I may write the book myself. I may put the book together. I may—which I do often—prod someone else’s book into being.
As the author, I write the book, which involves a degree of agony. As the book editor, I help with the concept, direction and text. This is exhilarating work that involves many people: the writer, the book designer, the photographer, the graphic artist (who is now my favorite person because of what he/she does with digital input), the printing manager, the bindery.
The books I like are about people—what they do as they struggle, with difficulty and failure, with ambition, with history, with accomplishments and feats, with heart.
Tony Mercado’s biography says “Crises, Struggles and New Trysts.” The title says all.
I write abstractions. It is because I can’t abstract. As my Facebook favorite posting says: “Dear Algebra, stop asking me about X. She went away. And I don’t know Y either.”
I like writing biographies. I have done a few: Maria Kalaw Katigbak, Mary Osmeña, “Manila Odyssey” being the lives of the Rodriguez kin and doña Sisang de Leon. I will do Aurora Aragon Quezon, the first of First Ladies.
I have not written a major biography of any man. I can’t. I am too much of a woman. If I ever write a man’s life story, it will be about an artist with whose sensibility I can soar.
Writing a book daunts me. I do it because it is there, a brazen challenge. It makes me daring. Plus or minus, it takes years out of my life. And it has become less arduous because of the computer. Every word I write here looks as if is already committed to a printed page. That is very encouraging.
Focus and concentrate
Writing a book is lonely. It means being by myself as I labor alone to focus and concentrate. Alone I have hours and hours to write by night or day. In these later years, by force of circumstances, no one lives with me. However, I am with people—at a distance and detached. My workroom has glass walls. I can see but cannot be seen. I see my front street, my gate, my surrounding gardens, the household staff. I do not have to talk to anyone but I know what is going on. By choice, I do not even have to answer the phone.
Paradoxically, the best writing I have ever done was in a frenzied newsroom as a reporter. But that isn’t about writing a book. I also understand that no one reports to a newsroom now.
How do I focus? The book outline is a must. It is imperative. Having done the outline, I have a personal trick. I do not begin from the beginning, from Chapter One. I begin at what looks to me the easiest, the most fun chapter. Maybe it is Chapter 12. Good! I sail into it with gusto. When that is done, I pick another easy chapter. And another and yet another, until very soon, I have seven or eight chapters finished. I am still having fun, still unfurling the sails.
At that point, I write the final chapter. With impetus, I aim for the end. Cymbals, drums, bells and whistles, even trombones in a big parade—they march me to the end. Period.
Then I rest. I go for a long walk, take a friend to a Japanese dinner, go to the beauty parlor.
Then I climb a hill. Scanning the view from the top, I write Chapter One. It is finely nuanced, relaxed and full of wisdom. It has the fewest words. It may even sound like a poem.
There, the book is done. One more child is conceived and born. Another child.