Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sheer Luck

I was sitting in a green-painted metal armchair corroded and too big for my small body struggling to finish a composition my teacher would evaluate in preparation for an upcoming press conference, a journalism competition among students of various schools, in which I would be joining. My teacher, sitting quietly a few feet in front of me at her wooden desk, was my coach for the national contest. I was eleven years old then, short and shabby, and was not yet wearing spectacles. I was on my sixth and last year of elementary in a public school where girls come in scarlet, almost blood-like jumper uniforms and boys wear khaki trousers and everyone is allowed to wear sandals or sneakers, that is to say any kind of footwear, and those who wear proper school shoes bring extra slippers to preserve their classroom’s well-maintained, shiny, red-waxed floor. Despite of its being a public school, it is regarded by many as one of the competitive schools in the city. My most accurate memories of elementary school include PS-PS – a game in which an “it” is chasing everybody else and in order to be saved one should bellow “PS” and place his arms in a crossing position above his chest at exactly the same time the “it” touches him – regular classroom cleaning sessions, menacing-looking teachers carrying sticks used to silence rowdy pupils during classes, late afternoon strolling in downtown malls with classmates, heavy backpacks filled with pad papers, Mongol pencils, Crayolas in 8s or 16s, decade-old withering textbooks and sundries, waking up before dawn to attend the class at 6:20 a.m., extensive reviews for the inter-school Math quiz bee with my teacher and my classmate who can do mental arithmetic with the use of her hands, lurking in the city library almost everyday to peruse astronomy books, joining journalism competitions that flared my interest in writing, among others. If memories could be kept in a vial and revisited, I would definitely come back to this point in my life. Time had passed too swiftly and I could never be a kid again.

The composition I was writing was a sports story in Filipino. Filipino Sportswriting was the category my teacher decided for me. Being an active pupil in school activities, I took every challenge and opportunity to excel in school. I did not let a single chance slip away to prove myself by engaging in endeavors that interest me most and one of these is writing. Although I had not been confident in my writing skills, I managed to place in competitions out of sheer luck and that encouraged me to discover and uncover the great wonders of writing. However, the real obstacle I had when I was younger is that I was afraid of the English language. I did not attempt to join competitions in English category not until I was in high school. Everytime I tried to start a paragraph in English, nothing would come out of my mind and later on I found out that that dilemma is called writer’s block. I had never had eloquence in English before and I had never trusted myself to have such. Thus I only limited myself to writing in Filipino which is a more intuitive language having its own intricacies and grammar different from the English language. I once thought it was an easier language until I realized it can never be underestimated for it can also make your nose bleed. After finishing the composition, I gave the manuscript, more than fifty percent of which were probably scribbles and cross-outs, to my teacher for corrections and tips to improve my writing style. After a while, my teacher told me something like “this should be ang aso ay tumatahol and not tumataghol.” Being a non-native speaker of the Filipino language as I was born an Ilonggo, I committed one of the many blatant errors in writing which made me a little bit discouraged but with herculean tenacity, I somehow managed to improve my writing style over the years. Even though the language used as a medium of communication is Filipino, writing appears to be a complex task and involves a lot of hard work to organize ideas in an altogether coherent, interesting, and elegant style. Language is just a form and once you mastered a particular language a fact remains that substance is another important aspect you should carefully study and apply in writing. While watching a certain Tagalized cartoon Jody, I remembered the scruffy-haired English professor telling Jody Abbott that grammar is not the topmost priority of a novelist and if one is to succeed in this field one should work more on the substance of a story and what would make it memorable.

Undeniably, mastering the English language is indispensable to becoming a memorable, effective writer. Recently, I dusted myself off in my mastery of the English language and suprisingly, I learned some forgotten rules that even professional writers tend to violate. Well I’m not going to list down such rules here but if you have the patience to search for and download this particular e-book from the Internet which I did, you will find yourself gaping after knowing some of the tricky, often neglected grammatical rules. This e-book is entitled Collins Good Grammar by Graham King and is published in 2004. I personally consider this book a gem and it really helped me recall the basics of English.

My writing journey did not end in my elementary years. I continued getting involved in writing even during high school and college. In high school, I joined our publication Starlight and became one of the contributors and later on a Sports editor. I attended writing workshops, school press conferences and competitions to hone my skills, expose myself to the real world, and see how much I’m going to improve in the process. I learned a lot of things in journalism specifically in sportswriting such as the inverted pyramid in which the story is presented in a way that the most significant points are written in the first paragraph or the “lead” and the rest comes in an order of gradually decreasing significance. I also learned that the lead must consist of all the fundamental questions regarding the  issue that it introduces, the five Ws and 1H, and must be the attention getting part of the story. I came to know the difference between a news and a sports story. Even though both are structurally the same, the latter employs usage of vivid, lively action words necessary to drive the readers to feel the same vigor and energy as if watching a live sports match. Unlike news stories, sports stories often use a novelty lead which is more astonishing to the readers and motivates them to read further. I recalled I had only used this kind of lead once and astonishingly I placed sixth in a regional competition. Before proceeding to college, I had considered a career as a journalist apart from engineering and education but due to circumtances, I pursued a degree in Computer Science which is not one of my choices but eventually became something I learned to love. I had to deal with the only scholarship I had before to make it to college. During college, I had momentarily forgotten about writing for I was into a totally different concentration which was more on computers and programming and I had decided not to join the university publication even though I initially considered doing so. I discarded the idea that I could be a writer. It was only in my second year in college that I felt the passion going alive again. I was asked by my English teacher if I could submit a Starfish story, a make-a-difference-story, as an entry to a competition sponsored by the Ayala Foundation. I wrote the story in two days without editing or rewriting. I showed it to my English teacher for critic and she only said it was a good story and did not really give me concrete advices to improve it. Anyway I submitted the manuscript to the head of the student affairs and it was mailed to the sponsoring organization. After a couple of months, I was informed that I was one of the twenty finalists. I thought it was another sheer luck but somehow the feat awakened the sleeping monster within me. I once again started to believe that I can be a better writer and if this is not really my destined profession, why would I stop and give up writing? I realized that I can’t get over writing that is why I’m blogging to practise and fuel the fire. 

I don’t know if this is a silly thing to do but I’m contemplating to pursue a second degree in Journalism. Some people may say that Journalism is a useless degree because no one gets rich in this noble profession but all I can say is that it is never too late to do what I want in life. I know I have to work at the same time in an I.T. field to finance my studies and the whole experience may be tough but I just reassure myself that if you love doing something you won’t have second thoughts about it. I’m already in my early twenties and I feel that I’m already too old for undergraduate school. But I learned in the “Magic of Thinking Big” that age is never an excuse. So I will try next year. I hope that aside from sheer luck, things would happen to me deliberately.


  1. after reading this, i would say, your winning is not sheer luck. you have the strokes of a writer ralph. and i think you're best in wrting feature stories!

  2. Thanks a bunch for the compliment Jay! :)