Friday, November 02, 2007

A Visit to Ateneo High School (Part 2)

The second talk I went to, held about an hour later, was that of Palanca winner and Philippine Star columnist Exie Abola's.

Exie talked to his class about the life of a writer in the Philippines, its pitfalls, its issues, its rewards. Many of the students' questions for him were quite intriguing. Some examples:

"Have you ever told anyone that they just couldn't write?" (Answer: "Yes. Went through one semester with this one student and his work just wasn't...ah well. Come the second sem there was little improvement, and I had to say it: you can't write. Better to let it happen early and let that student hate me while there's time for him to change course, than let him have a career and then let his boss/editor/publisher tell him in the future when more of his years get wasted").

"Can you make money writing in the Philippines?" (Answer: "No. Not in the way you're thinking. Maybe in the west you could, especially if you're very lucky and become a bestselling author. But given the Philippine situation...you'll need a day-job, that's for sure.")

"What about inspiration?" (Answer: "Unreliable and overrated. How often does that strike? And how long does it last? When it's there, grab it, but don't use the lack of it as an excuse to not get the words down. Writing is work. I treat it like work. Like actual labor. Getting the words out is hard work. That's the proper way for anyone to treat writing.")

"When did you know you were a writer?" (Answer: "Back when I was your age, I'd submit my work to my English teacher, who would choose the works she likes to read to the class. I'd rarely get chosen, but whenever she read stuff out I'd tell myself, "I could do as well as these guys. Maybe better. I know I can. In fact, I think after hearing their work read out, I think I did.")

"How do you know if what you've written is good?" (Answer: "I value my friends who are honest and tell me exactly what they think of what I've written. If you have a friend who doesn't baby you, who tells you honestly if he or she thinks its crap and isn't afraid to say it to your face, you're lucky. Value that person forever.")

Exie laid out the realities of being a writer in this country quite clearly, and from what I could see in the faces of the students, they heard every word. But I could see in those who asked questions that despite these difficulties, they look ready to put themselves into writing no matter what professions they end up taking.

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