Sunday, September 29, 2002

the price of words

Sometimes, a story or a play or a poem comes to my mind almost fully-formed – from the beginning to the end, with practically all the bells and whistles. When this happens, it simply a matter of typing fast enough before the vision flees, piling words upon scenes upon verses as my fingers struggle to catch up with the dictation from my brain. Then it becomes a matter of editing, judicious addition or subtraction of a little of this or that, a general spit-and-polish, and I’m done. Around 20% of my writing can be attributed to these circumstances, when inspiration arrives full-force and delivers a complete work.

Most of the time though, I begin (or end – because sometimes I write the endings first) something while in the rapture of a wonderful idea. I am excited, I am empowered, I am driven. Then the inspiration flees and I am left to my own devices. During those circumstances, eking out every word is like painful bleeding, and it feels like I'm pounding my head against unyielding stone in a vain attempt to dislodge wonder. I resort to techniques and tricks I’ve learned from reading authors I admire or developed on my own. Ways of selecting a more evocative word or phrasing a sentence in a sexier manner or constructing an elegant paragraph with no trace of the struts and boards that balance it; deliberately counting the meter of a poem or setting up an invisible sequence of metatextual references; writing dialogue that reads great and sounds even better spoken or adjudicating the traffic of characters in all the scenes of a play.

During these times, writing becomes less inspiration and more hard work. It becomes a matter of craft to be able to scale the white monitor wall imposed by fading inspiration, and filling up the black spaces with words that make sense, ring true and are aesthetically pleasing.

When I finish a piece of that sort, I am prouder of myself compared to how I feel when I put the finishing touches on something almost purely inspired – because I bled and trembled for every word on a work I had to build from scratch, rather than coasted on the inconsistent gifts on brilliance.

Right now, I have three items of fiction, restless and murmuring sordid gossip among themselves in my “unfinished stories” folder and a script translation from English to vernacular Filipino to complete. Soon, I must steel myself for the inevitable bloodbath as I use what I have to nail them down to precise words and imagery.

If I survive the ordeal, then my Tiq’Barang detective will finally solve her case, the Thief of Hinirang will finally be given the directive to steal someone’s heart, L’eteronautas will finally breach the gate of the Indios’ heaven and battle the gods of the land and the heroes of TextMen will finally speak Tagalog.

But not yet, not now.

I’m hoping for inspiration.


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