First and final drafts
A BLANK PAGE is always attractive. Some might find it more daunting than not, and others more exciting than not, but negative or positive, the attraction is there. Probably because it stirs a need within us, a need to fill, to mark, to create.
My first encounter with an attractive blank page happened when I was in the sixth grade, when my English teacher told us to write a three-page short story. I spent days on it, transfixed by all the things I could write. In the end, I wrote a story about sisters. It would become an important first step that broke open for me the gates into the world of literature.
My love for writing was nourished under the guidance of fellow writers, most notably in the form of my high school newspaper club. In the club I learned about responsible journalism, target readership, ethics, and even a little bit about politics. Writing was not a solitary act anymore. Instead, it became a string that connected me to a whole network of people—readers and fellow writers alike. In writing, I can speak for those who would otherwise not be heard. In writing, there are people who will stop and listen. And in the spaces between letters and words and sentences, a message for change can be made.
With these realizations came difficulties. There are topics that are considered taboo and are “inadvisable” to write about—topics that challenge systems or people in power and are therefore risks to be measured, deliberated on, and then acted upon with caution. Sensitive topics must always be presented in context. There are nuances in the wordings, in the phrasings, that can spark ire and raise hackles. Yet in the face of all this uncertainty, there is no room for indecisiveness. The strongest messages are the clearest in their stances.
Along with external concerns came my own inner doubts about writing. Insecurity rises and falls like the tide, sometimes distant and unimportant in the face of bigger things, and other times so overwhelming it can swallow my confidence, my convictions, my resolutions whole. Everyone strives to always be better at what they do. Perfection appears to be a horizon that constantly evades us the closer we get to it. Reading others’ works and realizing how far they’ve gotten can sometimes paralyze my fingers, an ugly numbness spreading through my veins like the strongest of anesthesia. Thankfully, it has a half-life of no more than a week, less if I am lucky. Then I go on with blank pages and deadlines and beautiful horizons.
If I had to choose a visible manifestation to represent words, it would be the threads of a spider web. These threads link us with one another and with objects that we interact with, and sometimes these threads are thick and impenetrable, while other times they are tenuous and easily destroyed. These threads wrap around us, sometimes gently, sometimes harshly. They determine our movements—what we decide to do, how we’re going to do it—depending on how loose or tight these threads are. Our own will or others’ can sometimes break these threads, but many often linger unnoticed. It is important to pay attention to the threads that bind us, and see how they encourage or inhibit our movements in order to work on severing those that are more harmful than helpful.
If words are threads, then people are pages—pages that were first written on when we were born, pages that continue to be filled as we live our lives. These pages aren’t always filled with our words alone—they are written on by our parents, our siblings, our friends, all those that we encounter. These pages can be filled with the most wonderful joys, and the most torturous sorrows. We can never fully access them, but what we can access is enough to write what we want.
Nowadays, the time I spend on attractive blank pages is only about a third of the time I spend on even more attractive half- or a third- or a fourth-filled pages. These pages are often familiar ones—pages that I have written on before, have created and collaborated stories in. These pages are my most favorite pages, because while there are restrictions, for the most part the ink runs and spills freely, with all the resolve and grit of a free spirit.
Of course, these pages have deadlines. But the deadlines are unimportant. What is important is that these pages are constantly being written, constantly being revised. There are first and 11th and 30th drafts, all special, all unique.
In a sense, all our drafts are our first—our first love, our first graduation, our first job. You could say that we are all beginners at the start of each story. In another sense, all our drafts are our final—there is no way to erase the past, no way to rip a page. You can only move on and hope to write better the next time. Luckily, we never run out of pages. All it takes to start a new story is to turn the page.
Kelly dela Cruz, 19, is a sophomore at the University of the Philippines Diliman, majoring in comparative literature.
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