I used to write honestly. I was young and struggled with English but I wrote with joy. Then I entered college. And college broke my writing.
I was originally enrolled in a Communications program with a Journalism major. But then I enrolled in three history general education courses, watched the film Letters from Iwo Jima, and read Steve Berry’s The Romanov Prophecy and suddenly felt like I should shift to the Social Sciences program in my university, where I could major in history. I sold the idea to my parents, told them that I will be learning Spanish as part of the curriculum, and they couldn’t say no.
So on my second year, I left journalism to pursue history and this ended whatever chance I had to improve my creative writing skills in college. I wouldn’t write anything “literary” not even a personal essay or a journal entry for the next five years of my life. What I ended up writing in college were mostly joyless, jargon-filled academic papers. I did wrote them well per feedback from my professors, but I didn’t enjoy writing them in general.
There was one which I did enjoy writing, a historical account of my extended family’s affair with pursuing the American Dream. I interviewed my father, looked at his old photographs, read old letters he sent and received from his sisters in the United States, and wrote a short account based on all of these. That was fun to write. But that was it.
After college, I tried so hard to return to creative writing. But I failed miserably. Only after establishing a personal relationship with the craft through daily journaling and encountering the beautiful world of poetry did I felt like I had a good chance of returning to honest, joyful, and beautiful prose.
But I never really left academic writing. For more than seven years, I worked as a freelance editor for undergrads, masters, and PhDs. Every month, I spent over 40 hours poring into academic journal manuscripts, theses, and papers, making sure their language and logic is sound and that they aren’t missing an in-text citation or a reference.
A couple of months ago, I realized that although I was editing academic papers and intuitively knew what makes a good paper, I haven’t written a single one in almost a decade. I was so busy and happy writing blog posts, newsletter dispatches, poems, and journal entries that I began to shed off academic writing.
And so when I got a research proposal writing gig last March—a quantitative study on subjective experiences of inclusion among employees with disabilities—I was surprised to realize that I have forgotten how to write a research proposal. I watched YouTube videos after YouTube videos of tutorials on research writing and browsed multiple samples until I finally remembered.
I finished the gig, the client was happy, and she told me the proposal was accepted. This July, we would resume working together to finish writing the rest of the paper.
What does this long story have to do with writing a book about Los Baños?
The Ateneo Institute of Literary Arts and Practices (AILAP) released a call of submission for its 20th Ateneo National Writer’s Workshop (ANWW20) this year. AILAP was particularly interested in essay submissons that combine academic writing with literary, creative, and poetic writing. The deadline for submissions was April 1.
The deadline was at the back of my mind while I was was helping my client write her research proposal last March. I consider the essay, specifically the personal narrative essay, as my main creative writing form, and I was interested in how I could combine research and literary writing in my work, so attending AILAP’s workshop made a lot of sense.
I finished writing for my client ten days before AILAP’s deadline. I was tired from all the research and writing I did for the past three weeks that I doubted whether I could write something from scratch to send to AILAP.
I was ready to let it go but the fear of regret was too much to bear. Also, I was able to write the first draft for my client’s proposal in just ten days. Knowing that I could pull something like this was too hard to ignore. So, I gave it a try. I told myself, I will send the essay to AILAP no matter what its form.
With only ten days, I got right to work. I decided to write about something I know and incorporate writings I already have in my journal and website. The topic was easy: I will be writing about walking, specifically the long walk I did from Los Baños to San Pablo City in June 2022. I will explore the questions that that walk provoked, namely “why was I walking?” and mine my journals for answers.
Since AILAP requires work that uses a theory, I looked for something in the literature and discovered autoethnography. I used autoethnography to talk about walking, how walking can be used as an alternative method for research, particularly researching oneself, and how all of these tie up to me leaving my childhood religion and using walking to cope from it.
On April 1, I managed to put together a 5,000-word entry, which I happily sent. About three weeks later, I received an email from AILAP telling me that my entry landed me a seat at the ANWW20 as fellow where I am joining seven other young writers from different parts of the Philippines.
This will be my first national writing workshop, so I am approaching it with intention. I am looking at the workshop not just as a way for me to find integration between the creative writing, which I knew as a child, left in college, and am returning to these days, and the academic writing, which I am not yet ready to lose and may never.
Of course, I also see this workshop as an opportunity to get feedback from better and more seasoned writers about the very topic I want to write about in the book: walking.