A continuation from 6 Tips on Finding Your Writing Muse:

4. PLAN IT. PLAN IT. PLAN IT. This is the most important tip of all.  You see, the key to starting any successful endeavor is to start coming up first with the BIG PICTUREYour Plan is the framework, the anchor, the map of your work. Without it, you will drift away to a land of uncertainty, never reaching your desired destination.  And if you do reach something, you hardly know what it means and have a hard time explaining or justifying the mess you’ve made.  With messy work, you’ll get mercilessly attacked for your scattershot effort OR you get lucky OR both.  This is, for me, what happened to the Twilight series of Stephenie Meyer.  She was obviously both.  She started the first story by seeing it in a ‘dream’ (that’s what she recently told Ellen), just typing away in the computer, putting into words what were obviously fantasy ramblings of a bored housewife, without using much of a mental map.  In her books, there were a number of times that she mentioned that she suffered from writer’s block. This was clearly an admission of a lack of a plan.  If a writer has a plan in the first place, then he or she will know what to say–plain and simple.  It was unplanned, hence, her story plots got messier and messier as she reached the final book, Breaking Dawn, which was described as a disappointment and an ‘epic fail’ when it came to story development.  Anyway, as I said, she was lucky that majority of hopeless romantics out there ate her words like cotton candy even if her stories were the result of come-what-may-I’ll-cross-the-bridge-when-i-get-there writing strategy.  You may argue–“Well, who cares if her stories were atrocious, she’s now rich, isn’t she?”  Right.  And instances like that is a good thing to reflect upon in the life of an artist–choosing which path or direction to take.  An artist has to choose–settle for real integrity or plain dumb luck? Which would you prefer to be known for–carefully prepared works but painstakingly slow (as in Van Gogh slow) recognition of your unique, real talent OR be known for churning out average, formulaic, run-of-the-mill outputs yet assured of overnight success and a zillionnaire-lifestyle? I advise you to answer this, and check your values first before you start calling yourself an artist.  Whichever path you choose, it’s fine.  The important thing is you’re fully aware of this decision which you will have to eventually and inevitably own up.

Back to the writing tips… You may start planning using different approaches, depending on your own style when it comes to brainstorming ideas. One may start with one thing or the other:

a) Language. You may determine your level and scope of your unique language first. How do you tell a story? Do you prefer using simple words or sophisticated language; technical language or universal?

b) Audience. Find the audience you know who is comfortable or more suitable with this language that you chose (children, young adults, women or men only, the discriminating sophisticated few or the masa or general public?).  This is important because it will set the tone of your narrative, and the level or depth of the story. (Always bear in mind your audience when you’re writing the story by picturing them in your head, pretending you’re talking to them. Like right now, I’m picturing you, the reader, in my head as I write these series on writing tips.  It helps because the words flow quite easily, and I constantly make sure if I am making sense to you or not, wondering if you can understand well what I’ve been saying so far by going over my words and continuously reflecting as often as possible.)

c) Story Elements (Genre/Plot/Setting/Characters): (Again, these may come in a different order, depending on what you think you could prioritize first) Come up with a genre (romance, comedy, adventure, suspense, tragedy, drama or combination of these; fantasy or reality-based); Construct the gist or the plot or the angle (think of the conflict, a problem, an issue that needs to be resolved–or not, if it’s a tragedy); Decide when (present, past or future) and where this conflict could took place (write what you know–your own hometown, village, city or country is ideal and usually recommended for starting writers); and finally, decide on the characters who will help bring out and realize all these elements (at least finalize on the major characters; other minor characters can be conjured up once you’re in the writing process).  Be sure to take time in planning and finalizing the elements–it is difficult to visualize the story flow if you’re still undecided on these basic elements.

d) Story Flow. This is where organization is required.  Get a piece of paper and make a timeline. Divide the timeline into stages and substages: the start or the introduction (like the opening scene of a movie, you’re setting the stage for the reader, and a lot of descriptive narration happens here); the middle (which includes the beginnings or the gradual revealing of the problem or the building up of the conflict, the resolution or climax, and the events that happened after the conflict was resolved); and the ending or at least an inkling of it.  If you feel your story has the makings of an epic, then consider a series, but still bearing in mind the final phase of the story (which includes the climax or resolution) since that will guide you through the long and arduous writing process like a lighthouse in the night (you know where you’re going).  But even if you have a plan, it is not yet perfect so constantly reflect on all aspects of it–what will work, do away with the trite and the clichéd and the predictable angles, and reflect on how you can make it different as much as possible from other published works that you’ve read.

This was why JK Rowling’s HP book series were a well deserved success–both commercially and critically.  Unlike Meyer, Rowling had it all planned out right from the start–knowing how it will all end.  From the very beginning, she had a map and a destination in mind by already deciding and mentally constructing the ultimate fate of the major characters, and stuck with it.  That was why the trip albeit extremely long was so much fun–you know that Rowling will not waste your time and money; she made sure you enjoy the wait and the journey to the final place that was already a sure thing.  I felt secure, assured of the fact that she knows where she is taking us and felt sad when it was all over.  I would prefer to have her in charge of the helm than a million uncertain Meyers in the world.  Same goes for Tolkien’s Lord of the Ring trilogy, and well…Lucas’ original Star Wars trilogy, too–all well-thought out, planned out and organized.

To be continued: 5th and 6th Tips on Finding Your Writing Muse.

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As I mentioned before, I would like to contribute to National Novel Month (NaNoMo)–not in the form of a written novel but ideas on how to start writing. And as I said in my previous post, I take back what I said about being a weekend artist or writer.

I realized, after much thought, that it IS possible to accomplish something creative while still having a day job…if i just knew how to plan.  Planning is everything. But some artists resist planning, preferring to be spontaneous and their manner of artistic outpouring as unstructured and raw as much as possible, unpredictable spurts of artistic madness.  But the trouble with that is one may end up scratching his head and asking himself: “WTF am i doing?” Nevertheless, I guess that an artist, musician or writer who plans and reflects more may have a better chance of not only starting an artwork, story, poem or song but ultimately ending up with an actual finished piece, and being happy and satisfied with the results.

However, it is the dreaded DAY JOB that prevents one from pursuing artistic endeavors.  So I came up with tips for myself (and for those who may find them helpful) on how I can practice art even ‘during the weekends’ without compromising quality of work.  Sometimes, the Muse doesn’t come to you but nobody said you can’t go searching for her.  I call these tips The 6 MUSE TIPS:

1. DESIRE IT. If you are driven, then anything is possible.  If you’re just forcing yourself, then don’t bother picking up the pen or brush. Visualizing the outcome helps.  Envision yourself looking at the bookshelves with copies of your books being sold.  Imagine making readers stop and stare, pore over your words, getting a reaction from them–a tear, a smile or even a raised eyebrow.

2. SEARCH YOUR FEELINGS and your emotions and experiences–love, hate, anger, frustrations, ordeals and triumphs and be ready to share them.  These are yours and no one can take them away from you.  You cannot be an artist if there is nothing to share.  Otherwise you’re not just fooling yourself but other people as well. Experts can tell, too, if you’re just skilled in a superficial, technical way… or possessing a talent that emanates deep from your heart, soul and mind just by looking at your artwork or literary piece.  If it is impersonal or obviously hackneyed from a trend set by other artists who are more established, they can sense that you’re not just being mediocre, you’re also being insincere.  Find your own unique voice.

3.  BE OBSERVANT. Be a sponge and absorb everything around you.  If you’re stuck or feeling nonchalant about life, then you have to start educating yourself. Listen to people’s stories.  Be curious.  Study and watch people, things, nature, animals, the sky, the weather.  Know other people’s feelings, their problems and how they overcame them (or if they weren’t able to, find out why).  Ask what upsets them and what makes them laugh.  Check the other side of the coin and try to understand. If words are not being spoken, learn to sense them. Stimulate your senses using your sensory perceptions–smell and taste different foods, see a way of life that is foreign to your own, get out of your comfort zone, take nature trips, train yourself to look at the tiniest details, find out what they’re called and describe them in your head.  Or ask yourself how you feel about anything–like the hazy sunset or long dark shadows falling on an adobe wall, etc.  Be amazed at an ordinary thing (or find the irony), then compare or contrast it (a lone tree in the horizon, a smooth pebble glistening in a neglected garden) with people you know.  You can come up with a hundred story angles and themes, fill them up with these unique details that you yourself have discovered; create your own personal meanings, philosophies, and beliefs. This is the unique gift of the artists–to see beyond the ordinary.  And it is their job to help others who lack this special faculty of  ‘seeing’ and bring these out into the open through the arts.  You’re actually showing them the unseen, the unheard, the unnoticed, and the unfelt, thereby with your help, these become real and true.

The next tip is about Planning and Organizing which I consider very important keys in coming up with a work of art.  I figured it deserves to be discussed next time since I have a lot to say about it.

To be continued in the next post.

Of the nine and half stories I feverishly churned out almost ten years ago, two got published. Having no PC during that time, I wrote them all by hand. But it was no big deal. They were basically love stories. I had to make the stories simple yet strive to make them better than the usual, run of the mill stories you find in bookstore shelves–by giving them more imaginative plots, characters with more depth and personality, and wittier, more entertaining dialogues or repartee between boy and girl.  A local book company that specializes in romances got to publish the first two.  How was it? Well, I used a pseudonym. I was not allowed to own the copyrights (one of the main reasons why I decided to stop having the rest published).  I bought one copy each of the two books but did not have the guts to read my own works in book form because for sure the editors may have altered it or butchered some parts in order to fit their mold of formula romance or horribly squeezed or pared it down to a required 90-page book.

Being a published author of two love stories was not something i would put in my CV as major accomplishments.  Heavens, no! It was just a creative phase that i went through and the money I got from it (which wasn’t much) helped pay the bills somehow.

But one thing about it that i was proud of was not the fact that two of my stories got published.  It was more of the fact that I was ABLE to write almost ten stories. And it gave me the hope that if I did it before, then definitely I could do it again. It also served as a form of self-discovery of my own creativity–my limitations, how I work, what i am capable of, where I excel at and where I needed to improve on.

Hmmm… After much reflection on this, I guess I have to take back what I wrote before (see previous post).  That it’s not possible for me to be a weekend artist or writer.  That forcing to create an artistic endeavor during weekends will only result to mediocre work.  I take them all back because there is something that I did not mention…

That there is still hope.  Well, it seems to be that I’m a fan of HOPE nowadays.  Tsk…there goes my cynical streak…

To be continued in the next post

A friend who had seen and read my blog commented on the title. “Since you’re saying that you’re an artist, will you be doing art from now on?”

Instead, I explained to her that the ‘colors’ on my ‘palette’ in the title are just the metaphors for the things that transpire in my day to day life.  “Yeah, I get that,” she said. “But still, will you be drawing and painting again and all that stuff, too?”

I smiled albeit ruefully, and answered the question in my head, “If only I could…

Back when I was in college taking up Fine Arts, I’ve already heard people say that once you have a job (that has nothing to do with art), you will not be able to practice your craft.  “It has to be art and nothing else.  You can’t have both.”

Years later, I became a teacher.  Now, I am realizing what they’ve been trying to say was really true.  I can’t have both.

The Muse is a jealous mistress. You’ve got to give her your time and full attention. Or else she will deem you not worthy of her gifts.  She’s The Diva.  A multi-tasker is definitely not her type.  It’s got to be her or nothing at all.

I am not a ‘weekend artist.’ I have bills to pay and have to stick with my regular job.  I’ve got lesson plans, remedial plans, cases to consider, and a master’s degree to finish.  My mind can’t be on too many things at the same time (‘Jack of all trades. Master of none’).  If I tried to work on something artistic or creative, like during the weekends, I either end up with mediocre work or work that was forever left unfinished.  And I would be miserable every time that happens.  So to avoid being sad about it, I just don’t.

But I remember one magical year. I was jobless. I was a free-lance tutor and did not have a boss.  I found myself writing stories.  I was also sketching and planning.  The ideas kept coming. I forgot to sleep. I missed meals. I did not even take baths!  I wrote nine and half stories. I made plans for art projects.  I was obsessed…And it was exhilarating!  The Muse was here!

However, it was also the time I actually experienced being a starving artist.  I ended up having financial troubles.  I had to hock my necklace just to get money to pay the electric bill.  It was that bad.  So I had no choice but to go and have back the security and comforts assured of a nine to five job…

Patronage of the arts is important in the history of art.  Throughout the centuries, wealthy people used patronage of the arts to endorse their political ambitions, social positions, and prestige.  And in return we get priceless contributions from the greats of the visual arts, music, and literature like Da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Shakespeare and Mozart.  There were attempts to promote the arts during the Marcos era but understandably, a country like ours that needs to fill its empty belly first, we scoffed at such attempts, shoving the arts into its perennial place in the backseat.

We all want to help our country be a better place for our children to live in.  It should also be a place worthy of our tears, pride and joy.  Showing it off to the world through our arts and creativity and culture is one way to do it. I lament the fact that there are hundreds of gifted writers, musicians, and artists out there, crying out and yearning to release their souls and be free to create and shine but yet are forced to work in a non-creative environment to feed themselves and their families (or leave for a place where they and their talents are more welcome).  The government has its hands full.  The corporate world (except for a few) couldn’t care less.

And if we do get a chance to practice the arts even ‘during weekends,’ what will be the outcome? In this fast-moving, materialistic, hi-tech, interactive, photo-shopping, multi-media world where people are running, rushing, altering, and multi-tasking, will we see mediocre works that are hurriedly done; or simply copied and altered from something that was available in the internet; or something cold and distant and impersonal and unoriginal and unreal–and yet passing it off as art? Should we settle for this than none at all?

The Muse is beckoning again.  She is angry and impatient.  And so am I… Please wait… just wait…

To be continued in the next post