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On Writing (I)

Some advice I've given students in a writing course:

  1. There are only two things you need to do in order to be a good writer: You have to read, and you have to write.
  2. Write in white heat, edit in cold blood
    • When you write your first draft, don't think; thinking comes later. Let your fingers do the thinking as there are times they're smarter than ourselves. Write first out of the fire of passion, the rush of ideas. 
    • Then after your work has cooled down, put on your editor's cap and if need be be ruthless in editing what you wrote.
  3. Write your first draft for yourself, and then your second draft for your reader
    • Being wary of whether or not what you are writing will be agreeable to other people can paralyze you. In contrast, when you write without considering others, what you write is agreeable, and even beautiful, to you precisely because that's what you put down and not another thing.
    • When it comes to the second draft, put on your reader's hat and try to take his perspective: Am I clear? Do I need to put a transition here? Could I be boring the reader in this part?
  4. It has often been said: Write what interests you the most. Otherwise:
    • You will not enjoy.
    • You will not own your writing.
    • And there's just no sense in it: It's like finding a heavy rock to carry up a mountain when you could have found a more manageable, because enjoyable, boulder to carry.
  5. St. Thomas' "Prayer for Work":
    • Ingressum instrias--Look after the preparations
    • Progressum custodias--Survey the progress
    • Egressum impleas--Harvest the fruits

      George Friedrich Kersting, "Man Reading
      by Lamplight." 1814.
  6. Schedule: Know your body or mind clock
    • It could be early in the morning, at night, or whatever time of the day. Observe when your thoughts are most fluid, when you have the most energy. These are what I call waves: know your high and low tides. 
    • No sense to write when you're sleepy, or tired--and when you are, just rest to gather strength so you can give it another go soon, fresh. Or do something less tiring: organize your notes, photocopy books, format your paper.
    • The golden rule is: Do not mix work and rest. Rest when you rest, work when you work.
  7. Read while you write.
    • While it is natural to think that you need to read first so you have something to write about, the danger is that there is really no end to reading, as the things you think you need to read will be infinite. That will only be excuse for procrastination: "I haven't read enough," "Just this last book." 
    • Because reading is easier than writing, we tend to prolong the first part and wait until the last moment to commence the second (usually because of deadlines).
    • Reading while you write is more advantageous in that you narrow down your reading based on what you really need as you write. Most of what you read, you discover, you will not use anyway in your writing (though of course they might come in handy in the future, or more importantly, you nevertheless learned something--which is the point of research).
  8. Remember that, as I read somewhere, the poorest draft is much better than the clearest outline.
  9. No such thing as inspiration. While it be an art, writing is still a craft. 
    • You need to labor, exercise your skills, invest most of your waking hours to it, and simply soldier on. 
    • The best writers and artists, though inspired, are the ones who saw work as work, rain or shine, melancholy or gay, hung over or spirited. Treat it as an 8-5 job.
  10. On that note: Exercise
    • Write as often as you can, daily as possible, so that you can train your mind and hands regularly. When it comes to the really serious writing, it will come naturally already. 
    • It's not about me but I think writing has become easier for me the past few years because of the time I've spent writing here. Whether it be in a journal, a blog, a diary, or notes, write as often as possible.
    • Also, write about anything. You will be surprised with what you will discover in the course of writing. I use a lot of examples for my classes that I gathered from things I wrote on different topics. 
    • And who knows? those assorted, incomplete notes and pieces may someday find themselves collected in a book. Pascal and Nietzsche gifted us with such short notes. Speaking of Nietzsche . . .
  11. Advice from Nietzsche (Human, All too Human):
    • Be Humble
      • "The talent of some men appears slighter than it is because they have always set themselves tasks that are too great." 
    • Less is more: 
      • "A little knowledge is more successful than complete knowledge: it conceives things that are simpler than they are, thus resulting in opinions that are more comprehensible and persuasive."
    • Be simple:
      • "Young people love what is interesting and odd, no matter how true or false it is. More mature minds love what is interesting and odd about truth. Fully mature intellects , finally, love truth, even when it appears plain and simple, boring to the ordinary person; for they have noticed that truth tends to reveal its highest wisdom in the guise of simplicity."
    • Avoid being superfluous:
      • "Writers who do not know how to express their thoughts clearly in general, will in particular prefer to select the strongest, most exaggerated terms and superlatives: this produces an effect as torchlights along confusing forest paths."



  1. love reading this. thanks for the tips! they'll be very useful. :D -yvaughn

  2. Certainly, Yvaughn. Any habits or advice that you can share yourself?

    Thanks for dropping by!

  3. Anonymous8/09/2011

    Hi! It's me again. :)
    Wish I could easily follow number 6. I can't bring myself to languor when I know I still have a number of deadlines to beat.

    As for number 2, well I must say I write on impulse (which I find useful most of the time) but then I almost always forget to do the latter...

    I'll keep this list in mind. :) Thanks! You write beautifully by the way.

  4. Hello, my friend.

    My thesis mentor once exclaimed: "Thank God for deadlines!" Because really, we wouldn't write as much as we can or want to if it were not for such time constraints and goals that have to be met. But yeah, I understand. Writing in leisure is another thing. I find it more enjoyable, really, and it brings out the best in me.

    We're the same, I guess. I used to hate the part when I have to edit because it is painstaking and tedious. I'm a bad speller, I double or lack words in a sentence, am prone to mistakes and generally careless (as you can see in this space most of the time)--all because I type quickly so that I can keep up with my at times racing mind.

    Only later did I see not only the necessity of editing (authors edit or revise around three to four times at least), but also its beauty: you are really able to literally polish the gems you discovered in the first draft. And in time, editing and proofreading become almost automatic (thanks also in large part to all the papers I check).

    So happy writing! And thanks. Appreciate it--.

  5. Yvaughn here. I always write from the heart. It connects us to our readers more. Okay to write from the mind once in a while, but writing from the heart makes us more human. Also, write from experience so that others will also learn from our experiences. God bless, my friend, and keep writing! :D

  6. Hi Sir! I was under your Philo class once (2006), but after a few meetings, you were replaced by Sir Jope because you had to take a leave.

    You made us write a paper in relation to the Allegory of the Cave back then. At that time, I just went through a rough breakup, so of course that was all that I could write about. :p I don't know if what I wrote was that depressing because you jotted down that we should talk, but you were already gone the next meeting. But during the meeting when you returned our paper, you lectured about the concept of beginnings and starting anew. I would just like you to know that lecture really knocked some sense into me.
    This should serve as proof:

    I told Sir Jope about this and it's him who told me that you are keeping this blog. I actually have been a regular visitor since then. :)

    If you're wondering, I am now in law school. That place has seemed to deplete me of my creative juices and your writing tips above would be of great use as I try to write again. Thank you!

    I shall also try to comment on your posts from time to time. I hope you don't mind! Your posts remind me of my Philosophy classes back in college. Are you back in Ateneo?

  7. Dear Trish,

    It's good to hear from you. I remember writing that down. So sorry we never did get to talk.

    Thank you for letting me know that in one way or another we helped, or eased, your situation then. Most of the time a teacher never gets to know these things, and perhaps that does not matter as much as keeping on teaching what may be helpful for a life or two.

    I hope law school has been a good, meaningful experience for you. You must love what you are doing so much so as to have the rigor and the discipline studying law requires. How far are you from finishing? Good luck in your studies, and all the best.

    And yes, why not write from time to time again? I see you take beautiful photographs already. I believe it's just a short step away from writing beautiful words again. It's all in the eyes.

    Please feel free to do so. And no. But somewhere near and far. Cheers.

  8. I think I still have that paper. I will look for it in my college files. I am typing now with Mumford and Sons' The Cave coincidentally playing on the background. Don't you think it may have some reference to the Allegory of the Cave? The title is a giveaway.

    I will always be grateful for my Jesuit education, and I have my teachers to thank for that.

    Law school has been a crazy roller coaster ride. Sadly, I feel like I'm still stuck at the vertical loop. I still have until March 2014 to move forward...

    I wrote some snippets this weekend. I think it's a start. Thank you for the compliment on the photos. You take beautiful photos too. I only took most of mine using my phone's camera (which reminds me, I need to replace my broken point-and-shoot soon).

    I once read that in choosing a job, you need to be in a place that "you need to be and are most needed". Wherever "somewhere near and far" is, I hope that place is for you.

  9. I though it amusing that when you first spoke here I was lecturing Plato, particularly the allegory of the cave. I have not taught it in a while, and I saw again how it never gets old.

    Recently I have focused on the question of the value of truth--on its "advantage," what is "adds" to a person, or why it is better than untruth especially since untruth is easier. The seeker of truth will always have difficulties (eyes need to be trained, people will not believe you, etc.). Maybe it is also a question that future lawyers like you will one day face. And if I did not get to that part back then in your class, I wished to tell you that I hope you will always follow the sun, and see through the goodness of its light alone.

    That's a poignant thought. It crystallizes into words an injunction I've come to obey the past couple of years, something that some do not understand. But no matter. I feel good where I am right now, wherever this "place" may be, whatever it is called.

    May you also be where you could be of greatest service.


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