Writing for the Palanca | Inquirer News

Writing for the Palanca

/ 11:23 PM September 11, 2011

(Editor’s note: Scott Chua’s essay “Of Pixels and Power” won second prize in the Kabataan Essay Division, English Category, of the 2011 Palanca Awards for Literature. At 12, he is the youngest winner this year.)


In March, I chanced upon the homepage of the Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature and saw this question: “What is the greatest lesson you have learned from the Internet?”

I was then attempting to edit a Wikipedia page on Philippine history on another window. I took the query as a sign from heaven and decided to join the Kabataan Essay Division, English Category. An avid Netizen, I had many things to say.


Fire and ice

To prepare for the Palanca, I underwent two major stages: fire and ice. During the first stage (fire), I alternated between bursts of activity, banging away at the keyboard, and sitting still for hours, looking out into space, simply thinking about what to say next.

I jotted down all ideas as quickly as I could, entering them into the computer in a jumbled, frenzied way. I would not let anyone look at the draft. My family said I looked like a man possessed.

After completing 12 pages, I was shocked to see that contest regulations set five pages as the limit. Perhaps it was the small font, or my weak eyes. I thought the page limit was 15. How could I cut my precious work in half?

I did not want to be disqualified, so I went into the next stage (ice), which was way harder. I had to be as cold as ice toward my own work. A sculptor once said, “The way to carve an elephant is to remove everything that does not look like an elephant.” I had to delete everything that did not fit. I had to edit.

For two days, I agonized over what to remove. Should I take out this apt joke, this useful line, this funny acronym? I could barely revise a thing.

Editing was so tortuous that, in the end, I played a game. I pretended I was my own archenemy, that it was my foe who wrote the piece. I looked at the essay again and told myself, “Naman itong batang ’to, laging inuulit ito. Tanggal! Tanggal! Tanggal! (This kid repeats himself. Take out this and this and this!)”


Editing became a lot easier. I saw a lot of mistakes and changed many things. After cutting it down to seven pages, I asked my parents to help. They suggested more things to edit or remove altogether.

After 20 days, the final version of “Of Pixels and Power” was complete.

Meeting great writers

The best part about winning the Palanca was meeting great writers during the Awards Night on September 1 at the Manila Peninsula. I met the critic Isagani Cruz and the poet Teo Antonio, who told me to “Continue writing!”  I shook hands with judge Ruey de Vera.

Head judge Grace Chong, the children’s book writer, said she and my mom both won first place Palancas 10 years ago, and got their certificates mixed up during the awarding! Ms. Chong said she loved my essay and read it again and again, which was inspiring.

When I was in Grade 2, I wrote a poem about Jose Rizal that was published in the Junior Inquirer. Rizal is my favorite hero because he used the pen, not the sword, to fight oppression. So I was delighted to hear National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose, the keynote speaker, talk about how Rizal used his writing to battle injustice, something all writers must do.

I also loved his choice of words. I can’t wait to use “political nincompoops” in an essay, crediting Mr. Jose, of course!

Here are a few writing tips for kids like me who care to write:

— Find your style. Since I was 3, I have wanted to be a stand-up comedian who can think on his feet. There are many things to make fun of in this world, but after finding out how much the average comic earns, I decided it might not be the best choice for a profession. But I can do shows on weekends!

So I read humor books—Reader’s Digest; Big Joke Collections; the Sir Gadabout series, about the misadventures of a clumsy knight; Bill Bryson’s travel memoirs, about his LOL explorations. I have tried to pattern my style after Bryson. And, oh yes, after my dad, who says I inherited his brand of humor.

My style is not necessarily your style. When you write, make your own universe. My mom used to say, “Find your voice.” Perhaps you write with logic. Or you do touching stories and make everyone cry. Or you write with passion. Find whatever style suits you, as long as you make it across the Ravine of Boring Pieces to the Summit of Well-Read Works.

— Use figures of speech. An essay without figures of speech is like a coloring book without color. There, I just used a figure of speech! However, I don’t like similes or metaphors much, and whatever personification I tried in the Palanca essay didn’t seem to work. But we learned alliteration in Grade Five and I loved it!

I spiced up the essay with lots of alliteration: Kathmandu, Colorado, Cologne; Sydney, Seoul, Singapore; view, vent, voice; blurb, blog, block. It’s fun writing them; it’s even better saying them! Go ahead, read them out loud!

— Avoid clichés. Teachers say we should not use clichés. But anything can become a cliché if overused. One “if the shoe fits” in an essay may be fine, but if all the shoes of paragraphs one to ten fit, then it’s time to jazz things up.

— Revise a familiar saying. Instead of saying “The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” I wrote, “Intentions can pave the road to heaven, hell, or somewhere in between.”

On September 17, 3:30-4:30 p.m., Scott will have a book signing for his latest children’s travel books, “Top Ten Pinoy Travels (Manila, Cebu, Davao)” in the Anvil Publishing booth at the Manila International Book Fair, SMX Convention Center, Pasay City.

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TAGS: competition, Essay, Palanca Awards, Writing
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