more from my college senior paper, written 1996-1997
On my writing process
Although I have been writing for many years, I am a raw fictionist. I only started writing stories during the 1996 Ateneo Summer Creative Writing Workshop. On a shallower level, the workshop took the guise of a requirement and thus compelled me to “expand.” Moreover, i genuinely felt confident, at that time to venture into a new genre. in my mind, the jumbled-up emotions and vague characterizations seemed to be plotted and structured out. The encouragement I had been getting from the workshop gave me the final shove.
I am also unpublished, not because my works have been rejected, but because I still have not mustered enough guts to submit them. Nevertheless, the decision to embark on this creative-writing thesis is, for me, a milestone. It is an indication that I have started to brave the painful risk of vulnerability on paper.
I come from a lower middle class family. To get to school, I commute for an hour and a half; to get back home, I commute for just as long. Every day, I spend long hours alongside strangers in public vehicles. My neighborhood is quite unlike the carefully tended villages which my classmates call home. Our rented two-story apartment in Valenzuela has a window which looks out onto the street, where tricycles speed past, local tambays play basketball, gossip-monger get together,lice-infested children run around. There is a video shop, a beauty parlor, and a sari-sari store.
I write from these places. I write through these people.
I begin with the face of a person,a would-be main character. Often, I end up telling the story from this person's point of view. The face may be that of someone I know. If I feel too guilty, I change the details a little. But it is always a real person whose story has touched something in me. We have some affinity,and my own life's story cannot but come into play.
I set the limit afterwards. I know that a short story needs discipline, so I decide if I should be as faithful as possible to actual events or if I should intervene as much as I want. At this point, I usually intervene. I determine the other characters and identify the dramatic situation around which the rest of the story will evolve. I decide how the story will end.
At this point, I take hold of a pen and begin to write.
I follow the movements of the characters as they take place in my mind, within a composition of place that must be vivid in my imagination. Sometimes, I indulge in dialogue; sometimes, in streams of consciousness. Everything depends on the mood that the story demands. I must hear the characters talk, if they talk in the story. I must know the sound of their voices. I must be able to believe, even for a fleeting moment, that I can actually touch them.
I elaborate on everyday details and on familiar sights that we often take for granted, and try to give my reader a new experience of the commonplace. Most importantly, I focus on images that are, as far as I can be conscious of it, related to the theme of the story.
As a beginning fictionist, I only try to write about thing I know, things I have with me. I do not attempt to be flashy or sophisticated. I believe simplicity is a powerful virtue, and at this stage of my writing career, I know I cannot afford to be anything but simple.
The inner linings of an empty pocket are turned inside out,revealing the holes, when one has run out of coins – I used to see writing personal essays in this manner. In those days, I still could not reconcile my compulsion to write on my journals to my excitement over assigned compositions in class. I felt that there was only a finite number of aspects I could explore about my life, that eventually I would run out of things to say.
The operative word being significant, however, I later realized that it is the essence of creative writing to prove life inexhaustible. I had not needed to feel inferior about the things I could say, after all. To a writer, reality is a spring, no matter how bleak or commonplace it may seem. Rilke says in Letters to a Young Poet:
“...for the creator, there is no poverty and no poor,insignificant place. And even if you found yourself in some prison, whose walls let in none of the world's sounds, wouldn't you still have your childhood, that jewel beyond all price, that treasure house of memories?”
From memories, indeed, i start. During one of my frequent musings – waiting in line for a Katipunan jeep inside UP Campus, for example, or looking out the window during a boring lecture, or lying awake at night, waiting for sleep to come – the events, the places, and the people of my life rush in, without my having to call them into being. Like fairies, they dance around my head,swirling fast, as if deciding who among themselves would, on that occasion, take hold of me.
With a particular episode pinned down, the Flash comes. It hits me,like a sudden leg cramp in a comfortable hike, and I walk around with the same lighted bulb, the same perked-up senses. Oh, I go back to what I have to do – I board the jeep, stand up when the bell rings and go to the next class, and finally descend into my dreams-- but the feeling stays. I suspend taking hold of a pen for once, for fear it may come out raw. Instead, I wait patiently for my mind to gradually flesh out the hologram with each detail, each face, word, and feeling.
Because the self is so involved, little deliberation is needed. But also because of that, it is easy to fall into the trap of literary babbling, the pen going along with each rush of memory. It is here, then, that I struggle to step back and begin to work on the form of the nonfiction narrative. First, I determine the point I want to make. Do I want to want to communicate the sadness, recreate the exhiliration, get the regret through? Through this decision, the mood of the essay becomes obvious. I organize it, deciding whether to narrate chronologically or make it revolve around a particular event or detail. Next, I pick out images which both stand out vividly from my clutter of memories and pose a potential literary significance to the text. Then, I begin to write.
In the act of writing, I try to approximate the excitement I felt when the idea first hit me. As I end the narrative, I aim for yet another hyped feeling: that, upon affixing the last punctuation mark, tells me that all the energy I could possibly generate has gone to the work. And I feel drained, spent – but never wasted.