THE ROAD to learning the craft of writing is paved with countless roadblocks. One must be able to get past through them. And there are no shortcuts.

The panelists for the Varsitarian’s eighth Fiction workshop held Sept. 8 to 9, called on budding writers to embrace the arduous process of re-reading, rewriting, and revision to master the craft of writing.

“[You can] only learn writing the hard way. There are no shortcuts,” said Sarge Lacuesta, author of the short story collection, “White Elephants: Stories,” which won the National Book Award in 2005.

The panels consisted of Unyon ng Manunulat ng Pilipino (Umpil) president Abdon Balde, Jr., screenwriter Jerry Gracio, and Ateneo de Manila University professor Edgar Samar, for Katha; and Lacuesta and UST alumni Francezca Kwe and Eric Melendez, for Fiction.

For the first time, the Varsitarian organized a separate workshop for poetry. Panelists were Ateneo professor DM Reyes, author of the poetry collection Promising Lights, Mookie Katigbak-Lacuesta, and Nerisa Guevara, for Poetry; and Allan Popa and Varsitarian alumnus and UST Graduate School lecturer Michael Coroza and Rebecca Añonuevo, for Tula.

Katigbak-Lacuesta, author of the poetry collection Proxy Eros, noted that writing a creative piece, especially in poetry, usually takes some time.

“Normally, the right word is not the first word that comes to your mind,” she said, underlining the importance of editing and revising.

Likewise, Reyes said the length of a poem does not dictate whether the work is of quality or not, stressing that “the great challenge in poetry lies in revision.”

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Talking about the challenges of revision and editing, Balde said one of his short stories even took him 10 years to finish.

“There are some elements [in the story] that needed to be redressed and corrected,” he said as he discouraged the fellows from doing slipshod writing as a result of haste and the lack of revision.

Samar, whose novel Sa Kasunod ng 909 has just been released by the UST Publishing House, said it is through the process of revision where a writer learns to exercise his craft.

“The chance of a literary work receiving recognition largely depends on revision. It is like an exercise, together with reading and continuous writing,” he said.

He added that regardless of how many revisions a work may take, the outcome would always contain parts of the first draft—and perfection is achieved only through a series of revision.

‘Write your own experience’

The error of most fledgling writers is that they opt to tell stories from other experiences other than their own, the panelists for Katha all agreed.

“Invest in your own experience. Tell your own story because you are the only one would could tell it right,” said Gracio, who was awarded the National Book Award in 2006 for his novel, Apokripos.

Gracio added that stories do not have to be “grand” and added that it could be its simplicity that would exhibit the story’s complexity.

“Usually when you write, you always want to start by making the narrative seem grand,” he said. “Stories do not have to be complicated. You can start it by making it simple.”

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On the other hand, Balde, who was also one of the panelists of the workshop last year and a mainstay judge for Ustetika, UST’s annual campus literary awards, noticed that most Thomasians always write about death, something he completely contended with.

“Death is a very serious act. You do not need death in order to bring nobleness to your story,” he said.

Meanwhile, the panelists for both poetry categories pointed out that the lack of imagery in creating poetry has been the biggest problem for most beginning writers.

“A poem should not be ‘talkative’; it should simply present certain situations,” said Coroza, who is also the secretary of Umpil.

On a different note, Katigbak-Lacuesta said most beginning writers become too focused on the “double meaning” of a poem.

“To avoid the blunder [of overreading], writers should find the ‘literal in the metaphorical," she said.

Grammar and syntax

While most writers are concerned about their stories’ characters, plot and setting, grammar and syntax still remain an important part in creating a piece, Lacuesta underscored.

“Readers are equipped with their own knowledge about grammar and they are not so gullible about its rules,” he said.

Melendez, who was a judge of last year’s Ustetika, said the main reason why nobody won in the Fiction category last year was because all of the works were poorly-written and that some of the tenses kept shifting.

The fellows for fiction and katha categories were Allan Ray Argenta, Bjorn Biel Beltran, Veronica de Ocampo, Miguel Luis Galang, Cristine Cabral, Carl Gabriel Culvera, John Evan Orias, and Yllain Lois Sabenecio.

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Meanwhile, the fellows for the poetry categories were Katherine Lei Hazel Cordero, Louis Gerard del Rosario, Angela Marie Gratela, Alvin Laqui, and Mark Antonio Raquiza, and Varsitarian writers Sarah Mae Jenna Ramos and Elora Joselle Cangco,

The annual workshop aims to hone the participants’ stories in time for the Gawad Ustetika held in December, which is also organized by the Varsitarian.

Perfecting a writing style is like going through a maze. You might get stuck and decide to take another direction. But eventually, you will find the right path—at your own pace. Writing comes with age. But still, it takes a tremendous amount of time to master this craft.

“Real life is such a great treasure-hold of things to do and every story is an opportunity,” said Lacuesta.

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