By Henrylito D. Tacio
“Work every day. No matter what has happened the day or night before, get up and bite on the nail.” That statement comes from the pen of one of America’s most celebrated authors, Ernest Hemingway.
Hemingway is one of my favorite authors. Although I never read his books when I was growing up, I came to “know” him only after I saw the film adaptation of his book, The Old Man and the Sea. Forget the fact that he committed suicide at the height of his career, but his timely tips about writing are still being quoted just like his novels are still being read all over the world.
A person who does not work every day is dead. You have to do something in order for you to live – even breathing and eating are sort of works. And thinking and writing, too. That’s why I write every day.
Writing is just like a hobby to me. And to think of, it’s part of my job. Imagine this: doing your hobby every day and still being paid for doing so. What a privilege, indeed. I am sure there are many people who are working but don’t love what they are doing. Too bad!
Anyone who knows how to write can be called a writer. But the difference between those who just write for the sake of writing and those who write for living is writing well. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said, “The talent of success is nothing more than doing what you can do well and doing well whatever you do.”
In writing well, you have to consider your grammar (you must know when to use “is” and “are,” the difference between “me” and “mine,” etc.), your vocabulary (appease, soothe, mollify, placate, and pacify all mean the same thing), and the ideas you expound. In the beginning was the word, the Bible states, and words are your primary tools in writing and you must have lots of them. “What’s this business of being a writer?” film producer Irving Thalberg once asked. “It’s just putting one word after another.”
But you have to put those words in a perfect manner so that they could be understood by anyone who reads them. “A perfectly healthy sentence, it is true, is extremely rare,” Henry David Thoreau said. “For the most part we miss the hue and fragrance of the thought; as if we could be satisfied with the dews of the morning or evening without their colors, or the heavens without their azure.”
I started writing well when I was in high school. My English teacher observed that those I wrote for our formal themes were different from those written by my classmates. “You have a style of your own,” she told me. She impelled me to write more — on various subject matters.
When I watched Finding Forrester a couple of years back, I was reminded of what I went through when I was just starting my career. The words of Sean Connery’s character came into my mind: “Write your first draft with your heart. Re-write with your head.” Sounds a good advice, indeed.
But it was not until I was in college that I started writing for magazines and newspapers – and was paid. My very first national article was published in a weekly magazine. It was a short piece on what children say about doctors.
From that, I started writing for other publications as a freelancer. At first, I wrote lifestyle features. When I joined a non-government organization as its staff writer, I started writing agricultural stories. But it was not after attending a workshop convened by Philippine Press Institute that I found my niche: science reporting.
It was also at that time that I started writing for Ang Peryodiko Dabaw (which later became Sun.Star Davao). Thanks to editor Antonio Ajero, I was able to contributes science articles for the Manila-based Press Foundation of Asia, with Paul Icamina and Erlinda Bolido as my science editors. (Later on, I met Juan Mercado, who also became my mentor.)
Before I knew it, I was winning one journalism award after another. In 1999, the Philippine Press Institute elevated me the hall of fame in science reporting, the first and only Filipino journalist to accomplish the feat. Also in that year, the Rotary Club of Manila had chosen me as its recipient of Journalist of the Year. Today, I write for the Asian edition of Reader’s Digest and other national and internal publications.
Through these years, what have I learned so far as a writer? First and foremost, don’t wait for inspiration to write. Just write whatever comes into your mind – as long as you know what you are writing. Raymond Chandler suggests, “The faster I write the better my output. If I’m going slower, I’m in trouble. It means I’m pushing the words instead of being pulled by them.”
Don’t forget to read. When I go to other countries, I usually buy books, magazines and other publications. “Read, read, read,” urges William Faulkner. “Read everything – trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.”
There is nothing new under the heat of the sun, the Ecclesiastes writer said. Everything is already written. All you have to do is make the subject fresh and novel. “If you steal from one author, it’s plagiarism; if you steal from many, its research,” observed Wilson Mizner. Award-winning author James Michener echoed the same sentiment when he said, “I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.”
Now, here are some great rules of writing from William Safire. “Do not put statements in the negative form. And don’t start sentences with a conjunction. If you reread your work, you will find on rereading that a great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing. Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do. Unqualified superlatives are the worst of all. De-accession euphemisms. If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is. Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky. Last, but not least, avoid clichés like the plague.”
Now, why I like to write? Allow me to use the words of Edward Robert Bulwer-Lytton, Richeliue, II: “The pen is mightier than the sword.”
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