My family was in the middle of action (or darkness) during this year's earth hour, not by choice but by circumstance.
We were in Shangri-la Hotel enjoying the gift certificates sent by JB and Gianina (in celebration of her acceptance to the University of Chicago for MBA).
Our pick was smorgasbord at the Circles restaurant.
While gorging and chatting, we saw out the window, just below our table, a crowd of men, women and children wearing black t-shirts bearing "Makati Shangri-la" prints. They were getting ready for the Earth Hour parade. After a few minutes, the lights went off.
At the entrance to the Ayala Museum, across the street, was a dramatic sea of flickering candles. Then the parade began—ati-atihan, clowns, drum and bugle corps, etc. in luminous clothes and accessories—amidst the blinding darkness. I tried to take photos but my camera was not up to the task. The parade was non-stop for one hour, and so was our eating.
The next day, on the front page of PDI was the photo of the Earth Hour parade participants! It was taken at the very same place where we walked, laughed, and heartily dined, in celebration of a family milestone brought to us in the glory of His grace.
In October last year, I began writing my latest book with approximately 118,000 words, due March this year. It's been more or less six months of relentless thinking, typing, reflecting, and praying, and what do you know? The book is booked.
Meaning, I finally mustered enough courage to send my fourth and last draft to my publisher. All the words have been squeezed out of my heart and soul into stark black and white manuscripts.
For whatever is left of March (four days exactly), I simply want to stretch my tired muscles and rest my aching back and raise my head up to the sky and thank the Author of life for the guidance, 24/7 on every leaf, 375 in all!
As in writing my past books, there were countless hurdles. I fell ill for what seemed like a life-threatening tummy problem. Then my computer crashed. Then my internet connection blinked on and off (mostly off) on the homestretch.
By God's sustaining grace, I am still intact, and smiling.
Please celebrate with me.
(Oh, that is just step one in book publishing. There will be another long stretch of editing and, hopefully, not too much rewriting, and polishing, then lay-outing, then designing, then printing, then proofing, then proofreading, then binding—oh, you don't want to be in on all those details do you? Barring any more snags, the book should be in your hands by September. Or, there is always that possibility it might altogether be scrapped. Pray with me?)
Every Thursday I don my respectable look (blazer, high-heeled pumps, and a knowing smile) and hie off to the transnational university where I teach. Before or after my two-hour class, I say "hello" to our dean, co-teachers, librarian, and then go out for lunch and coffee with friends.
Last Thursday was sort of different. Our new president invited a few faculty members for discussion of some academic concerns over lunch. We met at the Bistro Lima (called thus because it is on our Lima Rd. campus), which is totally run by our students in hospitality management, and supervised by their professors.
Everything was impressive and impeccable, if I may brag. It's like dining in a special place where one pays oodles of money to get the kind of food and attention that we were served. But the prices are well within this teacher's reach.
Rating: The food, the company, the ambiance, the exchange of ideas and forward plans—A plus.
Thursdays for me are always a treat and a change of pace. This last one was a luncheon of grace.
During last Sunday's sermon, one-year-old Elijah (grandson of one of our church members) went straight to the front pew and listened to our minister for a few minutes without moving. It was as though he stood waiting for his share of grace.
This shot reminds me of what Jesus said in Matthew 18:3 (NLT), "I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven."
In my travels, I always bring a book—aside from my Bible—with me. I am an early riser so after my quiet time, and while waiting for the world to stir and before boredom sets in, there is plenty of time to read. One also has to be armed for those ultimate time-wasters: waiting lounges.
To Bangkok I tucked inside my tote bag Joel Resenberg's "The Last Days" (his second novel).
I was unprepared for what it put me through; nobody warned me.
From a while-waiting read, it became a take-in-two-pages-quick-while-there's-a-lull read. Stopping was like a sin.
That's precisely the reason why my roommate Eli said, "I don't bring a book to any trip."
To say it was a page-turner would be untrue. It was a hair-raising, breath-holding, heart-thumping, pulse-raising page-turner.
The book is a gift from the Christian Writers Fellowship. (Thank you, Yna!) And it is a gift that keeps wanting . . . to grab the rest of the Rosenberg novels.
Rosenberg fans know that his books' best parts are the fast-paced and action packed scenes. But my favorite part, and which sucked the air out of my lungs, was when the tempo went from largo to lento. Page 407, or the last page of chapter 45.
Why? I can't tell you why.
Because friends who read this post and who are planning on reading the book would call me a cheat.
Just a hint though: grace.
(This was taken at the Grand Diamond Hotel Lobby as I rose to surrender my room key on our way to catch our plane back to Manila.)
The red flag was up. About one million protesters and supporters of fallen Prime Minister Thaksin were supposed to march while we were there.
Well, our first day was peaceful—and fun. We decided to tackle the shops first, then the sights and sounds the next day. Nine people alternately bumped into and lost each other in a huge mall. Lunch at 3 PM was very Thai, very good.
We capped the day with another luscious Thai dinner in a place called Beach Banana and dessert at Swensen's (I deserve 40 lashes for succumbing to the lure of a scoop of creamy coffee ice cream).
The second day.
There was no second day. Every place worth going to was closed. The red march was ready to erupt. But the eruption was a dud. It didn't turn out the way the organizers touted it to be. Nevertheless, the damage was done to poor tourists like us.
Panic time. Where to find Bangkok's soul for re-telling back home? Where to buy those pasalubong? (coming home presents). The goods in the sidewalk around the hotel were not very promising. No tamarinds, no lanzones, no nothing.
In the nothingness, the gift of company came to the fore. An adequate spin around town. Long stretch of bonding in one of our rooms (complete with two TV sets, a receiving room, and all the acouterments one would ever need), and more gorging on luscious and spicy Thai food in the hotel, plus excited tamping of our colorful handcarry luggage (a gift for each of us from the big-hearted big boss, on top of the whole trip, that is).
At the airport at midnight, we reminisced over our authentic R&R, undiminished by the red heat.
For me, Bangkok is always an interesting place to be. On this last trip, it's where I found the grace of clients-turned-friends.
Could we have postponed the trip to a more peaceful date? We could have, but the fun, the blessings wouldn't have been as unique.
Together with eight of my clients cum friends, I am off to Bangkok. My netbook will be safely left behind so I can soak in the sights, sounds, and shops—all of them grace in another land.
I am temporarily closing shop. My next post will be, hopefully, about the Bangkok adventure four days from today.
(There is a travel advisory not to take a trip to Thailand at this time because of some unrest, but we can be stubborn.)
He was a cute little boy, only about six years old, when he started playing the drums in our church's praise and worship team. At first, we thought he'd bungle it. But he played like a pro, and everyone in the pews were delighted no end.
Vincent is musically gifted. Aside from drums, he also plays the guitar and the keyboard. And he has a great singing voice, too! Sunday after Sunday, Vincent grew up wonderfully before our eyes.
But one day, he wasn't there. Nobody could get in touch with him.
This is Vincent's (now 20) story from the pulpit where he shared his testimony:
I was looking for song that would touch my heart and would make my role in church meaningful. I had played and sung songs for burial, baptism, wedding—but not one song had what I was searching for.
So I decided to stop singing and playing—for three years.
One day, while in a queue for a tricycle ride, behind me was a mother with her little boy. The boy couldn't talk but he was emitting an eerie sound, like a moan. Alarmed, I asked the woman, 'Why is your son making those sounds?'
The woman smiled and replied, "He is singing!"
"I don't know," she said, "but I know he is singing about hope. Someday, in my lifetime, I wish to hear the lyrics of his song. If not, I will definitely hear them when he sings with the angels in heaven!"
When Vincent got home, he cried himself to sleep. He found his song—many, many songs, countless songs, about hope. Now Vincent sings and plays his songs as a part of our Praise and Worship Team again—with more vigor than ever before!
. . . one of Vincent's countless songs.
(I was requested to upload my talk at the Christian Writers Fellowship. Sharing with you an abridged version.)
No generic writing habit exists that can be used by all writers as a template. Each of us has a different rhythm. Some are allegro, some are staccato, some are lento, some are slightly or greatly in between.
A writing habit, therefore, cannot be mandated. But we can learn from each other. Tonight, I hope you learn from mine. From these personal principles, you may realize that you already have your own—and it's even a better one.
Creative writing, as we writers know it, is not about words or grammar. Otherwise, all grammarians and English teachers would all be writers. I don't remember who said this, but it is a thought I share: "Writing is about heart and soul, about life. It's bringing the unique experiences in our life to the writing table for others to examine their own lives."
Having said that, let's look into the writing habits of some prolific writers:
Stephen King writes 10 pages a day without fail; Ernest "Papa" Hemingway wrote 500 words daily, starting early in the morning; Truman Capote had to write lying down, whether writing in longhand or using his typewriter; Philip Roth paces around as he thinks, walking half a mile for every page he writes; Philip Yancey—40% goes toward getting ready to write (research, interviews, travels, and outlining), 20% toward writing (the burden of composition), and 40% toward cleaning up (he enjoys this because he was once an editor); and Max Lucado constantly writes because he is a pastor and has to work on his sermons. He has written over 50 books since 1985.
It is awesome to talk about these authors and knowing their writing habits. Unfortunately, they're different from mine.
Busyness and procrastination—those are two of the biggest battles we writers face. The busyness I have solved by leaving the paid workforce. Now 80% of my time is spent on writing and the rest of the 20% to other things like teaching, reading, book talks, and conducting seminars on creative writing.
Procrastination—well, that comes and goes, with any job, in various forms. And writers are no exception.
By God's nurturing grace, I have picked up Seven Writing Habits (with apologies to Stephen Covey) in the workplace which help me write books today. The advertising world was my learning lab. There I imbibed habits that have stuck like leeches:
1. Play deaf. As an ad writer, I was in a big room with seven other writers. Imagine the droves of loud people who came in and out of there! I plugged my ears, played deaf, and got my work done. Today, I can work in the noisiest of places.
2. Finish everything yesterday. When you asked anyone who gave you job, "When is this due?" he'd say, "yesterday." Work had to be done on time or you'd be 1) penalized by publications or TV networks; 2) lose the account; 3) lose your job. Today, I thrive on deadlines. If my editors don't give me a deadline, I give myself one.
3. Be a vendo machine. In meetings, clients demanded that you'd come up with ideas quickly, or a smart one-liner like you were a vendo machine 24/7. Today, I always write down thoughts that invade my brain.
4. Begin with a big idea (or concept). Again, writing is about ideas. If you have a solid idea, the words will come. Today, I write words only after I have the big idea down pat.
5. Look at old things in a fresh way. "Expect the unexpected" "Resist the usual" were some of our buzzwords. Practically everything has been said before, so the challenge is to say it in a fresh new way. Today, I continually self-edit, rewriting phrases I've already said before.
6. Write wherever you are. Writing didn't happen only when our hands were on the keyboard. The writing process was ongoing in every space we occupied. Today, I write in my head in supermarkets, book stores, buses, classrooms, etc.
7. Do a Creative Strategy. Before any creative work was ever begun, one had to be guided by a strategy. Otherwise, everything was off-strat and trashed. Today, I write down a one-page strategy for every book that I write.
My creative intent has changed. From selling shampoos, toothpastes, and sanitary napkins, I have moved to . . . selling hope. And therefore, I have felt it necessary to change HABIT, a very inert word, into a series of action words, or verbs.
H—Heed your heart, write about what it tells you about hope.
A—Accomplish your daily goal, one day at a time.
B—Break the barriers that block your writing.
I—Internalize the big idea. Let it swim in your soul, in your core.
T—Trust God to give you wisdom. Every word is for Him and for others to know Him.
|(Some of the attendees: all writers [and editors], including the little ones)|
For five days, grace made me remember the joy and magic of being a child again. The Hiyas School Tour brought me to five grade schools, each with hundreds of children, aged 6 to 12.
They were adorable and fun; they washed away all the frustrations I had over my malfunctioning DSL connection. According to their teachers (who were gracious and welcoming), majority of these children are readers and therefore, they had that wide-eyed excitement to listen to a writer on why and how books are created.
The program format was the same in all schools. But each place gifted me with a one-of-a-kind experience. Children are after all individuals—each with his own unique personality. Misha of OMF would begin by giving away prizes. That got the kids all keyed up. Then a storyteller from the Alitaptap Storytellers Philippines would read one of my books. Percy, Ray, and Waco each told a story in his own unique style as well.
And then the hard part: my talk. It was daunting. As you and I know, children are honest and frank—they'd say straight to your face what they think. I didn't need to encourage them to ask questions. Most of their questions required tough answers.
"Do you ever get stressed?" "Who taught you to write?" "Where do you get your ideas?" "When will you stop writing?" "Can you write about me?" "How old are you?"
Some of their comments were surprising.
"I've been reading your books since I was six years old." " My sister goes to sleep with your devotional." "My mom likes giving your books as presents." "When I grow up, I am going to be a writer like you."
Aside from these photos, I have amassed precious happy thoughts that are the rewards of writing for children, "to whom the kingdom of heaven belongs." (Luke 18:16)
St. Claire School
Hope Christian School
Victory Christian School