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Columnists and their readers

12:03 AM May 17, 2016

BEING A writer is one job that demands much motivation and new information every day—or every hour in this tech-savvy generation. The main drive that keeps writers motivated is their role of bringing stories to the grasp of readers. The story itself, as passion-satisfying, interesting or complex as it is, is sufficient fuel for a writer’s day.

Many things basically serve as motivation. This piece trains the spotlight on factors that writers depend on in varying degrees: the readers and what they think and feel after reading the stories.

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I asked some of the columnists of Inquirer Opinion to look back to some remarkable comments or feedback they have received from readers. It turned out that readers’ responses were as ever-changing and thought-provoking as their columns were.

Being chair of the National Book Development Board, Neni Sta. Romana Cruz writes mainly about reading and education. She said that hearing from her former teachers and fellow bibliophiles that they read her work and that they are all happy about her promotion of reading still came as a surprise. She also said it was a remarkable experience to receive letters from teachers in remote and underserved areas requesting books so they could at least put up a reading center.

“Those convinced me just how important books are in empowering our students—we owe the youth this to equip them for life,” Cruz said.

Indeed, the ability to read and comprehend is next to survival. The ability to communicate and respond to pieces one has read may give direction to a writer’s flow of ideas.

Randy David (Public Lives) said an avid reader sent him a striking comment indicating her extraordinary attention to what he writes. The reader recalled for him nearly everything he has written on leadership types.

“She pointed out areas in which my thoughts have evolved, and areas where my previous perspective seemed clearer. It was as though she had full access to my private archive,” said David, professor emeritus at the University of the Philippines Diliman. “This was flattering but also frightening. It taught me never to yield to the temptation of repeating myself. It made every painful hour spent on a single column worthwhile.”

Lawyer Oscar Franklin Tan (Sisyphus’ Lament) said he receives feedback from his old professors and that he enjoys staying in touch with law and college students.

“I often ask students for feedback and use the feedback to calibrate the nosebleed level of my columns,” Tan said. “I have written about the Edsa Revolution from the perspective of Filipinos who were toddlers or not even born then, and these have been shaped by ongoing conversations with students and recent graduates.”

Tan added that when he comes across people with very striking points of view on an qissue, he encourages them to write their own piece so they may express their own words.

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Said Antonio Montalvan II (Kris-Crossing Mindanao): “It is certainly gratifying to know that those in the corridors of power—the people you least expect—have read you and have taken note of what you have been writing.”

He recalled one instance when his phone rang and he heard at the other end of the line the voice of Ignacio Bunye, press secretary of then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

“The President read your [column] and she wants you to know that she liked what you wrote,” Bunye said, referring to “Reinventing Lozada” where Montalvan wrote that whistle-blower Jun Lozada was “not measuring up to being a moral crusader.”

Another reader was then Sen. Benigno Aquino III. “Writing in the letters section of Feb. 8, 2008, Aquino reacted to my earlier column (‘Pusila, pusila’) on the missing links of his father’s assassination. He wrote: ‘The column succeeded in reminding our people that justice for my father has yet to be achieved due to the continuing refusal of my father’s killers to reveal the truth. I would like to thank Montalvan for stating the inconsistencies of this case far better than how we have said them.’ Good for the Inquirer, humbling for this writer,” Montalvan said.

As a young writer and columnist, Hyacinth Tagupa (IamGenM) finds it striking when readers say her writing has “tugged at their heartstrings or inspired them.”

“One of the most unforgettable comments came from someone I already knew,” Tagupa said. “I had written about depression and suicide for my first IamGenM piece, and the reader told me about her low moments. I never had an idea that she had those thoughts, so we talked about it. Thankfully, she said, ‘I’m going to stay.’ That was such an unexpected conversation, and it means a lot to me that she was able to open up to me.”

Tagupa further said that the comment has inspired her to write more about depression and to find ways to appropriately confront the subject.

According to Michael Baylosis (IamGenM), one unforgettable feedback for him was a reader’s sharing of her experience in helping the marginalized sector in her community.

“This was in response to [a column] I wrote on helping children in the throes of poverty and injustice. It was particularly striking because her feedback resonated what we all wanted to do, which is to help alleviate each other’s living conditions in one way or the other,” Baylosis said. “It was good to connect with readers in that way.”

The world of communication now makes frequent interaction inevitable and important. It is wise to stay objective, not only in writing but also in understanding one’s audience. Taking comments constructively is a way of keeping things going.

Yara Lukman is an editorial administration assistant at the Inquirer.

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