Friday, December 09, 2005

[Essay] I Don't Believe in Writer's Block

There are many reasons not to write, but I don’t believe “writer’s block” is one of them. For me it’s a myth; it’s as if telling someone you suddenly lost the ability to speak, you forgot how to spell, or words simply left your memory. There is no such thing as writer’s block for me. There are, however, other reasons why we don’t write, and we use the writer’s block excuse to encapsulate all of them. No inspiration? Writer’s block. Not motivated enough? Writer’s block. Too lazy? Writer’s block. Lacking a good idea? Writers block. For me, simply naming it writer’s block is avoiding to face the problem rather than seeking to solve it. Let me tackle the reasons why “writers” don’t write.

No inspiration. It’s a real concern. Some of the best work out there come from inspiration. But obviously not everything that’s well-written came out from inspiration. Or rather, from unsought inspiration. There are days when I wake up and I have a good idea in mind. When that happens, I write. There are, however, several days where nothing good comes up. Does that stop me from writing? No. I either look for good ideas, or simply write. Other people wait for emotional cues to drive them to write. It could be falling in love, experiencing grief, or simply getting nostalgic. While some of these experiences can be sought out, they don’t always happen just because we will it, nor is it always advisable to do so. (Can you imagine yourself forcing yourself to fall in love with someone because there’s a looming deadline so that you’ll be inspired to write a love poem? Or breaking your jovial mood by sinking into depression to write that somber novel?) If people only wrote when they were inspired, then everyone would be professional writers. What distinguishes the writer from the non-writer is that the former writes no matter what the situation, whether they’re inspired or not. Inspiration is good. I just can’t expect it to always pop up whenever I’m geared to write something. Sometimes inspiration follows after writing. Sometimes it doesn’t. But I’ll write anyway. One factor that people forget is that aside from creativity (inspiration) or talent, hard work and perseverance can also lead one to become a good writer. A genius might write his or her first draft and submit it to a publisher. Others pore over their work, continually editing, revising, and attending workshops to hone their craft. I honestly wish everyone (and when I say everyone, I really mean me) could be the former, but that’s not the case. What discourages other people from the latter path is that it’s difficult, but that’s the reality of most things: no pain, no gain.

No good idea. Much like the no inspiration reason, some of us might claim we don’t have any good ideas. Of course the adjective we need to focus on is good. I think we all have ideas to write about. We just don’t think it’s good enough. At the very least, you can talk about your day. But our self-doubting consciousness tells us that’s not interesting enough. We tell ourselves that no one wants to read how we got up in the morning (or afternoon or even evening for some people), how we went to work and experienced all these trivialities. Our inner voice may be right. Or it might not be. I think that anything, even the most mundane activity, can be made interesting as long as it’s given the proper treatment. Look at the lives of detectives. For the most part, it’s a boring job. All you do is research and wait, hoping for something to pop up. Occasionally, there’ll be excitement, and perhaps even a gunfight or two. But why are detectives of the noir era romanticized? Mainly because the writers focused on the exciting part, or rather, made it exciting in the first place. The other side of the coin is that there’s always something in a person’s life that’s exciting. We just need to dig in deep, or pay closer attention. Take for example the life of a zookeeper. I’m sure the zookeeper thinks his or her life is mundane. A child, however, might be awed at how the zookeeper constantly faces “wild” animals and manages to enter their cage without getting harmed. Why have blogs become one of the most popular things on the Internet? Because people love to read about other people’s lives.

But assuming you really need a good idea, something that doesn’t personally concern you, what do we do then? Finding a good idea is perhaps one of the problems that can be solved. It’s called experiencing new things, doing research, or paying close attention to details. Some writers go on trips or try out new things to look for ideas. As someone with little time and even less of a budget, experiencing new things doesn’t have to be something outrageous. It could be going to a corner of the city you’ve never gone before (or simply getting lost is an interesting experience in itself). It could be trying out new food, a new sport, or even reading a new book. Then there’s always research. Experience doesn’t need to be first-hand. You can read about other people, their exploits, or a topic that you’re interested in but don’t have the time or budget for. Sometimes research means digging deeper. You already have a topic, you just don’t find it interesting. By digging into its history, into the minutiae of its process, you’ll eventually find something worthwhile to write about. At times, one needs to look at your concept from a different perspective. Your country is something that you’re familiar with, and you might take it for granted. But how would foreigners see it? Or simply other people? Don Quixote is a narrative about the then-modern world told from the perspective of a delusional (but romanticized) man. The no good idea dilemma can actually be solved if we devote time and effort.

Not Motivated. Now I’m guilty of this. While I don’t lack any good idea (or even inspiration), sometimes, we simply don’t feel like writing. It’s the same with laziness. For one reason or another, we don’t write, either because we’re not in the mood, or if we have other, more pressing concerns. Of course the question we should now ask ourselves is how much do we want to write? Our will to write should exceed our desire not to. When I was still in the academia as a student, no matter how lazy I was feeling, I always met my deadline, whether it was an essay, a term paper, or a simple written homework. Why? Because I wanted to graduate first and foremost. Did I enjoy the process? Not always. Was I motivated to do my homework? Again, not all the time. But even if I wasn’t, I was motivated by something else (namely to pass my subjects) hence I did it nonetheless. Same goes for work. Now if you don’t prize your schooling or professionalism, a question you have to ask is why do you write. If it’s simply because you feel like doing so, then the path of a professional writer is not for you. If it’s for personal amusement (and when I say personal amusement, I really mean masturbation), then your writing will always be just that. If it’s the art of writing, then your effort will reflect how much you really respect the art. As for time, well, everyone’s busy. We may not pursue writing full-time but we’ll always have time; it’s just spent elsewhere. Some opt to skip an hour of sleep just to write a paragraph or two. Others find time to write during their short breaks at the office. You might also want to give up your leisure time, time you spend watching TV, playing video games, or going out on gimmicks. At that point, you’ll have to gauge your priorities. Is writing more important to you than TV? If so, then write write write! If not, then writing is a leisure activity for you, just as watching TV is. So if you don’t make your deadline, it really shouldn’t bother you in the first place (so don’t pursue a career in writing!).

From personal experience, blogs are one of the easiest things to stop updating (and as I mentioned earlier, I’m not exempt from this). Mainly because most of us blog for unprofessional reasons. It’s for amusement, for our own benefit. Do our readers pay us? No. What penalty will we receive for not updating. Flames at most (tip: don’t flame bloggers whose blogs you want to read). So once again, we enter the internal debate of how important writing is to us, and whether we should drop it altogether to pursue other more enticing activities. I’m not saying writing is the be-all and end-all of things. Sometimes, we simply have to drop writing because of more important, real-world concerns such as family, friends, career, and health. Just don’t be confused which should be prioritized in your life.

No equipment. Thankfully, that’s not called writer’s block. When you have no computer, try the typewriter. If you don’t have a typewriter, try doing it the old fashioned way: pen and paper. It’s a slow, agonizing process but during desperate times, we must make do with what we can. Technology provides us with mobile means of writing though, from PDA’s to mobile phones to laptops. Still, just so you don’t make an excuse not to write when those tools aren’t available, make it a point to bring a notebook and pen wherever you go. At the very least, it’s to list down ideas, so you don’t suffer from the “no good idea” or “no inspiration” excuse.

Whenever I see someone say writer’s block, that’s just another excuse for me. The real dilemma for writers isn’t writer’s block, but either they don’t have the time, effort, or priority. Don’t misunderstand me, good ideas are hard to come by. But it’s not something a lot of time and effort can’t solve. And when it comes to time and effort, people seldom make room for it unless it’s a priority in their lives.

[Essay] Filipino Loyalty

For the most part, Filipinos have proven themselves to be fiercely loyal. When it comes to their families, the statement “blood is thicker than water” rings true. A father would protect his son, even if his son is the guilty party, and the man-of-the-house will support his cousins and other relatives, even if it comes at the expense of his own (and sometimes his own family’s) welfare. There are also Filipinos loyal to those who have been kind to them, even if the aforementioned people are far from the best of role models. There are Marcos loyalists to this day, 20 years after the Martial Law dictatorship ended. And there are even Filipinos who are loyal to ideologies or concepts, which explains the lingering groups of communist parties, or the anti-chacha (anti-charter change) rallies every few years or so. Unfortunately, said loyalty debatably doesn’t carry over to the country itself.

Admittedly, national sense of pride isn’t exactly at an all-time high. Majority of the youth and the populace simply want to leave the country, either migrating abroad of working there. Government policy also doesn’t alleviate the problem. I mean where have you seen a country that praises its citizens for working abroad? Sure, we depend on the remittances of our OFW’s (Overseas Foreign Workers) to help pay for the country’s debts, but what kind of example are we setting when we praise people who work abroad because they can’t find good employment opportunities in the country they were born in? Not to mention the proliferation of “imports” (or the very fact that we have a term for it), and I’m not talking about merchandise. Many sports and TV personalities we favor are of partially Filipino-descent, and the nature of their citizenship only becomes an issue when it’s convenient (or inconvenient, depending on who brings up the matter). Yet while some Filipinos favor Fil-Americans and Fil-Europeans, the same outlook doesn’t extend to their Asian counterparts. The Chinese will always be Chinese to certain segments of the population, even if they’ve lived here all their life and adopted native practices. Filipinos don’t take pride in their Filipino-Chinese community, yet praise their Taiwanese soap-opera heroes and heroines.

Even among Filipinos, not a lot view themselves as part of the whole nation. We identify ourselves by our region or by the dialect we speak. A running joke is a person is asked “Are you a Filipino?” and they would reply “No, I’m [insert local region here],” the practice of which will astound even the optimists. And who do Filipinos vote for during election? Not necessarily the one that’s best for the country, but the one that’s best for their region (although perhaps we’re not unique when it comes to that voting practice). The contradiction is that Filipinos are extremely loyal to the region they belong to (just ask any Cebuano and they’ll proudly tell you they’re Cebuano), but not to their country.

The country’s literature attempts too much to be socially aware, to be socially relevant that it comes at the expense of other genres. But in the end, such books are only patronized by the literati, while the very society it tries to help enjoy their romance novels and celebrity magazines. When it comes to animation and comics, a lot enjoy the products of Japan and America, not realizing that some of the animators, artists, and writers are Filipinos. And when those same people come out with local works or tell people that they’re the ones behind people’s favorites, some can’t help but stare with either disbelief or skepticism. The nation also has lots of indigenous resources, whether cultural, natural, or ideological. Yet who takes the time to invest in such treasures, or recognize such valuables? Is it the local populace, or the foreigners? Look at the martial art arnis; while it has a cult following locally, there’s probably an even bigger following abroad.

Amidst this bleak outlook, perhaps the only thing bleaker are the reaction of the populace. Do we seek to solve the problems we face? Many choose to flee instead, migrating to a different country, not realizing that the places they wish to relocate have problems of their own. What government doesn’t have its own share of corruption and political turmoil? And it’s not really such a big mystery why the West is fascinated by the East, and vice versa; the Philippines is no exception to the disease of familiarity. Of course everyone will claim they have things worse, until they experience first-hand what other people are experiencing. While the Philippines does indeed paint a bleak picture, there are probably other countries which are suffering more. The only difference is that their population is perhaps more hopeful. And for every hundred of Filipinos who are tired of this country, there will always be at least one vanguard who will fight unto death for the country he owes an allegiance to. Some might criticize what can one person do, but change always begins with one man. And there will be the uncounted supporters of the Philippines, be they Filipinos living abroad or in this country of ours; they may not have Filipino blood or even citizenship, but their true loyalties can be seen in their actions. For Filipinos, the question isn’t whether we are capable of being loyal or not, but rather to who we owe our allegiance to.