So, You Want To Become A Writer?


LIFE’S LESSONS

HENRYLITO D. TACIO

Mr. Tacio, who hails from Davao, is a correspondent of the Asian edition of Reader’s Digest. He is the first and only Filipino journalist to have been elevated to the Hall of Fame in science reporting by the Philippine Press Institute. In 1999, the Rotary Club of Manila bestowed him the Journalist of the Year award. He is also East Asia’s contributing editor of the People & the Planet based in London.

For comments, henrytacio@gmail.com


“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” — Ernest Hemingway

To some people, writing is easy. But to those who write, writing is hard. As Helen F. Brassel, an American journalist who has written articles on food, health and diet, puts it: “A writer takes a sentence, cuts it within an inch of its life, adds a clause, nicks in a few adjectives and then – when it can hardly stand up – hacks away at it again. It’s hard work, and don’t let anyone tell you it’s not.”

Now, you’re reading. It takes not just talent but also skills when it comes to writing. “To be considered a writer, you must write,” pointed out Christine Mersch, executive editor of “Writing Basics.” “You don’t need to make a living from your writing, or even have publication credits to your name. You just need to have that innate desire to write.”

I didn’t become a writer overnight. I had my own struggles, fear, and rejection slips. I had to experience what other seasoned writers before me. To become a writer, there are two things you need to do: read and write.

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things: read a lot and write a lot,” said Stephen King, an American author of horror, supernatural fiction, suspense, science fiction, and fantasy. His books have sold more than 350 million copies. “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time to write. Simple as that.”

On reading, William Faulkner suggested: “Read, read, read. Read everything – trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it.

On writing, he commented: “(If what you have written) is good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.” Faulkner, if you care to known is a Nobel Prize laureate from Oxford, Mississippi and wrote novels, short stories, a play, poetry, essays, and screenplays.

Annie Proulx said it well though, as she is not only a fiction writer but a journalist too. “You should write because you love the shape of stories and sentences and the creation of different words on a page. Writing comes from reading, and reading is the finest teacher of how to write.”

Reading and writing are the first requisites of becoming a writer. Reading is easy but you have to understand what you are reading. To know if you understand what you read, try to paraphrase it and write some paragraphs in your own words.

The hard part is writing. First of all, you need to have a lot of words. They are your tools; without them, you cannot write at all. Listen to the explanation of Patrick Rothfuss, author of “The Name of the Wind”: “Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can bring tears from the hardest hearts.”

Of course, you need to know your grammar well. “No matter how intricately you’ve plotted your story, how many intriguing facts you’ve collected or how convincingly you’ve drawn your characters, all your hard work will be fruitless if your story or feature is riddled with usage errors and faulty punctuation,” explained Stephenie Steele, former director of the US-based Writer’s Digest School.

If speakers have stage fright, writers have the so-called page fright. It happens to everyone, whether tyro or pro. To make sure page fright doesn’t get you down, you must first identify what exactly is stopping you from writing. Then, work past it.

But one thing that bog down would be writers is the topic to write. Well, there’s nothing new under the heat of the sun, the Bible tells us. Topics are all over the place and all you have to do is write them in a new and different perspective.

To start with, write seasonal topics like Christmas, Valentine’s Day, weddings, graduations, and the like. Don’t attempt to write controversial issues like same sex marriage, divorce, suicide, and extra judicial killings. Let the “experts” write them.

So, You Want To Become A Writer 2

Now, you have written your first feature, article or story. You have submitted it and it’s being turned down. Don’t worry; you are in a good company. I had my share of rejection slips before. Even famous authors have been rejected before.

Take the case of John Steinbeck. After submitting it to the Penguin Books, he received this rejection letter from the publisher: “We have decided not to publish your novel, the seminal American masterwork of the Great Depression, THE GRAPES OF WRATH. I’m afraid that this extremely famous and enormously successful book is just not what we’re looking for right now. Regardless, we are confident you will be able to find some other publishing house that would be willing to print your highly influential and award-winning opus. Unfortunately, it’s just not this one.”

Random House also rejected the famous trilogy of J.R.R. Tolkien. Samuel J. Russell wrote to the author: “The majority of your Lord Of The Rings manuscript is exquisitely realized. However, the story’s impact is somewhat undermined by the fact that the entire is in quotes that are ultimately attributed to ‘Some old dumbass in a porta-potty somewhere’ on the very last page. Sadly, it’s a no for us.”

To become a writer, you must possess the three P’s: passion, patience and perseverance. I possess all three but the greatest of them all is perseverance. Award-winning author said it best: “You may encounter may defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”

But, how will you know whether you are really a writer? Again, here Ms. Brassel: “You’re a writer when you are impatient to get back to work. You’re a writer when, in the company of others, you’re staring off into space, knee-deep in words and sentences, fitting them into the literary puzzle of your emerging piece of work. You’re a writer when, given a choice of other occupations, you find you have no choice.”

If given a choice, you have three options, according to Virginia Woolf (an English writer who is considered one of the foremost modernists of the twentieth century and a pioneer in the use of stream of consciousness as a narrative device): “Writing is like sex. First, you do it for love, then you do it for your friends, and then you do it for money.”

But on second thought, best-selling author King has this advice, too: “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.”

March 2018 Health and Lifestyle

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