A few weeks ago, I posted about writing as a second career. As you probably know by now, my posts are excruciatingly long-drawn. So here is the 2nd part:
ON OWNING IT
A friend of mine (hi Pau!) studied culinary school, and plowed through an internship program before putting up her own successful restaurant; but for the longest time, she did not feel she had enough street cred to call herself a chef.
Call me old school, but I kinda agree with her. When I initially started writing, I was pretty hesitant to call myself a writer because I didn’t have the training and experience to back it up.
I mean, kapal ko naman right? So just because I opened a WordPress account, I’m now a writer?
The thing is, even when I was getting a few of jobs and getting into children’s book writing businesses, I still had qualms.
When people asked me what I did for a living, I would unhesitatingly say that I was a housewife.
My ever-supportive husband started getting tired of my self-esteem-induced hesitation. Every time he would over hear me say this, he would give me a withering stare and correct me, “Actually, she’s a writer.”
Ofcourse I would I end up getting very annoyed and embarrassed.
“I’m not a writer yet! I’m just working to become one.” I would say.
To which he would counter; “Pi, you’re already writing. You write better than a lot of people out there. So what are you waiting for? How are you going to network if you don’t tell people what you’re doing? “
The lawyer has a point.
If I don’t tell people what I do for a living, then I can’t really find jobs, can I?
(Short kwento: There was one party where my husband and I got friendly with this couple. Turns out, they both worked in a big advertising firm and were always looking for freelancers. Of course, my quippy alter-ego got the better of me and I had to blurt out, “Ooh! Look at me networking! Don’t expect much, I don’t know what I’m doing.” Wtf right??? Needless to say, they never called me.)
Gradually, I started to put myself out there and became more comfortable “advertising” myself, so to speak. Even had business cards printed so I could be more legit! :p (Because there’s nothing like having a business card to make it official.)
It dawned on me, that if I wanted to be taken seriously, then I needed to start taking making myself seriously. If I wanted to be legit, I have to believe and convey to people that I’m legit. In other words, I need to get this “oh- I’m-a-poser,” disclaimer out of my head and start realizing that I have worth while skills to offer.
To be clear, I still think training and street cred count for a lot, but I also realized that there also comes a point where you just need to jump in, own your dream and work it.
ON CHARGING FOR WORK
If I’m iffy about being called writer, it goes without saying that I had my reservations about professional fees as well.
For the first couple projects that I had, I literally relied on good will. I would do the work without sending a billing statement. When people asked me how much my rates were, I would shyly state that since I was starting, they can pay me whatever the hell they wanted. (A lot of the clients I encountered were more than fair. But I did have one or two who assured me of compensation but never delivered. I also never followed up.)
While doling up my services for free will probably earn me brownie points, it will not build me my Oprah empire. I gots to pay my bills. (Well, husband takes care of that. He is the reason why I can afford to quibble about compensation. But, still, it makes me feel better when I contribute. When I got my first steady retainer gig I volunteered to pay for the Internet. Can you imagine life without Netflix?? I think not. That made me feel super important. Now, the informal arrangement is; he takes care of all monthly expenses, I cover emergencies and luxuries.)
So I started asking other freelancers to get an idea of the going base rate. One of the first people I asked was a classmate from college. Not only is she an excellent writer, but she has managed to successfully find her niche. (Hi Jo!)
Apart from giving me a range, she also gave me a piece of valuable advice: Don’t sell yourself short. And don’t be afraid to ask for compensation that is commensurate to your effort and skills. Because charging cheap will not only will be unfair to you, but you’ll be ruining the curve for every one else.
That totally makes sense. Writers, compared to other creatives, are grossly underpaid. (Maybe because people think you only need a computer and Word Processor to be able to write? Lies! You also need a bottle of vodka and a ream of cigarettes. Hehehe.) If I valued my work and the industry that I’m working in, then I need to charge fairly and competitively.
ON GETTING MENTORS
As part of my effort to gain more street cred, I decided to look for workshops and programs that would help me improve my writing skills.
The first person I contacted was Martine de Luna, a blog coach who has successfully created a brand that extended beyond blogging.
With Martine, I was able to really pin down what I wanted to write about what I wanted to achieve with my blog. She also introduced me to Marge of Happy WAHM, who set up my web domain, and Pat of Fancy Girl who designed the l look for my blog.
Before I met their team, I had a broke-back WordPress site; but my ideas were as kalat as my digital-hoarder excuse for a Pinterest account. Going through the process with them made me a little bit more decisive about what I wanted to put out there.
My next class was a digital phone photography workshop with our wedding photographer, Sheila Catilo. I’m not visually-inclined, but she taught me that just like in writing, you need to have a clear vision before you could take a good photo. I also learned a bunch of basic photography rules; learned how to maximize the photo functions on my phone and was able to figure out certain tricks that I could use when editing pictures.
The third workshop that I took was a little bit of a fluke. I mentioned in my last post, that I’m super kaladkarin. My friend Boo wanted to take a script writing class to brush up on the skills she learned in college. Making films is not part of my Oprah vision board. But I figured, hey, it’s still writing-related; plus, I get to spend time with my friend, so might as well right?
Turns out, our teacher was a legit communist who was passionate about film noirs. Admittedly, he’s pretty brilliant- but he spent a good chunk of time ranting about commercially-made movies (There was one day that he was ranting about “Up”. Up- the little boy and the grandpa, “Up!” He claims it teaches kids to back down when people are trying to take their land. Whatevs), that by the end of the first day, Boo and I just stared bewilderedly at each other were like, “But we just want to learn how to make Koreanovelas!”
Needless to say, we didn’t finish all 6 sessions. But, strangely, even though all we watched in class were dark what-the-hell-is-going-on movies, I actually picked up a few skills that I could use for my children’s book writing.
According to our teacher, one of the things that makes a script awful is when everything is verbally expressed. So with his class, I learned how to think visually and to utilize symbolisms as a way of communicating ideas.
The last workshop I attended was a children’s book writing class, conducted by Joachim Antonio, an accomplished writer who had many Palanca awards under his belt.
I think I loved his class the most because it was the only workshop that I took that totally fit what I wanted to do. In that 6-hour session, I was able to solidify a new plot for my next book; and I also learned a lot of techniques that I could definitely use to polish my work.
I was so happy that I emailed him afterwards and asked him if he could accommodate me for me one-on-one training. We haven’t started, but I’m super excited about it.
With every class that I joined (yes, even with surly communist teacher), I found myself not just gaining more knowledge, but actually becoming more confident about what I can offer.
More than that though, I realized that taking classes also helped me figure out who I was a writer. (Awkward segway to next part)
ON KNOWING YOUR STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES
I think I mentioned this anecdote in my old blog, but when I was in college, I was placed in an advanced English program. I keep on going back to it because I consider it as my first-ever training in writing. It was also the first time that it dawned on me that I might actually have legit skills.
And then I met my classmates. And they were all the sh*t. Some of them were even racking up literature awards or were published authors at 18.
It became pretty clear that if this merit program was for the top 50 students of the batch, I was probably, well, number 50 (worse, I probably robbed the next Shakespeare of his spot by some random test-taking fluke).
People in class were churning out Gabriel-Garcia-Marquez-like essays, and were whipping out sonnets. I on the other hand, would sheepishly pass papers entitled “How to Know if You’re with Mister Right.”
My classmates were all racking in A+s. I got B++’s. (Dude, that wasn’t even a real grade! Ateneans, what the hell is the numerical equivalent of a B++??)
My teacher, who was a real sweetheart, decided to give all of us mock-awards at the end of the year. My classmates got “The Next Pulitzer Price Winner” or the “The Next Newbery Award Recipient”. Guess what I got? “The Next Seventeen Magazine Editor.”
It was seriously sad. And incredibly funny.
Fast forward a couple of decades later, I still write like some melodramatic teenager. But I realize now that that’s perfectly fine.
Rather than changing my style altogether and working doggedly on my flaws, I try to focus more on improving my strengths, and striving to make my “weaknesses” work for me.
I mean, I know that I can’t write painfully poignant and heart-wrenchingly profound narratives like these great novelists, but I do have a self-deprecating sense of humor that seems to translate well on paper. I don’t have the analytical depth and concise language of journalists, but I have a trippy imagination and can communicate well with kids.
Everyone has niche, and I seriously think that before you even try to improve yourself in any field, you have to also know who you are and what you are about.
I learned that in order to thrive, you have to accept both your strengths and your limitations. Because it’s only when you learn to embrace not just who you are, but also who you are not (Ooh! Play of words! This is my effort to sound deep and Maya Angelou-ish) that you’ll be able to move purposefully towards your goals.
To be clear, I’m still in the process of trying to make it. And who the hell knows what will happen in the future? But as always, this new journey pushed me beyond my comfort zone and provided me the opportunity to learn new things. So for that alone, I’m grateful.