Invitations to go beyond the page and appear on TV or do public speaking engagements are always a strange thing for me. Especially for TV, where invitations are always premised on something that I wrote in my columns or on the blog, and I wonder what it is they’d have me say in front of the camera that I haven’t already written. Between the risk of redundancy and growing up with parents who eschew self-promotion, the answer to these appearances has always been a quick no.
The invitations to speak to students though are harder to say no to. The Nanay always asks when she sees me cramming yet another new presentation for a talk: why did you say yes? And always my answer is, well, these are students. The teacher in me would like to believe that the more voices they hear, the more contradicting opinions they are presented with, the better learning they will have.
Writing YOUR views
It was particularly special to speak to students at University of Santo Tomas’ (UST’s) Tomasino Web’s Empowerment: Exploring Beyond the Box because the invite asked that I talk about writing.
In the beginning the task was to speak about feature writing and choosing topics to write about. But my quick answer to that is always: write about what is here, what is now, in nation, which demands that we take interest in our own culture, without looking down on it and drawing false comparisons with elsewhere.
It just seemed too easy, but also it’s something that’s better discussed within a workshop setting, where students might go through workshop activities that allow them to find subjects worth writing about.
So it became about writing opinion, as premised on the fact that across all the essays that I write—reviews, feature articles, interviews, in the blog or in print —what exists is a specific voice. At the heart of these essays is opinion, no matter how unpopular or tangential, or out of the box. The hope was to talk about opinion writing without falling into the traps of carelessness and irresponsibility, the kind that’s become normal given online and social media.
Read and listen, wait and write
All opinion – all writing – comes from having read about and listened to what others say. Reading gives us a sense of history, a sense of the bigger picture, a sense of what’s been said before us: one can’t be the portal of all truth after all. There is no writing without reading. But also we take time to listen, to hear what others are saying about a given topic in the present, which allows us a sense of what gives a topic currency, what makes it important.
One cannot overstate the importance of reading and listening as exercises towards writing. It has become even more important given online media, where bragging rights start and end not with having well written stories, but with how many likes, shares, hits a given article gets. One needs to go beyond the noise, and take stock, separate the grain from the chaff, and form an opinion from there.
During the open forum, a student asked: how long do you wait? Because there are writers and news sites that seem to be in a race to post a new article about something that just happened, para lang may maisulat, and often they don’t really have much to say.
My answer: I wait for as long as it takes. Often I find that if I want to react to a Senate Hearing being aired live on TV, that it does not require a full essay. For sure I can swing a 900-word essay; but if I sit down and edit, and edit again, I find that it can be trimmed down to a Facebook status, if not a 140-character tweet. And anything that can be said in 140 characters need not be written as an essay.
Tomasino Web FTW!
It was a joy answering the students’ questions, mostly because it gave me a sense that they were not believing everything they were reading, and were wont to question what was going on with mainstream media, online and otherwise.
One asked for advice for young journalists, and I was quick to admit that I am not a journalist – I’m not trained in it, I don’t go after stories in the way journalists do. But I do think that as writer, the best practice is to not let the likes and shares go to your head. I always remind myself of writing before there was the Internet, when the reader could not speak. Writers then wrote not to be liked or shared; they wrote because it was important to do so. That’s still the writer I work at becoming.
And yes, it is hard work. I admit to the students that even at this point, my opinion columns pass through the Nanay, who edits and makes me revise when required. And it’s a great exercise in humility, to need someone looking over my shoulder in this way, and if there’s anything I’d wish for every young writer, it’s a mentor or teacher, a best friend or editor, who cares for them enough to tell them the truth about their writing, and make them revise and edit until it is good enough to publish.
That is an exercise in taking time and taking stock in itself. Though now that I think about it, those students at Tomasino Web’s Empowerment who sat through those talks are already steps ahead: because they have taken the time to listen.
I can’t wait to see what it is they might write. One can only be hopeful.