Tag Archives: writing

Week 43: (Co-)Write a Textbook

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The scariest book I’ve ever read is Stephen King’s The Shining. It took me about three months to read it the first time because I kept having to stop whenever the story got too scary for me to sit still. I’ve reread The Shining maybe five times since, and each time, it never failed to terrify me. Oh, delicious fear.

Being a Stephen King fan, I thought I was well-versed in the horror department. Until I became a writer.

It is a different kind of terror that runs down your spine when you face a blank screen, a blinking cursor, a looming deadline, and realize that you have no idea what to write. Or you discover that what sounded brilliant inside your head turns out to be the stupidest sentence on earth once you type it.

When that happens–and it happens more often than not, I assure you–everything gets scarier than any Stephen King novel.

This is why it mystifies me over and over again every time I accept a writing assignment. Could I be a closet masochist? I know that fear of The Blank Screen lurks in the deepest part of my brain. But I nevertheless consistently insist on harping, “Bring it on!” whenever someone calls me with a writing project. Why do I do that?

And this time, to magnify the experience a hundred percent, I did not accept just any writing assigment. I agreed to write, with a team of two other writers, a textbook for high school students. In other words, I made a commitment that henceforth (until my deadline), all the words that will fly from my fingers will be intelligent.

I’m currently deep into the writing process. The outline’s done, the research is ongoing. I am now in the how-can-I-call-myself-a-writer-it-is-a-lie part of my writing. It involves staring at the computer and blubbering at the awful writing I’ve so far done. (This is also the time when I hypocritically refuse to Walk the Talk–I secretly eat chips while writing, and then hide the foil packaging deep in my desk drawer so The One With The Toilet Humor and The Manipulator won’t discover my indiscretion.)

This is a temporary phase of dementia that always passes. Once I start editing, I somehow drop all the fear and assume the personality of a hoity toity high school English teacher who loves her commas.

And then I start it all over again on another project.

A few months ago, I visited Puerto Princesa, Palawan with the Green Initiative and got to climb the famous Ugong Rock. To get down, we had to ride a zipline the length of a football field, about 75 feet from the ground. It terrified me, but the urge to do it was impossible to ignore. So I got harnessed up and faced my fear.

Maybe writing does the same thing; that’s why I keep doing it. It hits me with this persistent fear. But after quaking in my shoes for a bit, I step forward and write the first word, and the word after that. It is my way of living despite fear until I am no longer afraid.

Week 38: Work from a cubicle

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Bet you thought I’d gone and joined the circus. While that thought is interesting and will merit an hour of reflection, let me quell the rumors and say, I’m still here.

That done, let me get on with Week 38. I’m writing this on an antiseptic white desk. I’m facing a glass partition on which hangs a small whiteboard that’s also clean. Beside my laptop is a desk phone with my name digitally emblazoned on the screen. Someone at another desk in another country did some things on his laptop and assigned the phone to me, only to me. My desk is eerily neat. To make it seem more like myself, I’ve scattered some sheets of paper beside my laptop. I snatched the paper from the photocopy machine to write my notes on, since I keep forgetting to bring my notebook from home. There’s a coffee mug beside my phone, filled with cold water because too much (free) coffee makes me palpitate. When I leave this disheveled cubicle this afternoon, it will magically adjust itself overnight and, come tomorrow morning, will be back to its squeaky clean state.

I will argue with you that what I did isn’t selling out, trading in bohemian serendipity for closed shoes and a salary. It’s actually something I’ve always wanted to go back to: working and earning. But this is worlds different from my other jobs.

While finishing my thesis, I worked at an art gallery. It was the first time that I lived away from home and I loved my freedom. In the mornings, I’d dress in my boots and gypsy skirts and walk on the cobbled streets to work. During the day, I would be surrounded by amazing paintings and prints, sculptures and sketches. At night, I’d either go out or stay in and devour a whole pack of dinner rolls and soup. Sometimes after work, my neighbors and I would drive two hours to the beach, eat and be silly, then go back home. It was priceless.

After receiving my degree, I had to look for another job. The one I eventually found in publishing gave me great friends, a precious network, and an iron-clad stomach. But from the outside, it didn’t look as appealing. The office sat in an old warehouse; my friends and I almost didn’t give in our applications because from the parking lot, the building looked like an insane asylum.

But then we did go in and do our interviews; and I got the job.

My desk in that office was an old wooden one painted a sick yellow shade. Because I was the newest member of the staff, my desk faced the “pantry,” which consisted of a tiled counter, a sink, a faucet, and a trash bin. When our office was transformed from an old warehouse, management forgot to send a memo to the resident cockroaches telling them to move out. So my first seatmates in that office were roaches.

We could wear anything, work any number of hours as long as we got the job done, and we could turn off the lights when we were working overtime and scare the senses out of each other. I loved it.

I stayed for about three years. When I finally mastered the art of taping a model’s breasts to make them appear bigger on camera (it was a men’s magazine, after all), I said I learned all I could from that job and went freelance. And from then until a week ago, I worked as a freelance writer and editor.

Until a week ago, my feet had become accustomed to wearing flipflops for entire days – or weeks. I’d learned how to cook dinner TV-chef style: explaining every step I did for my enthralled audience made up of The Tactless Child and The One Who Spits. I’d gotten used to the laughable treatment that writers have to take from many people. (I tell you, the arts scene in this part of the world will never fully take off if talent is consistently taken for granted by people who can afford to hire it. But that one’s for another post.)

Today, for the three days a week that I have to be at work (yes, just three, because freelance life is difficult to let go), I have to wear sensible shoes, ride an elevator to my office, struggle with “working mom’s guilt,” and remember names other than that of The Hub, The Tactless Child, and The One Who Spits. But I get to write almost every day now, I get to truly treat The Hub to dinner sometimes, and the kids get a break from me every once in a while. So it’s all good.