BY ANNA OPOSA
Dear young writer,
When I say “young,” it can mean either in age or in career. I’m both. I’m 23 years old, and I just graduated from the University of the Philippines with a degree in English Studies.
I am writing this letter to you because I am a writer. Or at least, that’s what people call me. I started writing stories when I was about six years old. Inspired by Sweet Valley Kids, I created a world with twins named Lea and Lou, and my dad would type my handwritten notes and print them out so I could feel like I was getting published.
Ten years later, I started getting published in magazines. Then newspapers. Then a couple of books and literary journals.
Though I think I’m far from being a Writer (yes, with a capital W), I do write quite a lot. As a freelance writer and social media practitioner, I write for a living.
Here are ten things I’ve learned along the way:
1. Read. A lot. I don’t just mean crossing off the titles on the 100 Books You Should Read Before You Die list, but read anything and everything: graffiti scrawled on the bathroom door, quotes painted at the back of jeepneys and trucks, and statement t-shirts. It’s fascinating how words and punctuation marks behave in different contexts. You’ll also discover nuances and insights to a culture when you have a heightened awareness for the way thoughts and sentences are constructed.
Also, you become the writer you read. You wanna become a copywriter? Pay more attention to ads, brochures, and billboards. You wanna be a feature writer? Fill your bookshelves with nonfiction anthologies and subscribe to your favorite magazine.
2. Have a love affair with language, fonts, words, and punctuation marks. As a writer, these are your most powerful tools. Keep a notebook with your favorite words and phrases. Know the difference between serif and sans serif. Find out what an Oxford comma is.
While you’re at it, please look up what the most common grammatical mistakes are. You’ll be surprised at how many you’ve been using. It’s not, “I’m craving for…” but “I have a craving for…” or “I’m craving a (fill in the blank).” You were not born on December, but in. Stop yourself from saying “literally” after every sentence, too. When you say your best friend literally has your back, that means you’re holding her spine.
This love affair with language doesn’t necessarily mean using big words all the time. Sometimes, young writers use hifalutin words to sound impressive, but they end up sounding silly instead. Don’t pull out the thesaurus every chance you get. The purpose of writing is to communicate.
3. Embrace criticism. Toughen up, for there will be a lot of this coming your way. It’s inescapable. When I took my first writing workshop, my piece, which my 16-year-old self thought was brilliant, was shown in class as an example of how not to write. In first year college, my first fiction piece was returned with angry red marks and a short note: “Ew. You have no sense of plot.” In my last year, my professor looked at a press release I wrote and said, “To say that your newswriting sucks is an understatement.”
Your professors, editors, and mentors give criticism because they want you to improve. Be more worried when they don’t say anything. What matters is what you do with this criticism. Cry if you have to, but make sure you walk back to your computer and start rewriting.
4. Experiment with different methods and processes to let your creativity flow. There’s no right way to write, only a right way for you. Some can work in public areas like cafés, while others prefer the privacy of their own homes. A change of scenery can do wonders for your work (may be negative or positive). If you can write with music, create different playlists, because music can and will influence your mood (again, may be negative or positive). My current one has Adele, Up Dharma Down, and Beyonce. When you don’t like the way your paragraphs flow, rearrange the sequence. Start with the ending or middle. Delete an entire paragraph.
5. Getting published is a combination of luck and abnormal persistence. There are times when an editor will stumble upon your work and ask if you are interested to write for his/her publication. But often, you will need to do you share of “selling” yourself. Build your résumé and select a few writing samples to send to different publications. Always tailor your résumé and writing samples to the job you are applying for.
6. Read some more.
7. SAVE YOUR WORK. Technology is both a boon and bane. Nothing hurts more than working on an article for hours only to have an unexpected virus or blackout ravage your work. Buy an external hard drive, carry USB flash drives in your bag or with your keys, and make a separate email address just dedicated to your work so you can access it wherever you are.
8. Protect your name. To borrow one of the greatest lessons I learned from one of this country’s greatest writers, Dr. Butch Dalisay: “Whether you’re getting paid 5,000 or 500,000, you have to treat each project with the same respect and seriousness. It carries your name, after all.”
9. Be professional. There is a misconception that being a professional writer simply means getting paid to write. Hard work always trumps talent. You may move people with your words, but if you don’t show up on time for events and interviews, or you don’t meet deadlines, there’s a huge chance that you won’t be writing for that publication again.
10. Have an insatiable appetite for learning. Don’t fall into a read-write-rinse-repeat cycle. Go out, talk to people, take a course on wine or coffee, or memorize at least 10 endemic Philippine species. Good writers know a little something about everything. Be a jack of all trades, and aspire to be a master of all, too.
And most of all, write. Writing is a skill that can continue to approve and develop.
Anna Oposa was a participant at the Walk Write This Way 1.0 in June 2010. That’s where Writer’s Block Philippines first discovered her intense drive to save the Philippine seas (it’s a trait that probably runs in the genes), her insatiable wanderlust, and her instinctive ability to find a good story to write about in almost everything. Anna’s work has been published in asianTraveler, Illustrado, and OfficiallyPhilippines.com, among others.
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