The Red Pens of Three

The most important part of writing is revising, and it’s easier to revise if you have lots of editors working on your story. Fortunately, I have three. The two of them are split personalities of Ja the editor—Ja the debater and Ja the artist.

Editor Number One

I discovered Ja the debater during my first year in high school. Back then, I didn’t want to join the debate club. I actually became a debater by accident. When the debate club promoted in my class, all my friends wanted to join. I didn’t. I even said to my friend “Melissa, yang debate-debate na yan, hinding-hindi ako sasali.” I thought debate was boring that’s why I didn’t give in to peer pressure.

I actually wanted to audition for the glee club. However, on the day of my audition, I wasn’t able to. When I went to the music room, there was a sign that said, “Please use the other door.” The two doors beside it led to an audiovisual room and an empty theater. For some sort of reason, every person that I asked didn’t know where that other door was. I kept on looking, and eventually I lost track of time, and I got left by the bus. I went to my friend Monique and asked her if she could take me home. She said “Sige pero late ako makakauwi ah, kasi mag-aaudition ako for the debate club. Mag-audition ka na rin para hindi sayang oras mo. (Ok but I’m going home late because I’m auditioning for the debate club. You should audition too just to pass the time)”

I thought to myself, what the heck, I had nothing to do, so I better just audition. If I make a fool out of myself, the panel will never remember me anyway. Plus, it was the last day of club sign ups, and I still didn’t have a club. Ironically, I passed and my friend didn’t.

As the days went by, I fell in love with debate, and when I went to college, I continued debating for the Ateneo Debate Society. I enjoyed considerable success in debate. In high school, I was a semifinalist of the 2005 Inter-school Debate Association Grands Championships and a finalist of both the 2005 Philippine Schools Debate Championships and the 2005 Inter-school Debate Association Championships. In college, I was a champion of the 2006 College of Saint Benilde Intervarsity, an international quarterfinalist in the 2009 Asian Universities Debate Championships, a two-time national semifinalist in the 2007 and the 2008 National Debate Championships, and a national finalist in the 2009 National Debate Championships. I ended my debate career as the fourth best speaker in Asia for the 2010 United Asia Debating Championship.

Ja the debater seems like a confusing part of an artistic process, especially if one doesn’t know anything about debate. Before I got into creative writing, I had no formal training except for standard English classes. I only joined the literary club in grade school once, but we didn’t really do anything there. I never joined other writing clubs. I never joined contests. I never tried to get published. I never even showed my work to anyone. I always knew I loved writing, but I never planned on becoming a writer. Only in my third year in college did I realize that I was brave enough to face the “humiliation” of choosing to “demote” myself from the practical and logical career path that was available after B.S. Management, to the walang-pera-diyan (there’s-no-money-there) career path that was waiting for me after Creative Writing.

When I entered this course, I was worried that I was way behind my peers. It was a big surprise when I realized that most of what my creative writing teachers lectured about was something I already learned in debate. Turns out, I had been practicing the tenets of art without realizing it. All I had to do now was to figure out how to apply these debate techniques to my art.

Debaters usually say that we engage in an intellectual art. The construction of a persuasive speech is not an exact science. Sure, there are rules of logic, but debate is much more than spewing logic. Phrasing your arguments in the most compelling way is a kind of art. You learn the art of storytelling whenever you ground your arguments, which means making a general idea more believable by talking about real people and real events. Whenever one tries to explain what Kim Jong Il or what Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is like, one is practicing character development. When one argues about how one event can lead to this benefit or detriment, one is essentially doing an exercise in plotting. Through Ja the debater, I am able to analyze my work. This editor helps me work out the logical links within the story. It helps me investigate the character’s motivations in order to test if there’s enough material that would explain why he or she did this or that.

Editor Number Two

Ja the artist’s method is different from Ja the debater. Ja the artist will read the story out loud in order to hear if it sounds right. She will try to feel if the piece has heart—if there’s an urgency that says the story needs to be told, and if there’s a vitality that says it has life. Some works can be grammatically polished and totally logical, but they don’t have heart. In this case, it shrivels up on its own and voluntarily casts itself into the trash.

In order to feel the heart of the piece, Ja the artist becomes an anti-editor who dismantles the work in order to edit away the paralytic parts of the piece. Writing seems more genuine whenever it feels involuntary. In Natalie Goldberg’s book Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life she says that “the underbelly of writing is nonwriting.” Goldberg talks about the censor, which says, don’t write that, that’s a crappy idea. This censor inhibits us, and disables us from writing what we truly think. This censor might have been created by our experiences—the parent who never believed in you, that teacher who thought you would never live up to his standards, or your peers who snickered when they read your first draft. These experiences leave individuals broken, yet what Ja the artist does is to remind me that I need to transcend my brokenness. She reminds me that I should write with an integral faith—faith in myself and a faith in my capacity to get better.

As I write, Ja the artist tells me that I am a great writer, and that’s why I should keep looking for my masterpiece. Knowing that my masterpiece is out there, somewhere, leads me to feel a fundamental trust with the universe, and this gives me the freedom to express my inner thoughts and feelings. Ja the artist echoes the words of my best friend Anna Arcellana Ja, give justice to your art, and the only way that I will be able to do this is if I’m not afraid to touch my brokenness, accept this brokenness, and transform it into a perfection that is art.

Through knowing these two editors, Ja the artist and Ja the debater, one will know what kind of artist I am—a very creative one who still plays within the bounds of logic.

Editor Number Three

The third editor is my mom. I know mothers are supposed to be unreliable critics because they seem to have a built in I-appreciate-you gene, but my mother is different. My mother only praises me when I deserve it. When I ask her to edit my work, it comes back bloody with red marks. Still, she’s a much kinder critic than I am. So after she edits my work, I go over it again.

More Writing Exercises and Adventures:

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Note: For some entries in this blog, a few names and details have been deliberately and willingly changed by the author. This is a personal decision made by the author for specific reasons known to her and is not an endorsement for censorship.


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