I CAN still remember the fear and excitement of that fateful Sunday of September 2005, when I went to the St. Raymund’s Building to attend what was then called as the first Varsitarian Literary Workshop. Being my very first workshop, I had no idea what to expect. A friend from the Thomasian Writers Guild told me that workshops are not for the faint-hearted. I was in my sophomore year then, fresh from passing the cut-off grade in the College of Nursing and eager to explore what the whole University has in store for me. Little did I know that this would start my three-year affair with the workshop.

When I arrived at Room 101 of St. Raymund’s, I was given a name tag and a file case containing a ballpen, pencil, blank papers, and manuscripts, which I supposed were the works of my co-fellows. I also got hold of the schedule, and, much to my horror, right after the first lecture that day, my short story would kick off the workshop proper. Talk about being the sacrificial lamb. I could barely eat the free Tinapayan mamon during the morning break.

The slaughter began. We started off by reading the first few paragraphs of my piece. I kept my head bowed and my eyes glued to my story, lest I give out the fact that I was the author of the story currently being butchered. It felt like I was in elementary class again, anxiously waiting for my name to be called in the graded recitation, as my monster of a teacher shuffles the index cards greedily. Except that that time, I was not a child anymore. It was not even a graded recitation, just a workshop-slash-critiquing session that I brought upon myself by joining in the first place.

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It was a good thing that the panelists were nice and gentle with their words, pointing out the good points first (“This is probably the cleanest story here,” “I like the metaphor of the river and the boatman,” “The story flows because of the smooth transitions.”) before proceeding with the not so pleasant stuff. My story got average, bordering to good, comments from the panelists and the fellows, with the worst comment being, “There is no conflict here!” from one of the panelists, Zack Linmark. Ouch.

But if there was one thing that I had learned from my foremost workshop, it was that I needed to toughen up and not get affected by the comments directed to my piece. “Kill your babies,” as Melendez told us. After all, writing does not stop with writing alone. The revision process is even longer. Revising is like rearing a child: as much as you love him, you have to discipline him so as to bring out the best in him.

And who would have thought that my connection with the workshop would last for two more years? The following year, having entered the Varsitarian as a literary writer, I was given the task of being the assistant chairperson of the workshop, and this year, its chairperson.

Today, the three-year-old workshop has evolved from catering to essay and fiction into focusing on fiction alone, reportedly the Thomasian writer’s waterloo. Thus, this year, it was renamed as the Varsitarian Fiction Workshop. After the recently concluded workshop, regular panelist Jun Cruz Reyes told me that he appreciates the Varsitarian’s effort of trying to heal the ailing state of fiction in the University. Indeed, the workshop had been doing its job of producing Ustetika winners every year, including last year’s Rector’s Literary Award recipent, Samuel Medenilla. This year’s batch of Ustetika winners remains to be seen, but I am keeping my hopes up that the fellows of the third Varsitarian Fiction Workshop will shine through this December.

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***

To the 2007 fellows of the Varsitarian Fiction Workshop, my heartfelt congratulations for your enthusiastic participation and audacity to face and accept the straightforward criticisms from this year’s panelists. The future of Thomasian fiction rests upon you.

Also, the third Varsitarian Fiction Workshop would not have been possible if not for this year’s panelists, whose unwavering support and guidance continues to hone the talents that may someday revive the glory of Thomasian fiction.

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