Thursday, April 20, 2023

A Writer Is as a Writer Does

In January of this year, I posted this on Instagram:

Tl;dr: When I decided to move here to Mexico several years ago, I came prepared career-wise. I finished a one-year course to teach English as a foreign language before flying here, expecting to transition from writing to full-time teaching (I did my research, and majority of the expats living here in Mexico teach English at a language school or at a university). Sure, it was scary to think about, that I would have to turn my back on something that I have been doing professionally since I was 19, but I decided that I wouldn't mind the career change, if ever; it comes with the territory for someone who had already made up his mind to leave everything behind and immigrate.

Many years later, I'm still pleasantly surprised that I stayed as a writer here in Mexico, doing what I've loved doing since leaving university, being fortunate enough to have landed writing jobs that have helped me grow not only professionally, but also personally.

I rarely post positive things about any of my jobs, as those close to me already know, and can attest. I've been in the rat race long enough, and bitterness and disappointment can eat at you -- which is normal, I guess. But I survived all these years because I took something to heart: love your job, not the company.

That doesn't mean I can't be grateful, though. I joined this Hermosillo, Sonora-based company last year as their only English writer here in Mexico -- while working full-time as a journalist -- and although it hasn't always been smooth sailing, I appreciate that they've seen my value not just as a writer and employee, but also as a human being: and they have shown me as much.

My favorite Filipino author once said that to make a decent living as a writer, you have to write a lot. I also took that to heart, and sometimes the work can be overwhelming.

But I'd rather still be writing. And for this, I am fortunate.

That was a long-ass caption accompanying a photo that I currently use for my official email and chat accounts at work, which I uploaded to IG.

Anyway, two recent stories posted by a couple IG friends — who are also writers — got me thinking about that caption I wrote.

The first story was posted by a colleague I worked with previously in the Philippines. We both worked as content writers, although we were from different teams. In her IG story, my friend wrote that if she had a choice — meaning, if she didn’t need to hustle every day for her family — she’d be a novelist and/or a children’s story writer by now. She added that she doesn’t care even if nobody reads her books; she just wants to finally write fiction, stuff and ideas that have been stuck in her head all these years.

The second IG story is from a fictionist who specializes in short stories. I’m familiar with her work; I bought a couple of her self-published books when I was still living in the Philippines. Her fiction is good, as well as her journalism — she works full-time as a journalist for a popular Filipino digital newspaper.

You could feel the frustration in her IG story, the gist of which was that she’d work her tail off writing a single short story — for many months — but that “fewer and fewer readers would actually sit down even for thirty minutes” to read her work.

The contrasting IG stories reminded me of the caption I wrote because, like my other friend who dreams of becoming a fictionist even if nobody reads her work, I’ve always dreamt of writing fiction and self-publishing my own books someday (that’s the operative word here, SOMEDAY) — but I’m stuck writing work-related things, being a professional writer. (It might sound cliché, but work ALWAYS gets in the way.)

Don’t get me wrong: being a professional writer for more than 20 years now has given me the opportunity to do what I’ve always been good at, while getting paid in the process. And for this I have always considered myself fortunate — like I wrote in that IG caption — and I have always been grateful.

A lot of writers, though, believe that fiction — writing short stories or a novel, specifically — is the way to go if you want to be taken seriously.

And like I said, for me writing fiction is still the ultimate goal. Personally I’ve dabbled in fiction from time to time, although not as much as I would have wanted to. And in my free time I’d rather catch up on my reading — or write a blog post — than write a short story. Needless to say, writing good fiction requires a lot of work.

Which is why it was a bit surprising for me to read that IG story of my fictionist “friend” complaining about her supposedly dwindling readership, especially since she also posted on social media a while back that she’s had several print runs of her books sold out.

So for me the contrast is staggering: one writer (my friend) who is “forced” to write every day for a living, most of the time without a byline — after all, writing “professionally” as a content writer or a copywriter means mostly writing anonymously — dreaming of becoming a published novelist or short story writer, never mind if nobody reads her work; and another writer (mostly just a social media “friend”) who’s already had modest success as a fictionist (not to mention as a journalist too), who is frustrated even though she’s already had a couple of self-published books under her belt (okay, on her shelf [and perhaps more importantly, on her READERS’ shelves]), and a relatively successful career as a journalist in one of the most-respected Filipino news websites.

One thing’s for sure, though: regardless of what kind of writer you are — and to paraphrase a popular quote from Forrest Gump — a writer is as a writer does.

Regardless of the readership.

Friday, April 7, 2023

Back to Basics: Pure Blogging vs. Social Media

These days I've been reminiscing about the good old days, and in this case the days where the Internet was already around but people didn't have smartphones yet. Or Facebook and Instagram and Twitter. You get the idea.

In the Philippines back then Friendster was king. Quite a few were also into Myspace. But what reigned then were blogs: hosted on LiveJournal, WordPress, Blogdrive, TypePad, or Blogger -- like this one. 

Social media in the form of Facebook and Myspace was already around, sure, but it wasn't as pervasive as social media is right now. And like I said, people didn't have smartphones yet, which, basically, is a pocket computer. I ranted on Facebook last year that Internet wasn't the problem -- that back then we already had social media, but we weren't glued to smartphones like we are now. To be able to access your Friendster or Myspace or Multiply account back then, you needed to fire up your desktop or laptop. And because you had to make time to actually do that, you set aside a small chunk of your day for social media -- which is not a bad thing now that you think about it. Surely beats being able to access Facebook or Twitter or Instagram anytime thanks -- or no thanks -- to that pocket computer that I mentioned.

It wasn't lost on me that I complained about Facebook in that short rant -- and then posted it afterward on Facebook. It's not lost on me as well, ironically, that I'm complaining about smartphones while writing this blog entry on a Blogger app I downloaded on my smartphone.

But there's an advantage to not being able to access social media all the time through your smartphone: when people only had feature phones (or dumbphones), which allowed you to call or send text messages -- and play a preinstalled game or two -- and nothing else. Back then I'd actually bring a book with me. On the commute I'd read; I actually made time to read. Nowadays, even the most avid readers would get sidetracked by their smartphone; it's easy to get tempted to scroll down mindlessly on social media even with a book beside you.

Of course the march of time and technology can't be reversed. We have to adapt or perish. 

But that doesn't mean we can't look back on the good old days, the pre-smartphone past -- reminisce about a simpler time, back to the basics, if you will -- and blog about it in the process.

And better if you're reading this on a desktop or laptop.