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Craft Talk

The Secret Miracle

We were given a few pages from The Secret Miracle: The Novelist’s Handbook by Daniel Alarcón as an assignment in a grad school workshop, and this was my reaction to what we read.

I wish I had a bolt of lightning strike me as I read each author’s advice for writing a novel, but they were all solid. Some I skimmed over because what they were saying I already kind of knew and saw as the writing on the wall when it comes to writing in general, others were a hat tip of reassurance that it’s okay to have bad days and to keep persevering.

I think making ‘mistakes’ is an essential part of the creative process and therefore of becoming and being a writer.

Alexsandar Hemon

Out of all the advice in this piece, this is the one I would absolutely give to my younger self. I was so bent on perfectionism as a child that I had a hard time simply enjoying the process. I was born to write, and I wish I had told younger me to chill out and heed that, first and foremost.

It amuses me that Roddy Doyle and Daniel Handler both said to write 1 novel and never, ever show it to anyone or attempt to get it published. I’ve heard that as well. I think it frees the mind to write something better if you empty your inkwell. The Morning Pages from Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Way program were an incredibly useful tool for me when I was deciding to take my writing more seriously.

Deleting the detritus from the corners of my brain so that my writing was as sharp as could be to in order to produce quality work is something I should probably take up again. It’s been over a year since I’ve done Morning Pages. I’ve since taken them up again and I do feel an emotional weight being lifted from my shoulders already.

I should have used a nom de plume. That is the only thing I regret now.

Haruki Murakami

The most heartbreaking quote of them all, and the one that made me stop and question myself. I have struggled with the idea of being published under my name or having a nom de plume myself, due to the ethnic connotations of my name.

It’s MY name. My very Filipino mother created it in tribute to my maternal and paternal grandfathers: Guillermo and Antonio. She also made up my middle name (Marieta) in tribute to my grandmothers: Margaret, Purificación, Emilia, Teresa, and Asuncion.

I’m proud of my name and its heritage. To deny it for the sake of my art would be to deny who I am. I’ve internalized a lot of shit about my ethnic heritage over the years but this is something I will not back down on. I’m amped that my artistic legacy will be under the banner of my name.

It saddens me greatly that Mr. Murakami had doubts about wanting to hide his genius behind another name and have his work be connected to that name and divorce himself from his art like that.

But I don’t fault him either because I get it. I understand completely. I think only people with heavily ethnic names in this international world we live in would understand. That makes me feel connected to him as well, which is a cool feeling. I should write him a letter and tell him that.

write on, Guilliean
write on, Guilliean

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Craft Talk

My Current Writing Process

I wish I had the luxury to have a dedicated slot in my schedule to do nothing but write. Maybe in the future when I’ve graduated and I’m living off my writing. Pipe dream, perhaps, but that’s why I went into this program!

I had hoped I wouldn’t repeat my undergrad college experience: full-time day job while being a commuter student. I couldn’t avoid it, though. Where I currently reside is right in the middle of school and work, and I spend more time commuting to work, and it just makes sense for now.

So, just like in my undergrad, I write during downtimes at work or in the library waiting for class to start. It’s not easy or ideal to write when I’m on the clock, but I share the workload equally with a colleague. I’m sure there are some legalities about that. I’ve heard of workplaces suing authors who write on company time.

As far as the actual writing process goes, I stay focused on the story for as long as the characters allow. Most of the time I’ll drop in on them in medias res, and world-build as needed, or in revision. I believe that this thought process goes hand-in-hand with my intentions to make these stories into short films.

My stories – like films – are short forays into these characters’ lives. I don’t feel the need to answer all the questions that crop up initially. I like having my readers do some thinking when they’re done reading my work.

Honestly, you can’t read my work and think you’re going to escape thinking deeply and pondering the perplexities of life when you’re done. I refuse to allow that to happen!

My current style of generating pages is simply a conditioned response to my everyday life. I generate what I can, if I can, where I can. But I don’t stress about any of it unless there’s a deadline I have to meet. If I were to eliminate any limitation, I feel confident that my output would be insanely high. I have an entire folder of files in my Google Drive with ideas! Right now, I’m skimming the line.

But I know it’s all a means to an end.

write on, Guilliean
write on, Guilliean

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Craft Talk

The Curse of the First Draft

The first draft used to be a horrible, mentally draining aspect of the writing process for me, before I decided I wanted to be a professional writer. I was so caught up in trying to be perfect from the moment I put words on the page that I never let myself relax enough to enjoy letting everything happen organically.

I think that’s a holdover from my childhood. I had this overwhelming need to project this perfect image of who I should be. That wasn’t taught to me, it just sort of appeared over time.

As I got older, I realized I don’t give a fuck what other people think of me because this is my journey. No one is the star of the Guilliean show; I am. When I finally accepted this (and it really wasn’t that long ago), I realized that I don’t need to be so damn hard on myself. There aren’t any deadlines, and to have fun.

The most maddening part of writing the first draft is the story in my head doesn’t translate to the page. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. I will have a really awesome story in my head and think, “okay, I’m gonna sit down and write it, and it’s gonna win the Nobel prize for literature!”

Then I get to the end, scratch my head and think, “that wasn’t supposed to happen.”

When I originally “pitched” Electric Angels, it actually ended up as something other than what I hyped it as. It was supposed to be a short story, maybe 10-15 pages, but then I got carried away because something else came out while I was writing it. I ran with it because that’s what makes the first draft exciting. I let the characters frolic at their leisure.

I don’t think there’s anything mysterious about the first draft. It feels silly to elevate the simple task of a first draft to some higher, ethereal plane of thinking.

Just shut up, sit down and write it.

write on, Guilliean
write on, Guilliean

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Craft Talk

The Art of Revision

Writing to me has been cathartic, throughout my entire life. There has never been a time when I wasn’t writing. I would write a poem, short story, or similar, and then hide it away from the world because I was afraid of people seeing who I really am. Or I would let my friends see my writing, but of course, their biased opinions never helped me grow. As I got older, I realized that writing is more than therapy for me, I enjoyed it for the artistic process, and I loved entertaining people in my own way.

As such, a revision was never part of my process before. It never occurred to me that what I wrote should be polished, fine-tuned like a piano, to be something better than what I puked on the page.

One of my fears when I first started this program last year was that I wouldn’t be able to take constructive criticism. But as I sat and critiqued others in workshops, and had them critique me, I realized that the only way I could be the best writer I am capable of being is to be open to it all.

What’s great about our workshops is that sometimes you’ll get feedback from someone about a plot point or characterization, and you think to yourself, “that’s ridiculous. It’s right there on the page!” Those, I tend to acknowledge politely, but never incorporate because I don’t want anyone to be prescriptive to my work. That’s why I never pursued journalism.

Everything I ever submitted for the school paper was changed in such a way that it didn’t sound like me anymore. I wanted full control of whatever my name was slapped on. I saw that creative writing would be the best way to do that, and still allow my demons to be expelled from my brain.

I think the most difficult thing about revision is finding the time to do it. When I get my critiques back from a workshop, I put it aside in the closet. I don’t even want to see it right away. I like to let the verbal and written criticisms percolate for as long as possible.

When I do block the time to revise, it’s because I’ve stepped away from it long enough to see it with brand new eyes, or I shared it with someone who gave me excellent criticism that I’m eager to incorporate into the work while keeping my voice.

write on, Guilliean
write on, Guilliean

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Prompts

Inside My Head

I found another freewriting piece. I think the prompt was to write an entire story with a clear beginning and end only on 1 page. It was an exercise in limiting yourself to a small space. It was for my humor class as well. We could choose any topic, and I chose the topic I was most comfortable with: the secret agent world.

I went through the Farm like it was a candy store. Top marks. My psych evals showed great temperament. Marksmanship? No scope, bitch. I trained hard. I got sent Over There because of my gift of tongues. I was thrilled. It didn’t occur to me until later that I was leaving my family behind and I might not come back. TDY was my rote answer. They didn’t question it. It wasn’t like they had the clearance. We shut down a money-laundering scheme from a certain enemy of the United States operating There. Can’t say more than that. Sorry. For my hard work, I got “awarded” a desk job. My cunning linguist skills were needed to translate any and all reports coming up over Echelon. I could feel my physical talents grow fallow. The guys at the gym noticed. It got back to my superiors. Went through a refresher course. Fails across the board. I lost my swag. I’d never seen so many red marks on a redacted report. Went home and cried like I lost my dog. The powers that be believed in me. They sent me abroad again. Something was different. I could feel it even as the agent scanned my passport of the woman with my face but not my name. I was pleased that my reflexes were quick. I saw the muzzled gun blast in the shadows of the Burj Khalifa. I feigned death. I always was a great actress. It was almost too easy. Whomever this guy was, he wasn’t very good. He didn’t do a very thorough investigation of my supposedly dead carcass. No double-tap. He sent proof to Them and buried my body in the desert. I let my training take over. Was buried for 12 hours before I thought I was safe. I went underground. I wasn’t mad they eliminated me. My name would go on their wall of fallen heroes. My family would get a nice funeral and the American flag for the mantle. If anything, it freed me to find a better version of me, one that wouldn’t fail. Their mistake.

If you got this same prompt, what would you write? Let me know in the comments!

Let me know in the comments!

write on, Guilliean
write on, Guilliean

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