and I have to make them talk in my head or something to have a dynamic that I can work with. And the challenge is not to go insane when they actually start talking to me in my imagination.

The real danger of attempting fiction is that sometimes, the characters tend to become someone I know from real life. I know it really happens to anybody who tried this thing. But I really try to create something new, something outside of this world that I am in even if I borrow certain quirks and profiles from the real world just to get things rolling.

And the more that I attempt to write these sketchy sketches out in my spare time, the more I have an enormous respect for the brilliant writers who influence and inspire me to do this. How can they make it all seem so easy? When I am reading something so intricate, insightful, and moving, I wonder at how the author’s imagination managed to capture his experiences and reflect it in such a clear and colorful manner?

It’s hard to be considered a real writer’s writer. But my hope is that I can have even just one piece of creation, a finished story that is not just a something of a twenty-something. (Because pretty much, that’s what many blogs have, this included.)

Hoping that today’s sketchy character sketches can become tomorrow’s crystal clear and fully grown creation.

Anna Karenina
by Leo Tolstoy

“All the diversity, all the charm, and all the beauty of life are made up of light and shade.” -Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

I guess I was right in my previous blog post about the 2012 Anna Karenina film. Reading Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina through Signet Classic paperback edition showed me that while the film impressed me a lot, it was really not enough to capture the entire alleged semi-autobiography of Tolstoy interspersed in the orginal novel version.

ak

Small wonder why it was hailed by writers and non-writers worldwide as one of the world’s greatest novels ever written. It was depicted twelve times, cited numerous times by succeeding writers. So, the 2012 Keira Knightley starrer that I watched was actually the twelfth media depiction of Tolstoy’s magnificent novel.

It is thick as it was fluid and creatively styled. There are so many facets to this novel that it’s not sufficient to write about it in a single book review, but time constraints prevent me from ruminating any further. (I have hundreds of books waiting in line that demands my leisurely attention.)  Count Tolstoy was not called a literary giant for no reason. In fact, I have no words to describe this novel. It’s just beautiful beyond words and masterful in the way the story unfolded. Previously, I have read some creations that made allusions to or reference to Anna Karenina, and now I am not surprised.

Reading it felt like finding the roots of the old oak tree of realist novels. Like many great novels, most of the events are inspired by or influenced by events that happened in the author’s life. The character and struggles of the main character Konstantin Levin, for one, parallels some of Tolstoy’s life events like his manner of proposal to his fiancee Sophia Behrs. The very spiritual struggles Levin had were clearly marked, as if it mirrored the author’s own struggles: “And not only the pride of intellect, but the stupidity of intellect. And, above all, the dishonesty, yes, the dishonesty of intellect. Yes, indeed, the dishonesty and trickery of intellect.”

I read the last few chapters after Anna’s tragic suicide by the train station when I was aboard a bus on the way San Pablo City with my family. My sister was astounded with the thick book I had been reading for almost two weeks, but we managed to have fun together just the same:

harvhelen

I am amazed at how brave Tolstoy must have been for publishing this at a time when most of the issues depicted were taboo in Russia. For some reason, I think being a real writer requires fearlessness of expressing one’s views. This courage and spunk renders a huge part of what makes a piece of literature very appealing. Some are good with swords, but some use their words as a worthy replacement.

Recently, I found a really strong-willed contributor in Youngblood Inquirer when he fiercely took a stab at the Presidential sister. If basing on this criteria, I may say that I am not a writer at all because I could not really write something so actively in opposition to people, in general. I’d prefer to keep human harmony and attack ideas instead.  The thought of war worries me a lot, although I acknowledge that many of the best literary masterpieces were done and inspired by previous wars like World War II. I’d like to admire the literary effects of such hardship but while I think that writing from a place of pain is compelling, therapeutic, and powerful, I’d still like to have enough “dumbness” in me to enjoy life. The problem with super smart people is that they can get too caught up with the intellectual experiences that life sometimes tend to just slip away miserably.

Here’s an intriguing and surprising tidbit that complements the reading of this novel: there is actually a MAP of all locations mentioned in Anna Karenina. A guy named Peter Biggins, possibly a fellow bookworm and mapping enthusiast, used point data to plot those locations. You can click here to see the map! Even the birth and death place of Tolstoy was shown. 🙂 I only feel bad that I have nto thought of doing something like this first but I am mighty glad that this kind of information is already available online. 🙂 It means I have some kindred spirits somewhere out there. 🙂

And while many of the classics are thicker than my usual reading fare, I think it’s best to always go back to the masters and the roots. If all books were as good as this one, I might as well die from eye strain but I won’t stop reading them.

 

 

 

The League of Extraordinary Employees: The Job Fulfillment Tightrope

The last two months of my life had been marred with tough choices. I applied in 24 companies before getting this job as engineering editor. And if I may visualize my path, I am balancing manuscripts while walking in the tightrope of intellectual and monetary fulfillment. And if you are an average Juan (not one of the million or six-digit earning retired young entrepreneurs that I look up to and admire), you can relate. For you will also have to walk this tightrope before you reach the pinnacle of your intellectual flow state and your financial freedom out of the paycheck rat race.

There were some companies that offered twice the compensation I receive here. Not to mention the fact that I earn way much more as a freelancer. I could have stayed with  my online Internet jobs and just file my own SSS contributions and stuff. My bosses did not particularly want me to leave the online world for this very time-demanding work. One of the things I had to adjust to is the reporting to the office from 8am to 6pm. As a freelancer, I was used to just coming up with articles at any time that the writing Muse decides to take a visit. Now, Muse or no Muse, the manuscripts need to be settled asap. Deadlines come in hordes here, mind you. And I am often too tired to do anything when I get home.

But why did I decide to leave the freelance world for this time-consuming thing? Why did I choose to trudge my career path as precariously as this:

I am not sure if other people will find my reasons valid. But it’s different strokes for different folks. Let me give you an overview of what I am beset with on a typical day here at the publishing world.

Behind me is a woman with an American last name who bested most of us in the big boss’ grammar exam. At my left is a super sexy married woman who makes me look at my belly in concern. I’d kill for her waistline, really!

Behind that sexy editing woman is a freelance photo model who hails as a magna cum laude from Ateneo de Naga university.And has the dimples I have been trying to poke on my cheek in fourth grade (With no success, of course!)

Somewhere in the Northwest from my desk, there is a cum laude in Journalism and a Palanca awardee. Seated near them is a SPED specialist and a writing fellow in the prestigious Iligan Writing Workshop. Farther up, there is the top 2 in the recent Licensure Exam for Teachers by the PRC. If you climb up a little, you will be acquainted with some of the country’s best illustrators.

Oh, did I mention that our editor in chief edits the works of famous National Artists for literature? (there is a separate post about him, by the way)

For some people, these things do not matter in a job. But to me, THEY DO. Not because they have titles. But because I am in an environment where I am intellectually challenged to stay on top of my game. Here, excellence is not extraordinary; it is expected. So as I juggle all these manuscripts due by the end of this month, I make sure to check if I dotted my i’s and crossed my t’s correctly.I am just happy people here are most kind and they do not really brag about how kick-a$$ they really are, intellectually speaking. It’s a good environment to be in; people wear their intelligence like their underwear (Everyone assumes they have it but they don’t flaunt it for the whole wide universe.)

I am just so lucky to be here. The pay may not be that high, but I know I am so fulfilled with the benefits of being with these people, these people who are so good with what they do. And they do what I love most, what I love naturally.

In terms of money issues, I have Bo Sanchez’s useful advice to help me out: save 20% of whatever meager sum I am earning each paycheck, and set aside 10% for the Lord as thanksgiving and tithe.I plan to do it as faithfully as I possibly can.

I write everything here not just to advise the job hunter to find work that suits his natural inclinations and passions. But also to remind myself of how lucky I am to be here, in case certain irritations and frictions try to kill that passion I have for this path I chose for myself.