Write a blog, win a Palanca

DAVID DIZON / abs-cbnNEWS.com

Posted at Sep 18 2008 05:14 PM | Updated as of Sep 22 2008 06:14 PM

Blogging is often used by authors as a pulpit to express their views and hopefully make a profit through Internet ads. Award-winning fictionist and playwright Dean Francis Alfar did it better by writing a blog for a month and then using the finished work to win a Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Award, the country's own version of the Pulitzers.

In a presentation at the recently concluded Manila International Book Fair, Alfar said he started blogging after a personal tragedy struck in 2001.

The author said he was working in the advertising industry in Hong Kong when he received a telephone call from the Philippines and found out that his cousin had died.

"I was devastated to hear the news because we were very close. It was so painful. I turned on my computer and started writing as a way to release my pain. I then started surfing and found an article about blogging. That's when I started blogging," he said.

Alfar freely admits that he had been writing and winning awards even before he joined advertising in 1994. He said, however, that he felt intimidated by the local literary scene, which placed more emphasis on social realism that genre fiction.

"Growing up in the shadow of literary giants, I always get the sense that 'marami pa akong kakainin na palay'. I always thought that I had nothing new to say, that other people had already said it and better," he said.

Blogging gave Alfar the freedom to write anything he wanted, and write he did. Finding the time to write, however, became a problem since he had to juggle his roles as a businessman, entrepreneur, husband and father.

Guerilla writing

A firm believer that a writer should always be producing new work, Alfar said he practiced "guerilla writing" to make the best use of time otherwise spent going from one task to the next.

"In the jungle, guerrillas just pop up from nowhere and start shooting. It's the same with writing. If I have 15 minutes with nothing to do, I open up my laptop and start writing. Sometimes it's opinion and sometimes it's epiphanies. Sometimes if I have enough time, I write vignettes - these small passages of whatever strikes my fancy. Later, when I have time to write, I go back to my blog, mine the vignettes and write it up as a full story," he said.

Blogging also led Alfar to write his first novel, Salamanca, which he started after discovering National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) creative project in the United States. Under NaNoWriMo rules, authors must write a complete novel of fifty thousand words or simply write the first fifty thousand words of a novel in 30 days beginning November 1. No prizes are given out except for a small Web icon on the author's blog, declaring him a winner.

Since he always believed that writing should not take a year to do, especially for short works, Alfar found the novelty of writing his own novel in one month incredibly appealing. He opened up a blog and committed to write every night until he completed the required 50,000 word count.

"There were times that my wife (Nikki Alfar) would get mad because we weren't talking since I had to write my 2,000 words for the night. It was important for me that I wouldn't be paralyzed by fear, that I could not do it. I didn't even worry about being plagiarized because all I wanted was to finish the work," he said.

Winning a Palanca

Alfar finished the novel in 28 days and got the Web icon. He also submitted the finished novel "Salamanca" to the 2005 Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature and won the Palanca Grand Prize for Novel. The novel was published by Ateneo Press in 2006.

Alfar encourages budding authors to write blogs in order to practice their craft on a regular basis. He says the feedback mechanism also allows authors to know what other people think about their work.

"I want people to write. I want them to express themselves. On the Internet, people are being influenced by other cultures but we need to be writing about ourselves. We should write from a 'glocal' perspective and let other people know more about us," he says.