Columns

Why I haven’t written my novel — yet

Some time between getting kicked out of Accounting class and serendipitously finding a flyer for the school paper land on my lap, I decided I was going to be a writer. I dislike the predictable word voracious, but it was the kind of reader/person I was. It made sense to eventually release everything that I have devoured into writing. The first book I read with a thick-ass Roget’s Thesaurus on-hand was Focault’s Pendulum, which I hardly even remember. But if I had the copy of that same book now, I would see that it’s been brutally violated with Stabilo ink, and footnoted with mildly embarrassing teenage ideas. The same goes for The Alchemist and A Hundred Years of Solitude, and a dozen other titles some might call “basic.” I wouldn’t call them the foundation of my so-called craft, because let’s face it, it was L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz, but they were my textbooks in the extracurricular course I decided to take for life.

Maybe that’s why I write this way — like a balding, Jesuit-schooled Brazilian with a penchant for sweeping realizations and endless contemporary parables that are mostly about myself. I had no mentor; only the books I read.

When I shifted to a writing course, my professor, who then wrote for a newspaper, told me I would never cut it as a journalist because I wrote like I was trying to get an A in Philo class. “Easy on the flowery language,” he said. I was then just getting into Neil Gaiman, specifically his most unloved novel Neverwhere, and Alexandre Dumas, the latter upon the recommendation of a long- haired boy I liked. I had no idea where the flowery language was coming from — I hated The Count of Monte Cristo. Later, I realized it came from reading Descartes and Nietzsche in Filipino for class. It was when I started working for a newspaper, writing advertorial for clients who would chop my prose into unrecognizable adobo cuts, that I understood what my professor meant: you can’t write for a living and be a writer. It has to be one or the other.

In between deadlines, I pretended to be a writer in-training, reading more out of duty than for pleasure. But there were authors that I found, were a pleasure to read: Alice Hoffman, Angela Carter, Sylvia Plath, Joyce Carol Oates — masters at masking horrible situations in dreamy, fairytale-like prose. I can only hope that their “female voice” rubbed off on me the way Carrie Bradshaw’s did. Pretending to be her got me through a lot of advertorials and bad boyfriends, not that I’ve had a lot of those to begin with.

One such boy enthusiastically recommended that I read The Notebook. “It’s our story,” he said. “Wait, didn’t they die?” I joked. Turns out they did — I never read it or saw the movie, just GIFs of Ryan Gosling’s bare butt. Needless to say, I didn’t get my strong male voice from Nicholas Sparks.

I’ve been told I can sometimes write like a dude, that even my emails read like they’re coming from a cold, middle-aged man — except when I punctuate them with a smiley face. Then I sound like a voracious flirt. Even the written word is riddled with stereotypes. Girls write like girls and boys write like boys. The two Chucks in my life, Palahniuk and Klosterman, make Nick Hornby sound like pansy, and Murakami, like a seriously troubled guy.

On 2015, New Year’s Day, I interviewed a tarot card reader who told me I have a mentor, which was how I knew she was bluffing. I didn’t think I had one. She said, “He is male. He is always around, always facing you. He’s old, a Gandalf-like being.” It freaked me out. But if a servant of the Secret Fire is on my team, I’d be willing to be Frodo any day. Also, she’s read Lord of the Rings. When will your manghuhula ever?

How does one marry the ideal female voice and strong male influences when neither of them is inherent? How does one start writing when you want to sound like one thing but always end up sounding like something else? A wise woman just recently gave me some sound advice: Go with your fear. My fear, in the simplest of terms, is sounding like myself, because I don’t know what that sounds like and I don’t know if I want to know. I mean, what if, it turns out, I sound like Lang Leav, the literary equivalent of Taylor Swift? Not sure if I could live with myself, even with a Lang Leav bank account. Still, the girl’s one- upped me just for having written something (and Tay-Tay’s snagged herself a Marvel villain).

Meanwhile, I agonize over an article on why I haven’t written anything. I think of Tolkien, George R.R. Martin and J.K. Rowling and wonder: What on Earth were they fed as children? How do you create entire fictitious worlds and not lose your mind? I read in an article once that they start with diagrams. So once, in a desperation-induced rapture, I picked up a Sharpie and started drawing a map, a family tree, a detailed blueprint of a castle. I’ve dreamt of moving to a cabin in the woods, Secret Window-style, or getting holed up in a Dolphin Hotel of sorts to write about horrors like haunted rooms and dead- end jobs. I’ve fantasized over finding myself a Kathy Bates who will threaten me with a club everytime I get stuck on a chapter.

It’s bad.

I don’t want to write the next great novel. I want to write the next Harry Potter, author a series of books and endless spinoffs, get movie deals and sire the next generation of nerds. I want merchandise, man. Then there’s this other part of me — the one that seeks to rebel against the professor who basically told me that my “voice” is doomed for failure — that wants to publish something so fancy and convulted just because. It’s a real crippling desire, so paralyzing it won’t even let me get past the first paragraph.

There’s also this one tiny thing: What to write about? When you think about it, all stories are love stories. But what if one doesn’t have a great love story to speak of, only slivers of perfectly surmountable heartbreak? I would give anything to live that Patti Smith version of Forever — a love supreme. But it’s also entirely possible that Smith likes to sentimentalize for eternity, whereas I, hopelessly unromantic, like to sever ties that no longer hold. I met a boy once who made me feel like I can do anything. Go- to-Antarctica-and-live-on-an-iceberg-anything. But everything is magnified in the moment. Now that’s just history and history is all-facts, no feeling, and I, have nothing to write.

Sort of.

What to write about? When you think about it, all stories are love stories. But what if one doesn’t have a great love story to speak of, only slivers of perfectly surmountable heartbreak?

Lately, I’ve been getting The Mood. Most nights would be spent in front of my computer with an empty Word document, the words brewing in my head but falling short of trailing that blinking cursor. I’ve been wanting to, more than ever, write. Maybe I’ve found a muse. Or whatever. Why do we need to label everything? There is always that fear of words not being enough, words being too much, words not properly representing a reality. Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup… spilling on the floor, making a mess, never reaching the page.

But “Go with your fear” is etched in my brain. My many fears are shaking in their little villain boots. Maybe I’ll vanquish them one day. Maybe one day I’ll write, but for now I’m just a writer — and this is what I sound like. Pray tell, would you read me?

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