Thursday, February 08, 2007

It's Never Too Late

Ever heard of this phrase? “I’m too old to learn.” My personal variation is “I’m too busy to learn.” I heard it a million times before and I heard it yesterday again while eavesdropping when someone asked the other person if she thought of going to college again. Of course I’m aware of all the other factors into making the decision: time, expenses, and opportunity costs. So maybe let’s narrow it down to something more specific. It’s never too late to start being reader. Got that? Okay let’s move on.

I’m sure some of you have heard some stories about readers (and perhaps even would-be writers), at how they’ve read this much books by age ten and so on and so forth. Quite frankly, I’m not one of those people. At age twelve, I can name you the books I read: some Choose Your Own Adventure books, the modern (at the time) Tom Swift books (for those who don’t know, Tom Swift is pretty much like Hardy Boys except with a sci-fi bent), and Nintendo’s Worlds of Power series (which was adaptations of popular video games like Blaster Master and Bionic Commando). They aren’t exactly books that are required reading for anyone nor are they thick or substantial (by now I could probably read them in 30 minutes). It was only a year later that I’d tackle an actual novel, Jurassic Park, and that took me like two weeks to read.

That’s not to say I never read for twelve whole years, those simple juvenile books aside. And perhaps what I had in common with most people was that I did read—just not books. As a kid, I was a video game fan, so I read video game magazines (FYI they were Nintendo Power and GamePro). I was also haphazardly into comics (which explains the original Dark Phoenix saga in my collection) although honestly, half the time I was reading manga that I couldn’t understand (because it was translated in Chinese). So there wasn’t any “serious” reading done aside from what was required at school (and honestly at age thirteen, there really was little required reading of fiction books in class—in fact I can’t remember any book offhand).

And then at age thirteen, me and a friend on a whim picked up a fantasy book. The problem was that it was part of a series so we had to buy the entire series and perhaps more importantly, read the entire series. So suddenly from my record of reading one book, it suddenly turned into five (I read a four-part series while my friend read a trilogy by the same author). It all pretty much started from there. Once you do one book, you realize that you can do another. And another. And another after that. With each book you go through, you practice your reading muscles. It’s actually a skill. As I said, Jurassic Park took me around two weeks to finish, even if I struggled at it every day. Reading the same book now takes me around two days if I allot time for it. It begins with practice.

At age fifteen, I met other people like me: people who love books. But unlike them, I was a newcomer. I met people who read The Chronicles of Narnia and Xanth and Dragonlance and Lord of the Rings at the grade school library. I didn’t even know those books were at our grade school library (because as much as we visited the library often, it was mainly due to the air conditioner rather than a genuine interest in reading). My introduction to literature took a different course from what was expected. I didn’t exactly read the classics but I read from what was on the shelf in the local bookstore. And that was where my book collection began.

I think people have to remember that if you plan on having a book collection, it has to start from somewhere, even if it’s just one book. I did start with one book. Now it’s hundreds of books (and perhaps hundreds more in misplaced areas and unreturned novels). But it didn’t come easy. Doing the math it took me ten years. I honestly feel like a millionaire: I was thrilled when I realized I had a hundred books… and stopped keeping counting after that. Perhaps what’s important is to remember to take it one step at a time. You’ll get there eventually.

My thoughts on writing even came later. It was probably one fluke after another. When I was thirteen, on a whim, I tried out for the school paper. I failed. The next year, when we all entered high school, I gave it a try again. I got into the news section. After three years of writing nothing but news articles I wanted to transfer to the literary section of the school paper but couldn’t, partially because I was needed in the news section, partially because my writing quite frankly sucked. Of course I don’t think I would have been interested in writing a story if it weren’t for the books I was reading at the time. It struck a chord in me. And for me this is the turning point when I became more than just a reader but a writer. I failed at being a writer but I didn’t give up. Soon I found myself applying for the Creative Writing program in various colleges even if I had no writing background at all aside from the basic English classes we had.

Eventually I went to college pursuing Creative Writing but honestly at the start, I was ill-equipped. To show you how ignorant I was, I applied for the literary publication at school and the person interviewing me was Quark Henares himself. The first question he asked me was what was the difference between prose and poetry. I knew what poetry was. I didn’t know what prose meant. (Imagine a stuttering seventeen-year-old unable to state the differences between prose and poetry.) It’s no surprise why I didn’t make it to the literary organization. It only reinforced into me how much more I had to learn.

I think the important part was that I just kept at it. During my entire first year in college, I couldn’t see myself as a professional, successful writer. The same goes for my second year. It was only in my third year that I caught a glimmer of hope. And then by my fourth year, there was a form of resignation of my fate—I’m not talented but I can still be a writer if I work at it. So that’s my motto: work, work, work. Honestly effort can only take you so far. But even the most brilliant of people are toppled by a lack of effort on their part. And at least effort is something in my control.

So when you have thoughts of being either a “serious” reader or, gasp, a writer, I think one thing to bear in mind is that it’s never too late. It wasn’t too late for me. And one thing going for the former is the fact I sincerely do believe that we all read—just not books. As for being a writer, well, people in general do love telling stories. Even blog entries are stories of some sort, they just don’t have the structure for fiction. The seeds are there and all we need is to nurture it. And some of you might even think I started early. Well I heard stories from my professors of newcomers in the field entering competitions and writing workshops and excelling in them. And these are from people who’ve never written in their entire lives. One story that caught my attention was such a woman in her thirties. When I first heard the story I was filled with jealousy, at how a newcomer could easily write an award-winning story with no prior experience whatsoever (compared to me who’s been struggling for years). But that only goes to show how it’s never too late to start writing… or reading.

Before I end, I’d like to share how going blind is one of my fears. Without sight, I can’t read. But that’s not exactly true. Blind people read: they use Braille. That, perhaps, should show us the persistence of the human will. Reading is both a visual and a mental act. One would assume if you took out the visual aspect it’d be impossible to read. Braille allows us to read by substituting touch. It’s certainly not easy nor is it as convenient as sight but it’s there. So we should take this to heart. Blind people technically shouldn’t be able to read but they do. What more for people like us who have two eyes (albeit perhaps mine has bad eyesight)? I’ll even make do with one if I have to. But it all begins with a choice. It’s not about disposition or upbringing. Choosing to read is much, much easier than choosing what career to pursue. All it takes is some time and effort.


Anonymous said...

hi, though, I haven't read everything that you wrote in this site - I think you are inspiring ...
i alway like reading and writing as well -
do you mind giving few more tips coz I am planning to publish my work - a book all about my dear town ( just the good thing about this town - i gathered all good stuff that people say about this little town in Ilocos Norte PAOAY )- as i said I don't have any idea or experience about publishing a book I am just relying on the internet doing reasearch .... what are the steps to publish a book ....Please help me - pleASE email me : am running out of time - i would like this book ready before may 1st.....thanks

Charles said...

Hi. I'm not an authority on publishing. It's best you should talk to a publisher or a printer about the process.