My Journey as a Writer
"The Spirit of truth will testify to me, says the Lord, and you also will testify."
- John 15:26b, 27a -
- John 15:26b, 27a -
Dirty dishes on the sink. Laundry crawling out of the hamper. Browning grout in the shower. Daughters with ears plugged to their electronics oblivious to the mom shouting, "Dinner is ready!"
This is the kind of scenario that drains my energy to low batt. I know I need to recharge, to plug into my source.
I sat down and prayed and picked up The Imitation of Christ.
"Vanity. Everything is vanity."
Ugh. I felt the punch in my gut. Have I allowed stress to enter my house, and entertained it with coffee? I had a perfectly manageable home until I started this freelance business. Then things got out of hand. I spent more and more time on my computer screen than in the kitchen. My mind spent more and more time thinking about my website than the empty refrigerator and pantry.
God's Warning Signs
As I checked my email, deleting the spams, one subject caught my eye. "Been sacrificing your writing dreams?"
Certainly I had not, I thought. I've launched my blogsite; been keeping myself up to date with webinars on SEO optimization, how to's to increase traffic, steps to build my subscribers; started networking and exposing myself to social media; and keeping a good tab of my progress.
Or have I? This question pounded me on the head after reading The International Freelancer's newsletter. This very successful freelance writer, despite her enormous success and a thriving writing career, felt she has failed as a writer. Why? Because she has allowed her freelance writing projects get in the way of her writer's dream --- to write books.
As if that newsletter was not enough, when I picked up "The Wealthy Freelancer", the author, at the beginning of the chapter staunchly warned its readers about one pitfall that may hound freelancers --- that after having achieved enormous success with landing writing projects and clients, we come to realize one day that the writing dream has become a nightmare. No longer are we writing for the joy and love of writing, but has brought corporate America inside our home with all its stress and imbalance.
And the last punch in my gut --- Matthew Kelly's book "Resisting Happiness: A true story about why we sabotage ourselves, feel overwhelmed, set aside our dreams, and lack the courage to simply be ourselves... and how to start choosing happiness again!" The subtitle probably explained it all. I was just struck that someone as successful as him, a New York Times Best Selling inspirational author should experience this scenario and have to battle with it DAILY!
He's saying that there are things that we know make us happy, but somehow, we resist doing it. We get sidetracked with the inessentials and mundane things. We push it at the lowest priority. For instance, he knows that daily prayer makes him happy because it connects him with the divine inspiration and guides his day. Yet he always has to put an effort to sit down and actually pray. Taking a walk also makes him happy because it clears up his mind but it's also a struggle to actually go out and walk! And writing gives him immense satisfaction and fulfillment, yet the effort of actually sitting down and putting words in paper is a hurdle that he needs to overcome. But when he defeats the first battle, that is, the resistance to pray, he finds enough armaments to slay all the other dragons.
That was another punch in my gut. I realized that I have allowed myself to get carried away with the trivial tasks thinking these are more important than the dream that I share with God --- to publish my novel. His novel.
Keeping a healthy balance
As a Christian copywriter, I know I have a greater purpose --- that of building God's kingdom even in the ordinary tasks. Yet, in order to do this, I need a balanced and inspired life. I cannot inspire if I start to expire.
In the hospital, we have a different use for the word "expired". It's not just for products in our pantry or refrigerator that indicate these are no longer good to consume, and consuming it might make us sick. In the medical field, it means dead. Literally. The patient has expired and the white blanket is pulled over the entire body.
I cannot inspire if I am expired. Many times, the things that push me to the point of expiration are the mundane tasks that I shove as my priority, the anxiety with which I season my work with abundance, the stress that I cloak and wrap around my body.
God speaks all the time, we just ignore Him most of the time
Today, Saturday, I had no reason to get up early. But at 5:30 in the morning, I opened my eyes feeling rested. So I thought, I might as well pray. No reason to sabotage myself at the start of the day.
With the usual prayer booklet Challenge 2000, I started my prayer. And then an idea flashed in my head. Go to mass.
Hmmm. The only mass near me is at the Cistercian Abbey and I've never been to that place. Who knows if only the Cistercians are celebrating mass in that place. That would be totally awkward to see a lay woman suddenly appear and join them, wouldn't it? Resistance welled inside me.
But the thought persisted. So I picked my iphone and googled Cistercian Abbey. Of course, the first thing that appeared was the Liturgy schedule. How convenient!
Daily mass: Monday to Saturday at 6:30 AM.
But it still does not say, join us for the liturgy, I continued to resist and argue.
My eyes landed on the facebook link. How convenient, really.
The first thing that appeared on the screen -- Join Us.
But I have not finished my morning prayer yet, I resisted further.
You're going to a church. To hear mass. The highest form of prayer. The voice within me sounded adamant. And did I also hear just a teeny-tiny hint, a little note of exasperation there?
Alright, alright. I knew there was no point arguing. I dressed up, drove on the quiet and still dark neighborhood and arrived at the Abbey within 5 minutes.
At 6:05 AM, it was way too early for the mass, but I saw cars parked and a man went inside the church so I followed.
The moment I entered, peace settled in my soul. I was where I should be.
The melodious, deep voices echoed inside the high-ceilinged stone church as the monks chanted the Office of Readings and Lauds. I sighed and settled on the seat at the back. Lay men and women trickled inside the church while the monks prayed. The readings, hymns and air of solemnity soothed my senses like a cool balm on a burning wound. I heaved a deep sigh as my spirit joined in prayer.
I have slayed the first dragon of resistance.
After an hour I left the church, I knew other dragons of resistance will come my way. But I am armed and ready.
Focus on the dream
As a freelancer just starting out in this writing business, I have learned that it's easy to get sidetracked, to forget the very thing that made me abandon everything to pursue my dream.
So I wrote what I needed to do first, and make sure that I didn't neglect it.
I know I will encounter resistance within me and even outside of me every day. But being aware of why I am here, doing this thing will keep me on the right track.
As a Christian copywriter, it would be foolish if I did not start my day with a prayer and my work with another prayer.
Didn't St. Paul say, "Pray unceasingly?"
Didn't Jesus wake up early EVERY SINGLE MORNING to pray first before he went out to do His work, His ministry.
Am I greater than Him, that I can afford to pray less or even not to pray?
If He, the Son of God, who is completely united with the Father, rose up early in the morning to pray, who do I think I am to even consider doing His work, His ministry without prayer?
And I consider myself as a Christian copywriter. Shame on me!
How can I inspire if I do not plug into my source?
If I cease to inspire, I expire. Plain and simple.
So with a careful resolve, as I washed the dirty dishes, loaded the dirty laundry, prepared barley soup and baked bread, I wrote my plans for the week ahead, making sure I put on the top of the list the one thing that brought me to this writing business in the first place.
And yes, on top of that, to PRAY. Daily. At the start of the day. So I don't cease to inspire.
It was late at night, and I could not sleep.
I got on my computer and typed like a mad woman until the wee hours of the morning.
I poured all my angst in this one piece and sent it to all my egroups and slept. The next day, I was shocked to see my inbox flooded with replies from that one email. This would persist for weeks, with comments coming from doctors I didn't even know. Had I been on Facebook, the post would have gone viral. Alas, the word at that time only signified negative connotation that was infectious in nature, whether to a human or machine.
My ranting and raving made it to the Pulse Monitor, the official publication of the Philippine Society of Anesthesiologists, Inc.
Is it serendipity that I picked up a copy of this newsletter today, 10 years after, from my plastic bin of binders and folders?
And that I, who wrote it 10 years ago should find myself in the exact situation that I only imagined and wrote about --- a U.S. immigrant?
I wrote The Sentiments of a Young Filipino MD at a time when many Filipino doctors were migrating abroad, leaving their successful practices behind.
That left me much puzzled.
This was in 2007.
The article that traveled far and wide
"If you have time to read some wandering thoughts... read along...
I have wondered so many times why a lot of successful doctors are leaving the country. Although I am still young in this profession and have not had that great desire to leave this country... not just yet... I feel worried that foregoing the opportunity to migrate abroad might turn out to be a decision that I will later on regret.
I'd often think, "What did these older doctors experience in their practices which made them decide to abandon it altogether?"
Just tonight, I caught a glimpse of the answer to my question. I thought it was just a search for a greener pasture, or a desire to give a better future for their children, or disgust for the present political climate in our country, but I think it is not that. It is something more basic. Something closer to the core of our being.
Tonight, as I was busy making plans for the coming Conferment Ceremony and surfed the web for photo and video packages, I remembered the stupendous amount that the movie stars charge for their services. I heard that for one young actor, a half day of photo shoots would amount to P80,000.
Then I remembered those times when we did operations on patients for the same duration, and I don't get half as much for professional fees. And I'm dealing with lives here! Precious lives.
Then I remembered how my husband would try to package professional fees to make it affordable for patients, and sometimes feels cheated when he sees that the cellphones of the patients' relatives cost 3x the professional fee that he is charging.
Now, looking at the packages for these photo and video coverages, which cost 3-4x our PFs, I begin to wonder, are we shortchanging ourselves as doctors?
I recalled that conversation I had with a businessman who said, "You doctors are in a very noble profession, that's why it's sometimes disheartening when other doctors charge so much for their professional fees."
For some reason, something inside me rebelled against that idea. Something inside me churned with anger. Here I am in front of a man, who charges quite a hefty sum for recreational activities and feels that it's justified since his customers have the money to spend on these hobbies and yet, points an accusing finger to us, doctors when we charge the same amount for taking care of their health. Of their lives!
Did it not even occur to him that just like him, we have families to feed? Just like him, we have children to send to school? Just like him, we have rents and amortizations to pay? Just like him, we need financial security which we can hope to depend on when we can no longer work?
But unlike him, we had to spend more than 20 years in school, dependent on our parents and not able to earn a decent income until we are in our late 30s or even 40s. We had to spend grueling hours trying to figure out the human body, and even have to push marriage and building a family much later in our lives.
We have sacrificed so much for this noble profession because deep in us, there is that desire to serve others.
Should this sacrifice be bled out of us?
It's a cliche --- one that used to make our classmates snicker: "I wanted to become a doctor to serve others." Yet, we know deep in us, at the core of our being, that IT IS a reason which we can never deny.
Of course, there are other much baser needs that crop up with this fundamental reason. Along the way, the much baser reasons become predominant, and then we become practical beings.
We come to realize that unlike those who join the religious congregations to serve others, we do not have a community who will support us. We have to support ourselves and our families.
The pressure of the material world sets in because we are mere mortals, who also have to satisfy our basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter. And on top of that, education, financial security, and retirement funds.
We come to realize that we have allowed ourselves to be burdened with so much pressure in our lives... with stress which is inherent in our profession because we deal with lives. That even as we go home, we still think of our patients or what's wrong with them. How come our interventions are not working? Have we made the wrong diagnosis?
Of course, if we could not figure out the problem, then the patients and their relatives will again burden us with their expectations, which sometimes prove to be too much. Because as I said, we are just mere mortals and not God.
If something goes wrong, the hungry media and some unscrupulous lawyers are just too eager to point a finger to the "erring" doctor.
On the other hand, when we do succeed in our mission of providing healing to their ailing bodies, and we charge them with our professional fees, we could not charge them too much because it would be unethical. Since we did something noble, we should not be paid too much, lest the nobleness fades.
However, for those doctors who feel justified in the amount that they charge --- thinking what can be more precious in a person's life but life itself --- they are confronted with patients who are not only shocked but resentful towards them.
How dare you, doctor, enrich yourself out of other people's sufferings!
Then flea market bargaining ensues, resembling that found in Divisoria which leaves the doctor feeling degraded and unappreciated.
That leads me back to my nostalgic thoughts on the professional fees of some movie stars who just needed to host an affair for one hour and gets paid P150,000. Not so for the cardiologist who took care of the patient for a week or the surgeon who operated for more than an hour or for the anesthesiologist who paralyzed and ventilated the patient so that the surgery can be performed safely --- which of course, is just "putting the patient to sleep." How difficult and complicated can that be?
No, we cannot charge as much as that movie star. If only we could, a lot of us would be millionaires by now.
Now, I no longer wonder why doctors leave the country.
There is just too much pressure placed on their shoulders, that at one point, in their successful but busy careers, they just wanted to be out. To breath some fresh air. To slow down. To be out of the rat race. To have that lifestyle with the promise of more quality in their lives.
Besides, there are no pension plans for doctors here. You can still find doctors way beyond their retirement years doing rounds, with their silver hairs, or worst, balding heads.
For some, it is a matter of survival. They stop working; they stop earning. They stop living the lifestyle that they got used to.
For others, retirement is simply not an option. They have been in the profession for too long. To be uprooted from this environment is like uprooting a plant and letting it die.
I have seen how some deteriorated and wilted like a plant after their retirement. They had their entire lives revolving in their noble profession that they felt useless without it.
Others are forced into retirement by some disabling disease like stroke, myocardial infarction, or Alzheimer's. Then depression sets in.
Perhaps this is the scenario that some doctors wanted to avoid in their future lives, that's why they are taking control of it while they still can.
For me, there is no judgment here. Because I think I now caught a glimpse of what's going on in these doctors' heads.
And perhaps even in my own head?
My apologies to those whose heads do not contain these thoughts.
Pardon me. I am merely venting.
Because seriously, I should just have joined the movie industry."
So yes, that was my piece seven years ago. I don't know if the situation has changed since then.
It's just funny that once more, I find myself typing on my computer... late at night... in a different part of the world.
But as I read this now. I can't help but be amused at my younger self. I have realized a lot of things since then. I have been on the other side of the fence --- to be the patient or the patient's relative. I've caught myself saying the very same thing the businessman said to me 10 years ago --- when I brought my daughter to the doctor and all he did was a physical exam and charged me $300. I could just have done that myself!
But that's something I have to contend with, having no license to practice as an MD here in the U.S.
As immigrants, we had to sacrifice a lot of things with the hope of a better life, a better future. It was a huge risk.
When we migrated to the U.S. in 2009, it was a decision borne out of discernment and prayer. We've been judged traitors or unpatriotic for abandoning the land of our birth.
But I think it was a very Christian move.
It was an experience not alien to Jesus, for he and his family migrated from Jerusalem to Egypt, to escape the tyranny of Herod. They sought a safer land where the family can thrive until it was safe to return.
He, too encouraged the disciples to "go out to all the world and tell the good news." (Mark 16:15)
And I'm glad He did.
Otherwise, Christianity would have been confined only to Nazareth and its surrounding regions.
So I believe, Jesus has a soft spot for immigrants and refugees because He once was.
That is a consoling thought.
In the end, we are mere pilgrims, just passing by. Whether we move a lot or not, go about from place to place, it should not matter.
We go where the glory of God leads us. And we welcome those He sends our way.
When I launched my website, a friend asked me how she could do the same thing --- make a career out of writing.
I know there are many options out there, but if you don't live in the U.S., the options pretty much trickle down to just a few.
The easiest way to write from anywhere and earn is to be a blogger. The InternationalFreelancer is one such blogger who started writing from India until she moved to U.K. And there are many other bloggers (both in the U.S. and abroad) who can testify that they earn a decent living, even a six-figure income doing it.
I know you're raising your eyebrows. Don't ask me if I'm one of them. No... Not yet.
But I will tell you their stories below.
First Things First, Finding Your Voice
You will soon learn that you need to have a unique voice to succeed at this -- what to write about and how to write it.
And this will require a lot of introspection, discernment, and prayer.
Yes, you heard me. Prayer. Pray first -- get an anointing from God. All your efforts will be useless and the climb steep without His hands to lead you. I know. I've written a lot of blogs with only a handful of friends and family reading it... on lucky days.
So ask Him to show you the way.
He spoke to me through books, blogs, emails, just about anything, even through a simple packaging of Bob's Red Mills barley.
Okay, I may have to explain myself about that.
When I first started out, I did a lot of research.
I came across this email invitation from Jeff Goins on HOW TO GET 10,000 FANS PUBLISH A BOOK AND MAKE $100,000...IN 18 MONTHS.
He talked about four easy steps, but one step resonated the most for me.
Step #1 Finding my platform. This platform, according to Jeff, depends on your voice. What voice do you have?
Are you a journalist who is naturally curious and inquisitive, who'd rather talk about other people and events?
Or are you a prophet who just wants to change the world and everyone in it? You are deeply dissatisfied with the status quo and always fight for a cause or advocacy.
Are you an artist who loves poetry and prose? Everything that drips off your pen is a literary masterpiece.
Are you a star who naturally draws people like a magnet, and everything that you say turns into a BuzzFeed?
Or are you the professor who likes to teach and impart knowledge? You love to research, synthesize the ideas and make it simple to understand.
Looking at my history, all the materials I have written, and what comes to me naturally, I realized I had the voice of a professor. I like imparting knowledge.
I don't necessarily have that knowledge or experience, but because I like to read and research, I easily get the information I needed to share with friends and family.
Usually, I apply this knowledge first, and if it works for me, I usually get so fired up and share it with everyone I love.
It's easy to get pretentious in this writing business, to adopt someone else's voice just to become the next big thing.
So what I can say is do your research, but you also need to lift it up to Him, Who knows best; Who knows you more than you do.
And you'd know it's Him guiding you because the road will be smooth. If there is a stumbling block, that means He is redirecting you, making you stop.
Ask Him why.
He is quick to show you. He will purify your motives
At first, you may be more fixated about making money. Ideas will come in so many noisy ways.
Ten ways to become viral.
Five easy way to earn money blogging.
Three quick ways to get paid writing online.
How to increase your readership through SEO optimization.
All these stuff are out there.
Pro-blogger is probably one website you can learn a lot about blogging.
But in the end, I think it's your sincerity that will resonate with your reader's core.
Passion and Purpose Before Product
One thing I noticed, those who've truly succeeded at blogging started out with their passion. These people didn't think about earning money. They just wanted to help, to answer a need.
Read the story of Bob, founder of Seed Time (formerly Christian Personal Finance) and how he found financial freedom helping others manage their money the Christian way.
Or how these 10 Bloggers made six figures a year online.
By pursuing their passion first, the product followed. Here is how these top writers turned their hobbies into six-figure careers.
A lot of times we get fixated with what to write. What is the "in" thing? What do people want? But if you do not love what you write, you won't be able to go past three blogs.
Why? Because it will become a tedious task.
If it's a tedious task, you will not last long.
Why? Because it does not pay at the start. Who wants to work for free doing a tedious task?
So find something that you really love and see if there is something that others need that you can satisfy doing the thing that you love.
Matthew Kelly, founder of Dynamic Catholic Institute and author of many New York Times best-selling books illustrates this well in his book, The Rhythm of Life and Dan Miller, author of 48 Days To The Work You Love.
Nowadays, people are so sick and tired of being sick and tired. Life has become so stressful. Many want to have some control of their schedule that's why the idea of freelance work or working-from-home sounds so appealing. Perhaps just like you.
You want to give more time to your family when they need you the most, not when you are available, or work is done.
We have compromised so much in trying to make a living; it's sucking the daylight out of us.
I used to hate the feeling of having to ask permission to take time off because my child is sick. The guilt of abandoning my work to take care of my family ate me up. I know other people would easily do this, but not me. I don't know why. Is it my Asian upbringing? I know my Filipino friends feel the same way. They'd rather go to work feverish or even with an IV on so that they don't get branded as a slacker. It's weird but it happened and still is happening.
On the other hand, I also felt guilty abandoning a sick child. That devoured my gut.
"Mommy guilt" was probably the worst thing I had to deal with in the past, as a working mom. It's like trying to juggle five balls at a time. There's just not enough time to do everything. In the end, I had to settle for what I love doing. As long as I can serve them good home-cooked food for dinner, that assuaged my conscience.
So yes, I know the feeling. This is exactly the reason why I'm doing this writing. But I don't want it to become just a career.
I am 45. I have lived half of my life in halves -- half-hearted, half-fulfilled, half-dreaming, half-wanting…
I want to embrace God's promise of an abundant life, a life of fullness. And I had experienced that as a Jesuit Volunteer --- that feeling that you are exactly where God wants you, doing exactly what He wants you to do and loving every moment of it. THAT is what I want. That is how I want to live the other half of my life.
You can read the book Half-time: Changing Your Game Plan from Success to Significance by Bob Buford if you are feeling this way. It will show you ways to deal with it.
As I always try to remind myself --- seek first the kingdom of heaven and everything else will fall in line. That's how I will pursue my writing career, rather, my writing ministry.
And, oh, before I forget. Let me tell you how God used Bob Red Mill's Pearl Barley package.
The Pearl That I Found
Yesterday, as I poured out the pearl barley into the pot, the label caught my eyes. Just to the right of the recipe is this simple letter signed by the owner, Bob Moore.
"Recently, I announced that I was handing ownership of Bob's Red Mill over to my employees through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP).
For me the decision was easy because I could not stand the thought of our stone milling tradition, our mission to improve people's health through whole grains and the love we put into everything being compromised in any way."
And when I looked at their website I literally cried when I read this paragraph on the landing page:
"It's so obvious, it's not. That thing you make - That thing you love - It should be a good thing. After all, isn't that the point? Isn't that why we're here? To help one another. To add something. To make folks a little happier, a little healthier for doing what you do? We are Bob's Red Mill Natural Foods. Good Food for All."
Wham! That is the kind of copywriter I wanted to be, what I will strive for. Simple, direct to the point, authentic, and with a sincere voice that speaks to the heart.
A voice that constantly asks, How can I help others?
I will use my voice as a teacher. I love to research and to teach. So that's what I will do. That's how I will write.
What to write about?
God will dictate in response to someone else's prayer.
So to my dear friend, thank you for your question. You just helped me write my first blog.
And because you shared this deep desire to write, I invite you to make the same journey.
Remember, "Everything is possible to one who has faith." (Mark 9:23)
And many times doubt will attack us.
In times like these, we need to pray, like the man in today's gospel, “I do believe, help my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24)
Let me end this blog with a prayer from Psalm 20:4.
May He grant you according to your heart's desire, and fulfill all your purpose.
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