Monday, March 2, 2015

Interview of Cecilia Brainard "Good and Bad Reasons for Being a Writer"

I'm reprinting this interview that appeared in Students and Campus Bulletin in the Philippines.

Interview of Cecilia Manguerra Brainard for the Students and Campus Bulletin in the Philippines

In this interview, Ms. Brainard shares her expertise on the one subject she's passionate about: writing.

Students and Campus Bulletin (SCB): Are they any good and bad reasons for being a writer?

Cecilia Manguerra Brainard (CMB): The bad reasons are for fame, money, immortality, and revenge. The good reasons are because you have no choice but to write; for self-expression, to keep sane, to create something beautiful out of something painful or unpleasant; to educate others and ultimately to educate yourself. 

SCB: What are the common misconception about writers and writing?

CMB:The common misconceptions about writers are: They are (or will be) rich and famous; that they are good and therefore not subject to being criticized by someone who isn't a writer; that they are right/correct about what they write about. 

SCB: What are the biggest writing fears and how does one get over them?

CMB: These are the biggest writing fears: that one's work is terrible, embarrassing, and awful. How does one get over them? A writer has to accept that the first (or second or even third) draft will generally not be perfect. Anne Lammott in her book, Bird by Bird, calls this the "Shitty First Draft." So what the writer should do is write this "shitty first draft" afterwards, look at it and see what is in that draft that's worth developing, and take it from there. Very rarely is a first draft ready for publication. At times, first drafts may even need to be discarded. Sometimes, there is a kernel there, a seed, a line or two, or paragraph, or maybe more, that sparkles and can be developed. 

SCB: What is considered "basic etiquette" for writers?

CMB: Writers live with many unwritten rules, for instance, in terms of giving feedback to someone else's work - a writer should always start by mentioning the strengths of the piece, before mentioning the weaknesses. Another unwritten rule is to mention sources for material you quote or refer to in your own writing. In other matters, if a writer happens to be in a panel for instance, the writer should make sure he/she is not taking more time than others in answering the questions. Perhaps all of the above can be summarized by saying a basic etiquette for writers is to try always to be generous and thoughtful to other writers. 

SCB: How does one live with writing rejection?

CMB: Rejection is so much a part of a writers life and a beginning writer needs to understand early on that there are many reasons why a piece is rejected, aside from the quality of the work. It's possible that the editor does not have the space in the magazine or journal. It's possible that the editor has just published a similar piece recently, etc. However, having said this, I will say that if my work is rejected over and over, I will stop sending it out and scrutinize it once again, seriously asking myself if there is indeed something wrong with the piece. If my conclusion is that the piece is publishable, I will continue sending it out. 

SCB: How does one respond to comments, criticisms and reviews?

CMB: First you need to realize that critiquing or feedback of your work is necessary. A writer can only do so much, and then he/she loses objectivity. Having others read your work can help you a lot. Think of it as having someone hold up a mirror to your work, allowing you to see the flaws as well as the strengths. If you are in a workshop, and your work is being critiqued, keep quiet, take notes, don't protest or explain. Sit quietly, listen carefully, jot down what is said about your work, and after, and only after, should you ask questions to those giving feedback. Ask specific questions. Don't challenge the critics. And lastly, thank the critics because they have taken the time and effort to read your work and thought things through. Even if they said things that were not positive, thank them anyway. It is the gracious thing to do. Anything can be rewritten. Besides you the writer do not have to act on everything told you; you are the author and should make the final decisions. 

YCB: How does one spot and ignore bad writing advice?

CMB: Good writing advice is usually specific, for instance, the dialogue was confusing, or there was a lot of repetition. Bad writing advice is broad, mean, and is given not to help the writer, but to make the critic sound smart. In many cases, I like to attend writing workshops so that more than one or two people read the work. If five or say nine people read it, I can better gauge my work from their comments. For instance if more than one half say the dialogue is not strong, then, I will look carefully at the dialogue. There are also some people whom I trust and whose comments I respect. Further, I can feel in my gut when someone says something about my work and it resonates inside, then I have to pay attention to what was said. 

YCB: What would you advise beginning writers on the craft?

CMB: 1) Keep a journal and write, write, write; 

2) Read a lot, and read the type of pieces that are similar to what you want to write (articles or stories or poems); 

3) Don't compare yourself with the others. It will do you no good to fret because some of your contemporaries are getting published or getting awards. You have your own struggle, your own stories to write. 

4) Take classes or join workshops so you have a structure.

Read also
Oscar V. Campomanes' Cecilia Manguerra Brainard, Scenographer
Interview of Cecilia Manguerra Brainard about Creative Writing

Tags: Philippines, Philippines, Filipino, literature, author, writer, Cecilia Manguerra Brainard, Cecilia Brainard

This is all for now,


AnnaB said...

Wonderful advice. I especially love your good and bad reasons for writing and your succinct explanation of writers' etiquette. Thanks!

Cecilia Manguerra Brainard said...

Thanks for the comment, Anna.