The Unwriting Life

On the midnight of January 16, I received an invite to the awarding ceremonies of the 4th National Competition on Storybook Writing.

Now, please don’t ask me to share the story that won; I don’t know. I sent three, and I’m still too stunned, too shy to ask which one won.

But, I wanted to win, so, so badly. I was, am feeling sad at work. I have been crying a lot as of late. Sometimes, I cry, staring at manuscripts my soul is dying to tear apart, but which I am not in the position to touch. Sometimes, I cry, inserting punctuations, adding and deleting articles here and there, in a fashion meant to be almost undetectable, as I know full well I will not be credited for them in the end. In the essay I was drafting, which I planned to send to this very site, I wrote, “After all, who am I? I have never been published. I have never even finished a story in ten years. And the stories I wrote – the three of them – lost.” So I prayed hard. And I waited, quite impatiently, until before I slept that night, because the Bureau of Learning Resources was to send the last of their invites that night. I slept with all hope gone; I have accepted that none of my three stories have won, that I was a loser, three times at a stone’s throw. But my daughter woke me up at eleven, crying out, “Mama, Mama!” Irritated, I grabbed my phone and saw this and woke my husband up.

He thought I won the lottery.

I would’ve preferred that as well. But winning my first contest is good, too.

***

I grew up writing a lot; I knew nothing else, in fact. In grade school, I read every book my aunt borrowed from the library, and I spent my days concocting storylines for my stuffed friends and paper dolls. In high school, I flunked my sciences and maths and pretended to have a medical condition that prevented me from participating in sports, but I loved the literature part of English and Filipino. I ended up in library science because I thought, wrongly, I would get to read lots of books, and in college, my only good grades were in classes that required lots of reflection papers.

I used to take offense each time our benefactor at the library said people shouldn’t be reading “trashy” books, as I am a firm believer in that a book that gets a person to read is always a good book. You see, I have only two dreams in life: to write books for Precious Hearts Romances and to write a teleserye for a network that lost its franchise.

But I couldn’t finish a story.

The last time I finished stories was near the end of college until before I took the boards. I was still full of sunshine back then, and I was still delusional about the world, and I was still exposed to fanfictions that starred Japanese idols, and I was still untouched by the curse of regurgitating memoranda and project proposals through my fingers. Yes, those stories were problematic – filled with plots that would not stand the test of time and characters that died horrible deaths. But at least, they were finished.

As years passed, I had abandoned writing – because living consumes, and writing requires one’s full commitment, days and nights of brutal labor, subsisting on caffeine, a melodramatic Jim Steinman song on rotation in the background. Writing is a jealous god, and I am not good at juggling many things at once. Like a horse, I need blinders to stay in a path, or else I turn into a butterfly. As an ordinary human being, I chose the easier path.

So now, the Hemingway App rates my writing at fifth grade; sometimes, fourth. The dream of being an author disappeared, and I settled on becoming an editor. The dream of writing pocketbooks and scripts for primetime TV has been packed away under printouts of first, second, third, and nth drafts of other people’s works. I guess it happens when one stops writing.

But if I was no longer going to be a writer, I was determined to be one of the best editors. So I started filling our new tiny house with writing books – the illustrated edition of Strunk and White, Zinsser’s On Writing Well, Gwynne’s Grammar, Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life. I also started reading on r/writing on a daily basis, and here’s where I learned about the hero’s journey, which the sub despises, but which helped me finish the first stories I’ve written in over a decade.

And by luck, one of them won.

Luck, yes, because winning cannot be guaranteed by hard work or by spending thirty four years around books or prayers. After all, the other competitors worked just as tough and read just as much and studied just as long and prayed just as hard, too, and God plays no favorites. In the end, everything is in the hands of judges, who, that year, happen to be on the same wavelength as you. Besides, a writer cannot compel readers to consider her sleepless nights and papercuts. So, luck, and I got lucky.

Upon this, will I return to the writing life? I don’t know. It’s not a matter of will, actually. It’s a matter of can.

Between paying the bills and taking care of a toddler, can I?


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