Tag Archives: write

#22: Twice a Week Means Twice a Week (Only)

I realize that I haven’t made a post for a week now, but I technically still haven’t broken the “two posts a week” rule. But for this post, I will confront that rule. That rule may make me write down posts, but it’s hard to be sure if these posts are of high quality.

Just like school grades. Just because you get an A or a 95 doesn’t mean that you have gotten the learning that you deserve. It may mean a host of other factors: that you have been too much of a stickler-for-rules such that you did what was asked of you without trying out other tasks; the teacher may have been lenient, that you copied a smart-aleck’s answers off every test, and so on. Just like in managerial settings as well. Just because you reach your profit targets for this month doesn’t mean much except that you have lots of money in your hands. It doesn’t say anything about the quality of work, the personalities of the workers, or how you got that money. (Your income, frankly, doesn’t say anything about your life except your income, although people around you may have arranged your life in such a way that your income is a direct cause of a whole bunch of other things that transcendentally should have nothing to do with it, such as happiness or education.)

Targets don’t say anything much about anything else, but we act as if they’re about lots of things.

That’s why I’m close to disregarding the two-posts-a-week rule. You may have public commitment for you to mind your blog, which isn’t really necessary if you’re not pandering to a specific audience and if you’re only sharpening the way you write, blowing off steams of knowledge or experience, or just exploring writing. You may treat it as a reminder that most of writing is tiring, so you better get used to it by exercising. But if you treat writing this way, then all you get is exhaustion every time you write, not satisfactory passages.

Two posts a week, honestly, doesn’t mean much beyond the fact that you can write two posts a week. Post quality is another matter altogether. Or consider this analogy – just because a TV show promises to show itself up every Monday and Saturday doesn’t mean that the show is fine to watch as well.

But at least let me tell you what I do when I’m not writing. I’m thinking. I’m absorbing data from the environment and from reading, synthesizing them into bountiful packages, and releasing them into words. They may not be on this blog, but at least the words exist. That won’t hurt – what use is it to write about what you only dimly know? Know something first before writing. And when you know enough, write, even if it be once a day or twice every year.

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#20: Taking Its Toll

Since I began this blog I felt as if I am under internal compulsion to write something. This is mainly due to the two-posts-a-week commitment that I made (well, I narrowly missed the deadline last week, but it was OK as I was occupying my mind back then by learning new stuff online). An implicit premise for my activity is that I write about assorted topics, or I write about a topic that I may have dealt with before but with new twists. After all, as I said before, ’tis better to write something than to write nothing. Let’s call that Rule #0: the rule that separates a writer from a non-writer, and from those pseudo-writers who clutter their heads with ideas from coast to coast, without writing, just like pouring water into a pitcher and then never drinking from it at all.

This self-determined compulsion to write takes its toll in the midst of swarms of other routines on my schedule. However, this has a positive virtue, at least. It requires me to have something to write about, so I have to pay attention to the outside world every time. Everything around has to be a ready subject for exposition, analysis, synthesis, or just plain contemplation. If nothing outdoors seems fitting to write about, then there are always the inner workings of my mind, or anyone else’s mind. There’s my blog – or any random Internet article or any hitherto unread book. Anyway, I have to write or else my commitment takes a blow and a rift opens allowing a discordant voice to strike me (“Hey, isn’t it that you broke your rule last time? What’s wrong with breaking one again, if it needs be?”)

If it needs be – we frame all rationalizations as needs, and in the end the distinction between them disappears. For instance, we fancy a car that we can’t afford, but sometimes we buy it on the grounds that our work requires us to wander from place to place, that everyone else in our field of work has a car, because commuting is tiring, and so on, without assessing whether these are the real reasons. As long as they linger in our heads, there is the danger that these bogus reasons may evolve into real reasons – and we may pass them to the next generation, thereby perpetuating errors. Thus it is imperative to block all back alleys for rationalizations to penetrate our ears. We have tips for resisting temptation, but it’s quite hard to counterattack rationalizations.

There’s an additional bonus that forcing myself to write can give. What if everything looks dreary – as if peering at anything outside can make you more bored than you are right now? What if the sight of blank paper or a blank Notepad page, far from instilling a motivational sense of dread, despair, sadness, angst, fury, or fright at the nothingness in front of you – emotions that can drive you to clear out the white from any field where words and signs should be – what if the sight of blankness makes you fall asleep instead? In this extreme case, the problem isn’t my senses; the problem may be the current social, economic, political, or educational systems that bore people and then provide us with a shell to withstand the boredom, all without helping us find out why boredom has to be there, and suppressing our native childlike ability to ask why such is the case and what if another case is possible all the while.

Writing helps us clear our thinking to realize all these. Remember these two asking prompts for all time: “Why?” and “What if?” “Why” stimulates precise thought while “What if” gives a wide berth to imagination, and both are effective against general stultification bombarding us all over the place and the willing but uncritical obedience so characteristic of the way most adults – and most of their children – live with today. Who knows, most of your creative ventures will revolve around these two questions.

If all we have are a bunch of dull ideas and perceptions, then there are two simple tricks that can ease the boredom and may actually help generate useful ideas. One is to think of the opposite – a “What If?” variant. “What if I assume that the opposite of an idea is true?” The opposite need not be an antonym; something starkly different is enough. The minimal logic behind this is that the opposite of dullness is richness, so we will do well to train our minds to consider opposites. The second is to combine any number of ideas to form new ones, and then think about the newly formed ideas. If thinking about a pencil bores you, think of a pencil with wheels. Ridiculous, but if it helps you think better, then so be it.

To stay in action you have to be in action. A tautology, but true nevertheless.

In passing, I want to say something about a possible congruence between the notion of “writing something is better than writing nothing” and the “puwede na iyan” mentality, a thought process common for Filipinos who want to take a break after finishing something instead of improving a concept in increments. The two notions are different. “Writing something is better than writing nothing” serves as an idea-cooker; it’s more like writing in a journal to keep you practiced and to keep you loaded with ideas that may be useful for any future writing project. In that case, there’s no “puwede na iyan” involved because there is constant improvement, unless you find out that you write badly but take no steps to improving the way you think and scribble. “Puwede na iyan” suggests a definite stop, an aversion to “What if?” thoughts about the future; in contrast, our notion of writing just to fill blanks, while fine in itself, clearly has future value.

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#10: Book Fair Seminar Blues; Commitment in Writing; The “Pilosopo”

At the last day of the 2012 Manila International Book Fair, Dr. Isagani Cruz held a seminar Write Your Own Book. There were two questions that stood out in the discussion and that stuck in my mind the most: “Where will I write?” and “When will I write?” Space and time, in other words. The answers to the two questions are stunningly similar:

“Anywhere, as long as it is the same place.”

“Anytime, as long as it is the same time.”

The two answers are unthinkable. Why should I write at a definite time, say 9pm – 12mn, rather than write at any convenient time, when all the mundane responsibilities are dealt with? Why should I write atop the plastic table at the second floor rather than anywhere I can conveniently put my laptop on?

It is obvious that these answers will not make you become more creative, or generate more words, or recombine ideas. Rather, they are meant to keep you committed. Treat of them as your principles. Writing a book is a demanding task – Butch Dalisay describes it this way (for novels, but the same goes for all books written in the Philippines): “We sleep, eat, defecate, and fornicate with our novels perched on our shoulders.”

Writing books eats up chunks of our lives, with the confounding worry that whatever we turn out may not be so good, after all. For every book you see on the bestseller list, there are hundreds or thousands whose presence is fleeting.

So in completing a book, surviving all the countercurrents in this country that can prevent you from writing is a must. Writing should be on top of all priorities when writing – not daydreaming, doing household chores, or tending to domestic disturbances. Stick to your goal when writing a book – completing it – and dodge everything else in the way. That is easier when you are in a “safe zone” in a “safe time”, not when you are in a place where the earnest distractions of the outside world can pile up upon you. Even if you have to go into a cheap motel to finish your writing at peace. Even if you have to sneak into an attic for a few hours of near-perfect serenity allowing you to concentrate.

Also, writing at a definite place and time – and upholding your schedule with the precision of clockwork – is also sound practice in focusing. If you can’t remember the writing practices you promised you’ll do, how can you expect to remember the main point of your book? You may change your writing habits when you think they’re ineffective or when pressing circumstances require you to, or you may change the thesis of your book, but when you commit to something, hang on to it tightly.

After the seminar, I asked Dr. Cruz a single question, which I hope the right one. “If you can summarize a writer’s best practices into two bits of advice, what would they be?”

I received these answers: “The first one is to read a lot.“ “The second one is to write everyday.”

Reading a lot is easy to do everyday, for Dr. Cruz didn’t mention any specific book to read. Perhaps it’s just a fine way to reinforce a vision of the future result of your writing. Reading a lot, while planning your own book, can also pound this reminder: if you’re benefiting from the hard labor and mental struggles of writers, why not do the same?

Writing everyday is an exercise in commitment; do not think yourself as a part-time writer, but a full-time one. At least one word a day would be good, according to Dr. Cruz – the late writer Francisco Arcellana did just that. A minimum of one word a day en route to a carefully crafted short story may appear like grinding stones, but that’s commitment to the bones.

The two given answers are also keyhole insights to why Filipino writers are rare. First, Filipinos do not read a lot, to put it bluntly but accurately. As a mass, we read because required to do so in school, not really for the aesthetic and cognitive pleasures that it can bring. Second, in a poor country with more pressing needs than the urge to put thoughts on paper (and whose habitual logicians and theoreticians are derided as pilosopo; I think this is one of the few countries in which contemplators are socially derided), writing can get relegated to last place.

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