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Filipino Fiction Writers: Stuck in Self-Expression

This has to be said even if painful. This has to be said because I am a writer and I intend to be successful. This is not an attack against your personhood, fellow Filipino writers. I am not saying that you are not talented, nor am I saying that I am extremely talented. I am very aware of the possibility of failure especially in the literary world even for talented people.

But first, what do we mean by failure? Failure to be published? Failure to be read? Failure to be paid?

Recently, the Cultural Center of the Philippines has published this year’s Ani Literary Journal. Writers whose works were accepted were given an honorarium of less than P2000. Not bad, you think, considering that to be accepted in Ani is considered by the local writers as an achievement. But one cannot survive on P2000 a year.

The Carlos Palanca Awards is also prestigious and with an award of P10,000 and up, that’s better than getting accepted to Ani. But of course, that amount is not enough to live on.

What’s a writer to do? Freelance gigs, ghost write, churn out pulp fiction romances under a pseudonym, teach in university, etc.

I have long wondered why many Filipino writers of fiction do not succeed financially. Many of them have to keep their day jobs. Maybe  you think this does not mean being unsuccessful, but I would like to dream of becoming more than someone who tries her hand in writing fiction just for fun. I don’t want to be a weekend athlete who wins the local fun run. I want to be a professional who wins Olympic medals and is asked to do sports equipment endorsements.

I realized this: that the unsuccessful writers who end up writing as a hobby think of writing as a form of self-expression. They talk about their life’s issues through characters who are similar in many aspects to them. Their plots are filled with details they are already familiar with. Female writers write from the first-person perspective of their female characters, and likewise for the males. Homosexual writers write about homosexual characters, foodies write about foodies, mothers write about mothers.

Of course, you have to write based on your experiences; BUT a writer, no matter how experienced, cannot possibly experience all the possibly interesting experiences fictional characters may have.

This is, I believe, the point where you can distinguish the talented from the merely technically proficient, i.e. those whose skills are the products of writing workshops. The technically proficient can express their experiences well through their fiction, but the talented can create new emotions, characters and worlds in their imagination beyond their experiences.

Since they write as a form of self-expression, they usually end up imagining their readers as people who love them; and they don’t care about people who consider their work as trash, very much like fashionistas who gain self-esteem based on their fans’ approvals, but dismiss people who boo them as those who “just don’t understand.”

I write to be read and to be applauded not just by friends but by intelligent and sophisticated people who don’t know me (but never by people who like stories about 50 shades of butt plugs).

I write to be read and appreciated by people who read and appreciate my favorite authors Jane Austen, Henry James, Edith Wharton, and Kazuo Ishiguro. Thus, I keep pushing myself beyond self-expression to the creation of true art.

And the incentive of money earned from great literary works helps too. ^_~

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