Loving and Recommitting to the Craft of Writing

Back in college, I tried to master playing the acoustic guitar. I also wanted to become a published writer. On any given week, I was practicing the guitar for about 2 hours, 4-5 times a week. I also kept a journal and wrote for my college’s paper. At some point, a friend of mine recruited me to write for a magazine for high school students.

I found myself too busy with guitar and writing, on top of all my academic requirements. So I decided to focus on writing and cut back on the time I spent playing the guitar. (Did I mention that I only borrowed guitars because I couldn’t afford to buy one?)

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My Writing Process

I generally write about my own experiences, things that capture my interests, some solution to my personal problems, and anything that I get curious about. Since my area of work is related to young people, I have written a lot about young people and the issue they face in the past few years.

Sometimes, though, I confess that I also wait for the proverbial muse to come to me and inspire me to write. But if I waited for the muse to come every time I wrote, then I would have written only a couple of hundred words. And I would spend a lot of my time waiting and staring into space.

One of the best advice I heard about writing is “Get your butt on a chair, open your computer, and just start writing!”

It’s not romantic or profound, or earth-shaking. In fact, it is very practical and downright basic.

If you are a writer; if you want to be a writer, then you better start writing!

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Tools and Systems I Use for Writing

When I was younger, I thought of writers as near-mythical figures who would stare out into space, get inspiration, then start typing out awesome words, sentences, and paragraphs while huddled on their typewriters.

And when I was in College, I thought that writers got to sit at a café looking intently focused, concentrating in front of their palm top devices or laptops while drinking expensive coffee, and looking like sophisticated city dwellers.

I certainly paid my share of expensive coffee, though, I’m not sure if I fit the sophisticated city dweller image. Now that I have published three books (ahem!), I probably have some right to call myself a writer. So if you’re wondering what writers look like, look at my Facebook photos. We are normal looking, though whether we are actually normal people may be debatable.

The main criterion for being called a writer is that you write–a sentence at a time, a paragraph at a time, and then a book if you can manage it. But if you’re wondering about tools, systems, and processes that writers follow, here’s mine. I can’t really speak for other writers, so I hope that this could help you get started.

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Why I Write in My Native Tongue: Ilokano

It was almost an accident. I went back to my home province after college graduation. Then I met a friend of mine. He is older than I and he used to be a pastor. But he encouraged me to attend a meeting of writers in our province. I tagged along and attended a couple of meetings.

I didn’t really expect that anything would come out of it. They had self-published books containing poetry and short stories in our native tongue–Ilokano.

I could read my Ilokano Bible well enough and speak the language well enough but I did not have the skills needed to craft beautiful sentences in Ilokano. My education was thoroughly national–with Tagalog and English really dominating my communication skills.

Back in College, I took several English classes as my cognates. I took 3 units of Introductory Poetry and 3 more units of Business English. These weren’t really enough to bring my English writing skills through the roof. But I compensated by reading a lot, writing a bit, and joining our college newsletter as a contributor.

I have written some poetry that may or may not have shown some promise. At least it was included in the Literary Folio of our college.

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How I Published 3 Books in 3 Years

It took me two (2) years to finish the draft of my first book. I started writing it in early 2012 and finished the final draft in late 2013. By that time, it was ready for publication. It was edited by my good friend Butch, the same guy who introduced me to all the wonders of Lord of the Rings and helped me dive deeper into literature and writing.

Earlie, another good friend of mine, was working then as the publishing coordinator of a small startup publisher connected to our church. I filled out the book proposal form. It was approved and went to the press towards the end of 2013. By early 2014, it was out. Since my publisher was a startup, it didn’t have a good distribution network yet. So selling the book became a challenge.

Nonetheless, I learned so much from the process. More than that, it gave me confidence in my ability to write and to assemble my material into a publishable format. Although I have published a book, I continued to write and looked for ways to expand the materials that could eventually be used for a book.

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My beginnings in writing and publishing

I have published 3 books in the Philippines since 2013. It was a long journey, but totally worth it. Here are a few reflections on the craft and journey of writing and publishing.

I remember loving books even as a young boy. My parents are ordained pastors, which meant that if there were church events and conferences, they tagged me along. Because those events meant lots and lots of meetings, my father usually let me buy a book or two from the book display outside the church where the conference was being held.

While other pastors’ kids my age would be chasing each other and playing in the playground and yard of the church, I would find a nice place to sit and read the book that I recently bought. I thought nothing of it then, but looking back, I must have looked like a nerd with a book sitting in a corner while the other kids played.

During second grade, our teacher once let us organize three sacks full of books. We opened one sack after another and discovered a hundred or so books from the USA. I didn’t understand a lot of the social context of the books, then, because they talk about life in the USA. But I distinctly remember looking at the black-and-white illustration and text of those books, the musty smell of old books, and the worlds and meanings that those words represented.

It felt like heaven for a second grader.

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Begin [Blogging] Again… and Try Harder

Those wooden blocks by Melissa and Doug are awesome at teaching motor skills, creativity and persistence to a little one. My wife recently bought it for our 4-year old son Coco.

One night, Coco and I were building a tower made out of Jenga blocks and colorful wooden blocks. After helping him build towers for a few times, I asked him to build a tower by himself.

He was doing so well until a small mistake sent everything tumbling down. It must have been because of unstable placement of the blocks at the bottom layer, or his hands might have knocked it over.

He was so frustrated that he threw some blocks to the floor. He was on the verge of crying!
“But it’s too difficult!” he cried.

So I let him vent his frustration while trying to suppress my smile. Then I said “if you do something and it doesn’t work out at first, what do we do?”

He answered “Try harder.”

That’s what I’ve been telling him whenever he does something that doesn’t work out at first. And it looks like I need to make that my mantra as well.

I decided to begin blogging again…. And try harder.

My Blogging History

Since 2008, I started some personal blogs here and there. But it wasn’t until 2013 when I launched a blog for young professionals in the Philippines. Not long after that, I also launched a podcast as part of the services offered by the blog.

It was fun! I got to write about my journey and growth as a young professional in the Philippines–from the time I graduated from College, to my first jobs until I found the faith-based, non-profit organization that I still work at today.

The podcast wasn’t all about me, either. I interviewed several experts on career development as well as young professionals who are getting ahead in their careers. The conversations gave me immense inspiration and encouragement! On top of that, I get to share it with other Filipino young professionals!

But alas, I had to shut it down. My own tower of wooden blocks came tumbling down.

Thankfully, I shut it down because I pursued another career path that offered a big opportunity for growth. By the middle of 2015, I moved with my family to the United States to take on a new role with our organization.

Begin Again…

This statement took on so many different meanings for me in the past 2 years. I arrived in Nashville, TN on June 2015 and my wife and son followed two months later.

I didn’t expect how many things I had to unlearn and relearn as we tried to live in a new country. Heck, I didn’t even know how to put gas into my car! I had to apply for financing to buy a car. To do that, I had to have good credit, which was totally nonexistent. I needed a bank account, a credit card, and a million other things!

I’d been drowning in the overwhelming process of adjusting to life in a foreign country. I know it’s cliché, but the past 2 years can be appropriately titled as my “Begin Again” chapter. Oh the things we take for granted!

It was hard and often frustrating. And like my son, there were too many times that I wanted to throw wooden blocks at life.

Try Harder

My family and I are at a better right now. Our son is 4 and going to Pre-K after the summer. Our needs are being met, and we have adjusted pretty well to our new life in the United States.

So I take a deep breath and decide that it is time for me to begin blogging again and try harder! Heck, I’m going to do it and be relentless about it until I get the fame and money! Bwahahah.

Well, maybe not. I don’t really intend to monetize my blog (at least not right now).

But Why Blog Again?

I decided to begin blogging again. I may need to take the mantra I gave to my son. I definitely need to try harder to blog successfully. But why bother writing articles and blogging my heart out? I know that writing day after day could be unrewarding and will take a lot of my time.

Back when I was still blogging, I realized the following benefits of blogging:

  • Creative expression. I get to write and explore my creativity. I’ve always been drawn to writing even when I was in High School. I don’t harbor any illusion about the quality of my writing.

I am no Hemingway and it will not give me a Nobel prize. But there is something cathartic and satisfying about expressing your creativity. Through blogging, I can even improve my writing and nurture the discipline I need for this art.

  • Learn about a topic. I’m a big reader! In the past 2 years, I read more than 50 books per year. This year, I dialed it down and aimed to read only 12 books. I am also a big learner and I usually document the things I am learning about.

Blogging could be a cool way to post my reflections and how I am learning new things. That could be helpful to people who may also be interested in learning about those things.

  • Connecting with an online community. This is something I probably failed to do in my blogging efforts in the past. As someone who recently started living in the USA, it would be great to find a community that shares my interests and passions.

Unlearning, Relearning

There’s much to unlearn because the blogging world I was familiar with has definitely changed over the past 2 years. I’m not expecting blogging to work in the same way that it did in the past 3-5 years.

I need to relearn so many things and chief among them good writing. To make it happen, I also need a good routine and a system that will enable me to do it, on top of the other commitments that I can’t do without.

I will begin again and try harder…. Push through, and as I learn the craft of writing and blogging, I may just learn to do it smarter!