Tuesday, June 03, 2003

Writing on the Fly

For weeks, I've been meaning to write something more meaningful, more relevant than the drivel that passes for this fish-eye's view of my life that we're calling a blog. No luck, as I've been blocked during those same weeks.

I've served myself the usual excuses. I've been busy with "the wife," busy with "the kids," busy with the lesson plans, busy with all the newfound domesticity of life in Pasay City, where you can't get to a damn computer or scrounge up enough busfare to go to Los Ba�os and veg out.

During those sorry weeks, I've been forced to do what many columnists wind up doing when they still have no idea what to write about come crunch time. Serve up crap and write on the fly.

It's doing readers a disservice, I know. But one can't help that 99% of the stuff that gets put on reams of scratch paper is most likely voluminous junk bearing only a small quantum of Truth, a smattering of Ideas of Consequence, spead thinly throughout its leaden, porous body. The writer's job involves melting all that dross away-- biases, preconceptions, misconceptions; spelling, grammatical and stylistic errors; the inflated ego --through a gruelling process called "Revision."�

Revision is an intense and time consuming thing. You haggle with the editor-- yourself, or someone else-- and do a rewrite. Your frustration builds as you haggle again. You leave the rewritten article to percolate in the back of your brain while you go out and do something totally unrelated: maybe pray, have sex, clean house, or chug hard liquor. But you can't take too long 'cause there's always a deadline, so it's back to the word processor after a quickie (your unrelated activity).

Meanwhile your brain is melting like an overclocked, overworked Pentium with missing cooling fans and heat sinks. Then the deadline arrives and you submit your piece for publication.

That's when you realize that despite all your effort, the written piece you handed in was only a passable amalgam of Truth and Crap. You beat yourself on the head with the unwelcome epiphany, and repeat the cycle for next week's installment of column, praying that next week's revisions do not turn out the same amount of dross.


RAYT --Revise As You Type

It's one thing to sit down in front of your pc and revise as you type. Depending on the general condition of your eyes, your stamina, your persistence and your typing speed, you can take all the time you need to think of ways to rehash the tired clich�s you use to develop your topic (your quantum of Truth), or invent new ones. WYSIWYG, as applied to word processing, has apparently made this method of writing and revision the mode of choice among writers in the new electronic age-- rendering the slower, more traditional use of pen and paper nearly obsolete.

It's a different thing when the computer you're typing on isn't yours, and you're pressed for time. Like, say, an Internet caf� (or whatever passes for one in this country). Time is money, and the longer you stay online, writing and thinking and revising, the harder it is on your wallet. You can always train yourself to type faster and use fewer high-falutin' words, but the message is often mangled by the hasty medum. There simply is no time to elicit suspense as you develop your topic; no time to induce feelings of doubt, incredulity, and interest from your readers; no time to build unassailable fortresses around your arguments; no time for humor; no time for that punchline, the grand irony that drives your message home.

You wind up with the usual truths and insight wrapped in half-baked crap.

PP is for Pencil Pushing

You can always lay kilometers of pencil lead across wads of paper prior to any contact between you and an online computer. It's always been a sound plan, but here is where we run into several problems.

1.If you're used to thinking, typing and revising on the PC, the pencil can seem clunky. That clunky-ness can get in the way of organizing your thoughts. You have the advantage of time for your revsions, but you do not necessarily have the advantage of money or easy access to a computer.

2. If your Muse zaps you with inspiration at odd hours of the day, you may not have any writing-grade paper on your person. While this is remedied by having lots of paper on you at all times, it can be difficult to keep tabs on all the discrete bits of paper floating about you. You're bound to lose a few sheets no matter how organized you are. And trust me, you will not like how you'll feel when you type up a draft whose ending is on a sheet of paper, safely stowed in your other pants.

Yes, you will still wind up with the usual truths wrapped in half-baked crap.

Kung Gusto, Maraming Paraan. Kung Ayaw...

Still, there are no excuses for bad writing, however you define the word, "bad." At least, there shouldn't be. And aptly enough, there is only one sure cure for blocked people, and for people who are forced to write on the fly. Can you guess?

Challenge: Your writing is incoherent, incomplete, soulless, tired, clich�d or otherwise characteristic of the copywriters and publicists of a vapid local boyband-cum-beefcake act. Your writing will probably remain that way for a long time. Ha ha ha ha.

Response: Write anyway.

Yep. I'll give you a gold star.

Notes; Also Words for the Week

The one percent that manages to survive the crucible of revision is the stuff that wins you awards, moves people (and mountains), and gets you into someone else's pants.

� WYSWYG-- A geekspeak term, meaning What You See Is What You Get. This computer innovation allowed writers, copy editors, layout editors and publishers to actually see what was typed and laid out as it was being typed and laid out. You could even print output at any stage of production and your printout would match what you saw on the monitor. This made the act of producing a book, newspaper or magazine (and most anything else designed on a computer) a lot easier. It's taken for granted now, but it was a big thing during the Pre-Mac/Pre-Windows days when computers could only run a single application at a time, and when what you saw on those applications did not directly translate into what you saw on the printed pages.

...incidentally increasing the cases and severity of eyestrain, astigmatism and myopia, as well as back and posture problems.

Full text: "Kung gusto, maraming paraan. Kung ayaw, maraming dahilan." Filipino proverb, translates into: "Where there's a will, there's a way," but appends this with "When there's no will, there's always an excuse."

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