Saturday, July 30, 2011

A writing life

WILL I get paid if my article gets published?

That was the first question raised by a campus journalist after I concluded a talk on writing features.

Last July 29, I joined about 30 students in the 27th journalism seminar organized by Ang Suga, the official school publication of the Cebu Normal University (CNU).

Many of the participants are writers and editors of Ang Suga while the others are press relations officers of various student associations. I didn’t get to talk to the students individually but I learned that at least two of Ang Suga’s officers, including editor-in-chief Ioannes Arong, are taking up creative writing.

Though I don’t often get a chance to work with campus writers, I look forward to such interactions.

Meeting those who aspire to work as journalists, writers, poets and storytellers in video and film is an even bigger thrill than meeting the professionals whose works I follow, buy or collect.

The latter most often have cut a swath in the frontiers of creativity. While the best still write with fire in their belly, the writing almost always falls into a groove: once a writer finds his signature, expect few surprises until he or she signs off.

Young writers, though, are unpredictable. They stand before virgin territory. They are the unexplored.

While I’ve come to associate passion with the young, I can’t predict how they decide, or why: why the ones you’ve privately baptized as the Golden Ones disappear soon after graduation, their once-familiar bylines and maturing voices never glimpsed again in the swells and furrows of the creative life.

Or why the ones who complained loudest and longest about writing and rewriting are still at it—groaning about deadlines, whining about the pay but still writing and rewriting, years after passing a course, graduating on time, keeping a scholarship or making it to the Dean’s List have lost their bite.

Why write?

My immediate reaction to the first question posed in last Friday’s seminar was to privately cringe: if the young gauge writing’s value only by the pecuniary, then the future is dark for writing in the age of non-readers.

Yet I tried to emphasize with my answer the opportunities local dailies open to aspiring writers and other freelancers. I said that contributed articles, specially to the section that runs press releases about community events, are never paid for but are published for free in Cebu dailies.

Many other newspaper sections cater to specialized audiences or niches of interest, such as youth, spirituality, heritage, culture and wellness. When there are no regular reporters covering these beats, a paper is usually open to contributors.

A reader who studies her paper and the kinds of articles and style of writing published; who emails originally researched, well-written copy; who’s willing to rewrite, following an editor’s suggestions; and who can also take photographs—such enthusiasm may be rewarded eventually by the editor giving an assignment. Among local dailies, assignments undertaken by freelancers are granted an honorarium and guaranteed publication.

Yet, on the ride home, I examined again that first question. I wondered why I had immediately interpreted the question as solely prompted by the monetary.

Was it possible that the young writer meant: can one earn a living through writing?

Or: can writing sustain a life?

That rain-scented afternoon spent with the aspiring journalists, poets and writers of CNU reaffirms my belief in the rejuvenation one draws from the young.

How I wish, though, I had not been too old, too tired, too jaded to hear the real questing behind that first question.

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*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s July 31, 2011 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column

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