By Barbara G. Francisco
I know I can write. In school days, my star shone brighter than the others when the gauge was writing compositions and winning essay contests. But ten years after college, I am nowhere near the status that famous writers enjoy.
More than a skill, writing is an art. It is unlike the medical or legal profession where you earn the title by going through years of study and practice. Writing is unlike a smooth highway but rather a road always unpaved. I have learned much, and yet I have learned very little.
A few written pieces does not make one a writer. Even now, I cringe at the implications of calling myself a writer. It is a big responsibility. I hold on to only one thing—the passion I have for writing. There are no published works and bestseller books I could speak of; what I have so far are lessons learned in pursuing this art.
I have in my hard disk the text document of fifteen (yes, 15!) different subjects all waiting to see completion. Three short stories have beginnings and endings but no connections in between. One biography awaits the interview notes and integration of a sociologist’s viewpoint. Still another needs research to substantiate its medical background. The rest are either in need of editing or further input. All need time.
If I have had the discipline to give it time, to write a line or two a day, perhaps, the oldest article which I started exactly six years ago would have been completed exactly six years ago.
You may tell me this is a case of entertaining the writer’s block and I shall plead guilty
“Thou art guilty of not giving your craft the attention it needs to grow.”
It does not exonerate you that you have a very busy schedule and that work gets in the way like when you’re really fired up to tackle a piece but then the phone rings and you have to speak to the person on the other line who happens to be your boss telling you to proceed to the conference room for an impromptu meeting. It does not exonerate you that you cannot add a few paragraphs to that take-home assignment because the dishes have to be done and the clothes need ironing. It does not exonerate you that the pages of your notes remain white because traffic takes up so much of your time and you have to hit the bed pronto to catch up on sleep or struggle getting up tomorrow again. It does not exonerate you that the piece stays untouched because, over the weekend, a friend comes over to visit or a TV special should not be missed
There will always be a thousand and one things that will demand your time and attention. If you let them.
All these, you see, are excuses. Bounce back. Return. Keep the goal in sight. Stay focused. Write!
Truth and Accuracy
Unless your genre is fiction, truth and accuracy matter most. You owe it to your readers to tell it as it is. Did your protagonist actually wear bell-bottom pants and elevator shoes or you just assumed he did because it was the dictates of fashion back then? Say “he must have” or “perhaps he did” if you have to, but do not claim words of certainty.
Even the subject of your piece could give the wrong information, or omit a vital detail. In one interview, my subject related the story of his cancer-stricken daughter. His spoken words implied that the daughter died in the hospital. Later on, I learned from the daughter-in-law that the daughter died at home, not in the hospital. What did I do? I deleted the dying part. There was no way I could let that pass.
Another example. I have a friend whose article about a movie star remains unfinished nearly a year after she interviewed the subject. All because a published article about the same movie star contradicts the data she was given. Nothing will make her finish the piece unless the contradiction is verified and settled.
You cannot possibly gain all information about your piece, especially if it is a broad subject, but be it a sense of duty to exhaust all available resources you can get. A well-researched piece is the foundation of a well-written piece.
Honing Your Craft
The road to writing is always unpaved. It is thus essential to keep alert against bumps and turns. Arm yourself with the necessary tools.
One book on writing tips strongly suggested owning important references. It did me proud to realize I have almost all of the tips’ list of essentials: a dictionary (mine is a 2-volume encyclopedia edition), a style and usage book, a book of quotations, a thesaurus, and of course, the Bible. The encyclopedia and the atlas are always available in public libraries. And yes, thank God for the Internet!
So, by acquiring these books over the years, I’m on the right track after all. If you’re serious about writing, five or ten years from now, you’d likewise find yourself proudly possessing these books.
Occasionally attending writing classes or workshops is another. This is more expensive but necessary. Had I not join a creative writing class two Christmases ago, I wouldn’t be as intent as I am now to finish this piece. From that short 4-day course, I gained much. I met other writing enthusiasts and we bonded together. There are no better people to understand your writing and understand the thoughts and emotions that grip your writing than writers themselves.
We do critique sessions, unmindful of the time. Once, I looked at my watch to find it was already twelve midnight and we were still in the heat of discussion about the right word to use in completing the sentence about the grave digger placing the marker to seal a tomb. Should it be placed or shoved or pushed?
Everyone gets the chance to attack everyone’s piece. “What’s your point? You sound ambivalent? Think of your readers. If you exclude this viewpoint, it will appear as self-serving? It’s just your ego getting in the way” (Ouch!). ” Hair has no plural word, right?” ” Yes, hairs is incorrect.” (Ouch again!) “I think this paragraph should precede the last sentence on page 4.”
Over cups of coffee or tea, bottles of mineral water and glasses of ice-cold coke with pizza or spaghetti or cookies or corn chips on the side, we let each other grow. “So, how was your interview?” ‘Your third draft is so much improved.” “Have you read Writing Down The Bones by Natalie Goldberg?” “Look, I just bought a copy of Philip Gerard’s Creative Non-Fiction.” “I’ll send you my comments through e-mail.”
One big warning though: if you decide to organize or join a critique group, be sure you can take criticism (and I mean criticism!), and still face up to the challenge. Our group has had its share of valedictory speeches (read “quitting”) not to mention the cancelled meetings and unmet deadlines and lazy bouts.
The road to writing is always unpaved and you can never say when the end is in sight. Even this piece can grow to as long as 15 pages or more. There is much to be said.
So, what happens to the 15 unfinished pieces in my hard disk? I’m working on them. Sometimes, time is necessary to gain more lessons, get extra insights, and grow in understanding. Then, when you get back to writing, your writing will have the necessary substance, the desired depth, the intended meaning.
Remember, the road to writing is always unpaved.
You can reach Barbra at fossil AT i-next.net.