Thursday, April 26, 2012


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Writing Superstitions

I was supposed to leave for Baguio on Thursday but my friends told me that I can ride with them Friday. I said, Yes, but something kept me awake at midnight for no apparent reason. That is, until about 100 kilometers later when I looked at my watch and exclaimed, "It's Friday the 13th!" A few kilometers later in Narvacan, we blew a tire.
"I'm not superstitious," I smugly told my friends. But am I not? Maybe not like Saul Bellow (the Pinoy band in the 1980s known as "Dean's December" came from the title of his book) who has two typewriters. One is for essay and criticism and another for fiction. They should never, never be interchanged.
I remembered seeing a photo of a rabbit foot owned by Ernest Hemingway. Only it wasn't already a foot but a bone. It must had been rubbed too often by the great writer. Isabelle Allende in an interview said that before writing, she would light candles to summon the spirits and her muses and then would offer fresh flowers and incense. She does this every time she writes. Maybe that's why there would be few Ibaloi creative writers if they follow the same vein. They would have to butcher a black pig every time they have to write.
You think this is expensive? What about a modern German dramatist who installed a sprinkler system not on the ceiling but on the roof because he can only write when he can hear the sound of rain on the tin roof? There are writers who can write only when they are standing up (Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, Lewis Carroll and Gunter Grass) and those who can write only lying down (Mark Twain, Truman Capote, Eudora Welty, Edith Wharton and William Styron). Of course, the rest would be sitting down.  Maybe I can start my own writing ritual, writing by standing on only one leg.
I read somewhere that rituals in writing are effective because of  the so-called Hebb's Law in neuroscience that "Neurons that fire together, wire together." Which means the neurons fired when you are smoking incense also fire the neurons when you are writing, they "wire together."  This means without the ritual, the writer cannot induce himself or herself to write.
Rosanne Bane, a writing coach, said that rituals can help a beginning writer. "Simply select a sensory experience you'd like to associate with your writing and engage in that experience every time you write and preferably only when you write. You might want to eat licorice or lemon drops, drink a particular flavor of tea, or burn a scented candle or incense. You could drape your computer in red velvet or run your fingertips over a small shell or stone. You could select the soundtrack for your novel, giving each major character her or his own theme song to play when writing about that character. You could create a collage of photos related to your current writing project and set the collage next to your computer whenever you're working on that project."
I thought of a writing ritual using neuroscience. I will only write on Friday the 13th. 

Rituales delos Habitual

Rituales delos Habitual

Whenever I listen to some of my colleagues lecturing to young students, it seemed like I was going back to Mr. Esteban (now the PRC chief somewhere in Mindanao) giving us the differences between the different kinds of news or feature leads.
They don’t get the point. We are asked to speak to them because of our actual experiences and not because they wanted to be reminded of their high school journalism teachers.
If possible, they want us to give them magic beans on how to write better in one and a half hour or less.
Maybe you can start by telling them there’s no short cut or that good writers are made not born etcetera; which is fine but most of your listeners already knew that. Those who don’t still believe in Santa Claus and Jack and the Beanstalk. If there are no magic beans then at least give them a manual on how to plant them.
It would be wonderful if we start with how writers write. In my last column, I already wrote about how some writers still cling to typewriters and pens. Now we talk about how they motivate themselves to write.
Malou Guieb, a columnist of this paper, has a favorite chair in Luisa’s Café where we mostly surf. She can not write anywhere else. If someone is sitting there, Malou would just have coffee and converse. Too shy to shoo, she would wait and wait until the intruder leaves.
Alfred Dizon, an editor of another weekly, is, like Sly, a somnolent writer, meaning he usually takes a nap to organize his thoughts. But in the computer screen (he naps in front of it) are the words “(BAGUIO CITY),” which, of course, is how he starts his stories. So in a way, he is not starting from scratch.
Most writers have their regular routines. Jacques Barzun, for example, starts with coffee and newspaper at six am. Then an hour of exercise and writing the whole day. Afternoon is spent reading and then drinks at 6:30 pm. Dinner follows and then sleep at 9:30 pm.
Boring, you say. But then Barzun, the French-born American historian and critic was born in 1907 and still follows this regimen.
Ok, let’s get to the dead writers. Ernest Hemingway, the swashbuckling writer. He also has a routine. He starts at sunrise, writing until he has written everything he can write. Then he stops and goes on with what he was famous for: drinking, sailing, hunting, etcetera. If a thought comes to him, he waits till the next day to write it. Like he said, writing in the morning is like making love to a woman you love. It makes you both empty and fulfilled.
Benjamin Franklin also followed a rigid schedule. After breakfast, he would work from 8 am to noon. His lunch hour spent editing what he wrote beforehand. The back to work till 5 pm. From thereon till 10 pm, he would play or whatever because as he wrote, All work and no play makes Franklin a dull boy.
John Cheever would go down his private elevator at 8 am in his suit. Then reaching the basement where he wrote, he would undress to his underwear and then write. Then up the elevator for lunch in his suit and back down again at 1 pm. Back to his underwear to write till 5 pm and then up again in his suit. Needless to say, John Cheever, one of my favorite short story writers, had only one suit.
There are some writers with their quirks. Alexander Dumas (Three Musketeers, Count of Monte Cristo) can only write after eating an apple under the Arc de Triomphe.
Gertrude Stein can only write inside her car, writing her poetry on bits of paper inside her unmoving car.
There are more quirks but these are attempts to make your writing ritual consistent.
Back to the living or to Stephen King, the next to unliving. King also is very rigid. After tea, he sits on his favorite seat, like Malou G, at 8 to 8:30 am with his notes neatly arranged on his side. Such consistency will give your mind a signal that you are now prepared to write, King said. And then, of course, his writing is anything but rigid.
Haruki Murakami, a Japanese novelist famous among young writers here, wakes up at 4 am. Then he writes for five to six hours and then either runs 10K or swims 1.5K. Then he reads and listens to jazz before sleeping at 9 pm.
Murakami used to manage a jazz bar like what Rumour’s Bar used to be. Then he quit and became a novelist.
I guess you can not be both at the same time. Hmmmm. Maybe I, too, should quit. Quit what? I don’t know. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


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