By Andrea Ortega Guanco. Just like the intro in the song ‘If’ by Rivermaya: ‘If I could choose to live my life..’ If I had the chance to live my life again, I would have followed the signs and have chosen a different path. It seems like stating the obvious, but the signs were undeniably real. It was almost as if the heavens conspired and would hit me with lightning if I could not acknowledge it at the least.
To begin with, my writing ‘career’ started when I was 10 years old.
My first writing stint began when I was handpicked out of the blue by my teacher in elementary school – Iloilo American Memorial School to be exact – to participate in a ‘5 – Saturday Intensive Workshop on Campus Journalism’ at the Division of Iloilo City from July to August 1999. The workshop was brought by the Department of Education, Culture and Sports Region VI – Western Visayas. I was 10 years old then – and already learning campus journalism.
Back then I barely knew the difference between a proper and common noun, and my understanding of the English language was limited to simple sentences – and that did not include complex ones as well as complex vocab (even up to this day, perhaps). From 1st to 3rd grade, I was a struggling student – and the only words I say in a conversation in English was ‘yes, no, and maybe’. My teachers nurtured and tutored me, and I responded well in my 5th and 6th grade. Well, here is an excerpt of my experience :
Back then, when I was about 10, I attended my first seminar workshop on basic journalism. Few represented our small school. There the teacher gave us an assignment to write about ‘Softdrinks’. The next day, students from different schools brought their lengthy assignments talking about the history of Softdrinks, the advantages and disadvantages of carbonated drinks and spectacular anecdotes probably with the help of their adviser or parents . Meanwhile, I took out mine which was only about a page long. I still couldn’t forget what I wrote: “when I drank Coca Cola the feeling a million ice go inside my throat”. A few kids saw my work and laughed because not only my grammar was unbearable but there weren’t any facts except the description of how I enjoyed every drop of Coca-Cola. I sulked. When the class started, the teacher went through the thick pile of papers and picked one. Then she read “when I drank Coca Cola the feeling a million ice go inside my throat”. Then she said “this is a good example of a metaphor, very creative work, fix your grammar next time”. Then she called out my name. I shyly raised my hand. She said “good work, I like it”. If it wasn’t for her compliment I would’ve packed my bag and ran out of the room and never wrote again. Now, it crept my mind that we can never appreciate our true potential if we keep listening to people who keep telling us we can’t make it. All we have to do is to believe that, despite a highly critical world, we can do it.
After the seminar, our school opted to start it’s very own paper called ‘The IAMS Gazette’. I was appointed as the Opinion Editor of our school paper (in elementary, take note). My adviser asked me what my plans were – I just stared blankly at her. Then she suggested a write-up about Cha-Cha – Charter Change to be exact. It was 1999, and maybe the charter change was at large back then. I can only remember how bloody my draft was after she corrected it with her iconic red pen and said ‘No! I meant charter change, NOT the dance!’
Back then, the only literature I liked to read, and re-read was the torn pages of Reader’s Digest. The oldest RD I owned was from 1960. I fell in love with it so much that I dreamed of being published there. Yes, it was high school, and, yes, adolescence can make you ambitious at times. Between the ages 13 to 15, I submitted short articles and even jokes to RD. It never got published but that did not stop me from pursuing my dream. I likewise submitted articles for Lit.Org – a haven for writers where they can submit write-ups and have other writers read and comment on their works. I have to say – as a non-native English writer – comments can be hard. I hid behind the pen name Luceat. I submitted poems, short fiction, short articles. I had one article that gained 942 views and 6 comments from professional writers around the world. My writing was rough they said and the comments were harsh, but I dunno if they knew that the writing came from a 15-year-old non-Native English writer in high school.
Speaking of high school, I had the chance to write for Junior Josephinian’s Filipino version ‘Ang Daluyan’. I was a staff writer until the time the Editor-in-Chief took me to Malones Printing Press where I enjoyed my time with the layout artist and began giving insights on how the school paper is to be arranged. I was then awarded the title ‘layout artist’ and I graduated from high school with the title appended to my name in the school paper.
In college life, I had no idea what course to take. Journalism never came to my mind as Nursing was the fad at that time. I had the amazing opportunity to be enrolled in one of the prestigious universities in Iloilo and it has been my dream to study at Central Philippine University. In my freshmen years, I really want to be in the college paper, but it was a tough call because I know that the province’s best are also enrolled in the university. I auditioned for the position of staff writer and it was generously given to me. In my freshmen years, I was a staff writer for Nurses Notes, the official publication of the College of Nursing, Central Philippine University. Over the years, I was promoted from staff writer to assistant literary editor then finally to feature editor in my senior year.
The best experience I had back in the days was during the Philippine Information Agency’s (PIA) 2008 College Press Conference and Awards where our Editor-in-Chief asked me to participate. I had no plans in attending as I was on night duty just before the event (student nurse). I was extremely sleepy from night duty that I participated in Column Writing (Filipino) and submitted my piece written in English. I asked our Editor-in-Chief if I could participate again and that time I was assigned in Column Writing (English). The event took an entire day to finish and I went back to my night duty right before the awarding. After the shift, when I took my phone from the locker, I read a text that I had won 4th Place in Column Writing (English). It was an amazing feeling for me. Well, whaddya know what 2 days without sleep can give you. The best article I written during my college days was my in-depth feature on Typhoon Frank (2008).
After graduation, becoming a practicing nurse was hard – a volunteer nurse hard to begin with. A friend (from the college paper) asked me if I was ready to write with compensation – as being a writer in the college paper provided none. Would you believe me if I say when our previous editors-in-chief mention ‘compensation’ during our meetings, I completely had no idea what it meant? I had my humble beginning as an article writer for affiliate marketing websites. If you are familiar with penis enlargement articles, yes that was how humble we began. I wrote short descriptions of sexy Halloween costumes and other humble projects. I wrote for affiliate marketing websites with products ranging from food supplements, gaming consoles, wine and beverages, whitening products, and a lot more. Believe me when I say it was a humble start.
That was when I learned to be an ‘ex-nihilo’ writer – writing about something without any prior knowledge about the subject matter. It was also the time I started my first ever BlogSpot blog ‘Feature and Beyond’ – writing about health and a healthy lifestyle (from someone who is not healthy, to begin with). It was then my writing was noticed by the group that led me to propel my writing career forward.
One breakthrough was when I was invited to be part of a team that focuses on web development, search engine optimization, social media management, and digital marketing overall. I will be their ‘web content writer’. It was a fulfilling experience because I get to be the ‘written voice’ of various companies here in Iloilo City. I wrote content for their website – being the neutral voice flexible enough to suit the needs of the client. That was when I learned to ghostwrite – and I was called by my mysterious title ‘The Ghostwriter’.
Ghostwriting is letting the tone of your article sound like the company that you are representing – if it is corporate-ish, bubbly, friendly, or downright chill. I was the Chief Writer and Content Manager of Digital Wingspan for a year before I moved to Abu Dhabi and worked as a Publications Representative where I was exposed to the world of publishing and sales.
Right before I went to Abu Dhabi, the DW group gave me a birthday gift and that was the domain of my recent blog ‘Feature’ (www.andreaguanco.com). When I came back from Abu Dhabi a year later, I was able to focus on blogging and featuring the places in the City of Love, Iloilo City. It didn’t start easy, I went to places, ordered food, took pictures of it, and published it on my blog. I stood outside judging areas during the Dinagyang Festival/Pamukaw and other events in Iloilo City. It was a crazy take – why would I be doing those things. I thought about making a channel for Ilonggos to see Iloilo in an unconventional light – behind the scene, outside judging areas, at the back, and the like. It was then I was noticed and invited to join the group Iloilo Bloggers. Happily blogging about events, restaurants, businesses, and the like in the little City of Love.
My journey as a writer is something that I am really proud of. Until now I am still unsure of the quality of my articles, the correctness of my grammar, the smoothness of my words – but hey, it has been an awesome roller coaster ride. Funny thing is that I have made more money from writing than from my original profession. And this weird thought keeps hitting me: if you don’t follow the path that is meant for you, the path will follow you – and will construct itself as you take every step to tomorrow. I may continue writing, I may stop, but it’s nice to know the things that we’ve been through together – the pen and me, or the laptop and me. It’s an amazing ride. LOL.
‘Blog of the Year’, December 2018, Megaworld Corporation
‘Finalist – Investigative Story of the Year’, September 2019, Globe Media Excellence Awards
November 26, 2020 – I didn’t win. But it’s okay. Still a back to back nominee for Globe Media Excellence Awards – Photo of the Year for Digital and Blog of the Year Award. It’s okay. Win or lose, still a winner. Offering this ‘win’ to the one above and to my mom. Congratulations to all winners and nominees.