on writing…

So I’m reading this book called The Art of War for Writers and I’ve finished part one which tackles the idea called Reconnaissance. It wasn’t a word I understood before I encountered it in this book but I’ve come to like it. In the author’s own words, it is “observing the battlefield before entering the fray”. One of the exercises suggested was writing down my reactions to some statements from different authors, hence this post.

I decided that I would continue to write as long as I lived, even if I never sold one thing, because that was what I wanted out of my life. -George Bernau

When I’ve read this statement months ago, I immediately closed the book and cried. And then I haven’t opened the book again until recently. I didn’t have the courage to go on reading it I guess because there were many things happening and a lot of them were confusing me. My circumstances felt heavy and they left me burdened so that I didn’t have energy left for other things aside from trying to figure out the things happening around me, the different feelings and reactions inside me. But as I read these words again today, I feel that they are my very thoughts and feelings, as I read through the first few pages of The Art of War for Writers. Thoughts written down. Solid. Can be grasped and clearly communicated to people.

I don’t really plan on becoming a published writer (at least not right now). I just wish to write. I just want to become really good in my craft so that I can use it in whatever worthwhile cause that may have a use for it. I don’t care if I get paid for it or not. I just want to be able to jot down in words all of the thoughts, reflections, feelings, and stirrings inside me as a proof that I am alive. Really alive. Not half asleep to the things that are happening around me. I want to be really alive in Him who created me and who has written down my story even before I was conceived. I want my writings to be my gift to Him who gave me the gift of living this one life he personally crafted, for me to experience, know and worship Him. I want to write because being able to put into words the things that are happening around and within me means I no longer fear of drowning in them. It means I have taken the time to think them over and process them and lay them at His feet, recognizing that He is sovereign in all things and circumstances. Being able to write means I have taken the time to gaze at beauty, to listen to silence, to rest amidst chaos, to take joy both in simplicity and complexity. Being able to write means I have taken the time to listen to, to journey with and to learn from people who are willing to share their thoughts, feelings, opinions, perceptions, experiences and learnings; people who are or would be willing to open up to their own story. I want to write. I wish to be able to write well.

You must want it enough. Enough to take all the rejections, enough to pay the price of disappointment and discouragement while you are learning. Like any other artist you must learn your craft – then you can add all the genius you like. -Phyllis Whitney

I remember one writing class I took during college. It’s a basic creative writing course in Filipino. I’ve always felt more comfortable writing in English even in my grade school days but I took it anyway because there were no slots available in the English creative writing class anymore. I can’t remember a single piece I’ve submitted in that class which the professor found acceptable. Most of the time she just reads until the third line and then she puts it down and goes on to others’ papers. She would do this to all of our submissions and then the class would usually end early because there are no more papers for her to read. Sometimes, when she gets in the mood to teach, she lights up a cigarette and goes on to do the same. But on those rare times when she suddenly feels responsible enough to use all of the allotted time for the class, she would read more than three lines and would thoroughly slice/rip/tear the written piece into nothingness. She would treat all of our pieces as if we didn’t put time and effort into them. It was annoying for me the way she did that when she didn’t even take the time to give us lectures/workshops about the basics of creative writing. Isn’t that what the course is supposed to be all about? But most days, if she’s not late, she wouldn’t appear in class at all. And then she’d come on a day when it is the deadline of submission and all of us just come to class with pieces that we’re written in cluelessness. The most I got from her was a criticism on how clueless I am on our country’s history. What was her word again? Naive. She said she saw that I’ve put a lot of effort into writing that poem, what with flowery words and clear rhymes and even a narrative embedded into it which is not necessarily required of a short poem. But she thoroughly attacked my view of Philippine history and even discussed each stanza to show how shallow my view of our country’s past is. Well, I didn’t know then if I should be happy she saw the effort I’ve put into writing but that she attacked my personal view. (I am very fond of learning history.)

But all in all I thought that that class was a nightmare. I didn’t get anything from it really but now that I am recalling all of these things, I guess I wasn’t quite ready for criticism back then. And certainly not for unreasonable criticism. I don’t know if I ever will be. But I guess I am well aware now that one gets a lot of disappointments and discouragements on learning the craft of writing. And I hope this awareness would help me to face rejection.

Yes, I do want to learn my craft. I really wish to write well.

In Boot Camp, tough sergeants deliberately try to break the morale of inducted men. Those who break they send back to civilian life, or to some more or less ignominous chore in army life. There are two or three hundred thousand ‘writers’ who ‘write at’ writing in this country. Ninety percent of them make next to nothing. The few who do get by are those who were not “broken” in the Boot Camp of their own wills, or lack of same. -Jack Woodford

So what does boot camp look like? Is that basic creative writing course in college part of boot camp? And if it is, then am I one of those who were broken and should then be sent back to civilian life (a.k.a. have any other occupation other than writing)? In fairness to my younger self, I didn’t even know what I wanted out of life then. I wasn’t aware of my personality type yet and I didn’t know my strengths and weaknesses. So maybe I wouldn’t consider that as part of boot camp because going to boot camp means you are aware of what you are entering into. Lately, when I discovered how important language, writing and reading are for me, I became so excited with the thought of honing these particular skills. I feel like these are the things that I really love doing and think that I can be good at (given the proper practice and training). I became so excited with the thought of really learning about writing. I began to scout for online courses but later I felt that I really prefer the classic classroom setup because I can have people around me who I can learn from and who could possibly learn from me; people who have the same passion for writing. For literature. For art. For beauty. For music even. For life. And so I tried to check out the creative writing degree that is offered in my alma mater. Lo and behold, I felt so alive upon seeing the list of courses to be taken. I felt so excited with the thought of going back to the university and finally learn about things I am passionate about or seem to be passionate about at least. And if passion and determination be the major requirements of entering Boot Camp then I think I’ve never felt this ready for it before.

Not to be carried away by my emotions and ideals though, I’ve also looked into the implications of entering ‘Boot Camp’ in my present life. Of course there’s the question of whether I should quit my job and become a full-time student or should I be a student and work at the same time. Where should I get the training fee? Do I really need to go back to university and get a degree in writing or should I just join writing workshops because I don’t plan on becoming a published writer anyway? Can I just treat blogging as Boot Camp and treat the blogging community as my critique group? What comes next after Boot Camp? Where do I plan to use my “enhanced writing skills” then? Should I look into the possibility of finding a living in writing though as of now I really don’t see myself becoming a published writer? What should I write about? What do I want to write about? Often, I would be left with, would it be better if writing remains only a hobby? Or is this just me trying to run away from a difficult decision to make? Excited as I am with the thought of learning more about literature and writing, I am also beset with doubts. I doubt if even this desire to learn to write well is valid. Is it my desire or did I just absorb it again from someone else (much like how I easily absorb another person’s laughter, expressions or even mannerisms)? If it is indeed my own desire, then did God give it to me or is it just one of my outrageous, weird ideas which keep my parents on their toes because they feel I am not establishing anything in life?

But I can see some hope from the very meager fact that I was able to write these confusing thoughts down.

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