Cindy’s Rules for Writers #4


Rule #4

Read. Everyday, whenever you have a bit of time, read. Not just anything, although that is good for a different reason, but the kind of writing that you want to do. If you want to be a journalist, read newspapers and magazines. If you want to be a novelist, read novels. If you want to be a poet, read poetry. Not just a little, but a lot. Get to know different styles of writing. Read works by great writers that you can model your writing after. Yes, I believe a lot of what you learn as a writer can happen by osmosis–in this case, just reading a lot of excellent writing–because you remember a bit of what you read (if your memory is better, you’ll remember a lot!), and what you remember will seep into your writing. But don’t just read excellent writing. Read the really bad writing too, and those in between. If you can distinguish the bad writing from the good writing, you’ll be able to apply that to your writing. You will know when your writing is good and when it is bad. You will learn how to avoid the bad writing and write better. I’m willing to bet that no good writer ever became good at writing without having reading a lot. What are you waiting for? Go get something to read!

365 Things to Look Forward to–Number 29: Writing


29. Writing

I started actively writing at a very young age.

In an effort to make us children “widen our horizons” and “broaden our knowledge” my mother made us read. We had several books in our “library” at home–the Grolier’s Encyclopedia set, the Book of Knowledge series, Through Golden Windows series, the Book of Science series, the Bookshelf for Boys and Girls, and more. As a voracious little bookworm, I gobbled up everything I could get my hands on, and when I was done with all the stories in the Bookshelf for Boys and Girls and Through Golden Windows, I dug into my mothers collection of novels–The Ugly American,  Du Maurier’s Rebecca, Somerset Maugham’s The Book Bagand my dad’s novels, starting with El Filibusterismo and Noli me Tangere. Not exactly reading for an 8 to 10 year old girl, but I took them all in. In between different books by Louisa May Alcott (Little Women, Little Men, Jo’s Boys, and Good Wives) I entertained myself with more of my dad’s collections from the Classics Club: Montaigne, Aristotle, Plato, Shakespeare’s Complete Works, Milton, Wordsworth, Desiderium Erasmus, Bacon, and other scholarly and philosophical literature. Most unusual fare for a young girl, but I thrived on it.

By the time I discovered the school library, I was bringing home book after book after book, most of the time, up to the maximum of 5 books per day, all of which I’d have returned in the course of a week, so that by the weekend, I’d have another 5 books to bring home. It was there that I discovered Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, the Dana Girls, the Bobbsey Twins, and all manner of novels. Because I had befriended the librarians and helped out as a member of the library club during breaks and after school, I could take home more books than other students. My school bag would be full of 10 books I’d check out every Friday and return sometime during the following week, as I finished them.

So you can see that I had a lot to write about. Why did I need to write about these, you ask? First, reading all those books was helpful in writing book reports. I had no trouble writing book reports at all. Second, to make sure my brothers were reading books, my mother provided the added incentive of money for every synopsis of everything we read. I was the happy camper, as I benefited most from this, since I could dash off summaries in a jiffy. And because I was a fast reader as well, I could have at least one summary a day, which earned me a pretty penny until my mother figured out that it wasn’t working on my two brothers. Shortly after that, she stopped giving the monetary incentives, as she had bigger problems to deal with besides my brothers’ lack of interest in reading and writing.

I never stopped writing.

At 10, I started writing poetry. I had kept a diary since I was 7 years old, and as the diary entries became less, the poetry I wrote increased until I had a full notebook. I could fill up a notebook of poetry every year, but the lure of other extra-curricular and co-curricular activities drew me away from just writing. Still, I joined the school paper every year from 5th grade until I graduated from senior high school; and I joined the school paper in undergraduate school, earning a significant stipend for every article I wrote, and eventually, a substantial amount in various editorial positions until I was the editor-in-chief. I was responsible for contributing to several newsletters for the program I was enrolled in for my undergraduate degree; I was a major writer for summer workshop newsletters; I was on the staff for a grad school newsletter; and I was on the staff for newsletters in various jobs I have held. I continued writing poetry, though I had expanded my repertoire to feature writing, column writing, reporting, and other journalistic efforts.

Once I was working, I participated in research projects; I edited literary publications of works by students; I wrote manuals and seminar materials for teachers; I even wrote a manual for teachers that was released nationwide–and I never saw a copy of that work, but have received feedback from teachers who had seen or had copies of that work! I continued to write poetry, though much reduced in volume and somewhat sporadic now. Most of my writing was scholarly rather than creative and literary. In several jobs, I wrote press articles, interviews, media releases, programme material, copy for programs, ads, posters, flyers, and brochures; speeches, reports, memos, and business letters. I also wrote technical manuals for operational procedures and learning programs; designed programs, curriculum, and books.

Finally, I had reached book writing. I wrote copy for a grammar book; a Communication Arts work text; a series of pre-school work texts; a manual of activities, projects, lessons, and games for English teachers.

I still hadn’t written what I had always wanted to write: a novel.

I wrote a play, instead–well, several plays–but completed one that I liked so much, and that several friends thought highly of, that I was persuaded to submit it to a national literary competition. I was extremely pleased and completely elated when I was informed that it had won the 3rd prize for a full-length play in English. In the most prestigious national literary competition in the Philippines!

Now, I am back to writing essays, mostly informal, as most blogs are.

I have plans to create more blogs to share more of my writing.

I am writing poetry again, although not as regularly as I want, but certainly more than I had written in the last 20 years.

I am trying very hard to establish myself in freelance writing, so that I can eventually spend more time earning from doing something I really enjoy doing and that comes very easily to me.

I am a creative person. I live by creating through words and pictures. I create pictures with words, but I find that sometimes, words cannot express what I want to show–and now I have opened myself to my inner artist–something I had denied because of sibling comparison and a sad lack of encouragement from the people who should have encouraged me from the start. Still, I also am part of the cause–I hated being compared to anyone else, especially my siblings, I hated having to compete for anything, and I hated any form of confrontation, which included having to explain myself. So if my siblings had chosen a certain path and showed themselves good at something, I avoided it. If that were not the case, I probably would have established myself in performing arts early on, as a playwright, an actress and a director–all of which I had a passion for. But my older brother was THE actor and singer. So I did lights, design, and directing. And I hid my voice. I was always afraid it would be criticized, even if I attended voice lessons and joined a couple of choirs, I never did make it to the glee club in school. There were always better singers, and I could never belt it out singing. But I could belt out directing. I was afraid to complete most of the sketches I made or attempt to develop them into anything more than light sketches. I felt that if I continued working on them, the images that initially appeared under my pencil would be ruined and not look real anymore. Besides, my younger brother was THE artist, who later specialized in Fine Arts, and was the Michaelangelo of my mother’s eye. I didn’t even want to delve into the sciences or math because my youngest brother, who had nothing in the creative and artistic department, was THE math wiz. Ironically, I also passed the same national scholarship exam that he did, but because I was in the 2nd 50 rather than in the top 50, I had to take either Math or Science AND Education–which peeved my brother, because, while he could take any science-related course he wanted to, the terms of his scholarship were subject to family income. I, on the other hand, had only two choices, and the government had decided that, because of that, I would get a full scholarship with the maximum benefits–book and clothing allowance and a full monthly stipend to boot! And that didn’t stop me from finding venues for writing. No matter what I did or where I went, writing would eventually find me. And that made me happy.

Now, I have this blog, which gives me the chance to write all I want and share as much of it as I want with anyone around the world who’s interested in reading what I have to say.

I know I will never run out of things to write because the world will never run out of topics.

And one day, I will see my work in print and in bookstores–my ultimate dream come true–and that will only make me want to write some more!