Dissected, Poked, and Inspired at the Davao Writers Workshop 2011

Nonfiction by | October 30, 2011

When I attended my first local creative writing workshop a few years ago, I left the venue discouraged, swearing I’d never join another workshop again. Who wouldn’t be if the panelists unanimously suggested that you toss the pieces you’d painstakingly been working on for over a month or so? But, after a distressed week, that discouragement turned into determination. I revised the ‘junk’ poems and short stories and started with new ones, using the techniques and ideas I’d learned. And a year after that, my new works provided me a ticket to join another workshop – this time, in the regional level. In the second workshop, I was no longer disgruntled by the panelists’ critique because I had preconditioned myself not to mind my works and my ego; well, the good thing was I actually received more good comments than the heart-shattering ones. So, when the Davao Writers Workshop knocked at my doorstep, I was thrilled but not as excited compared to my first because I thought I knew what it was all about and how it’s put together.

But I found out that I was wrong, dead wrong.

Too many aspiring writers think that because they know how to weave words together that they’re worth reading by others. Or worse, some believe that because they have formal education and training on creative writing and they’ve won awards, their works do not need critiquing. Not so. It’s because writing takes about twenty years for the average apprentice, and the learning never halts. Socrates is right after all when he said “no one can attain absolute reality.” And those were the things I realized during my five-day stay at Lispher Inn for the Davao Writers Workshop last October 11-15, 2011.

Getting valuable feedback from people as astute and experienced as Datu Bago awardee Dr. Macario Tiu, Prof. Timothy Montes, Prof. Antonino de Veyra, and Mr. John Bengan of UP Mindanao, and guest panelist from Cebu, Prof. Januar Yap was very insightful. And not only that, every panelist’s lecture on their chosen topics awed me no end. The lectures were informative, yes, but what a treat to have these writers talk about their personal writing processes and then read their work! Everyone was amused and amazed by Bengan’s story, which he wrote (and read) using the voice of everybody’s hero, Manny Pacquiao.

I learned a lot in such a short period of time. Who wouldn’t when even the tiniest speck of weakness in your work which you had not noticed was identified or brought to light by the panelists? Each panelist would discuss the piece and talk about its strengths and how it could be revised and improved. All of us fellows dreaded the infamous comment of Dr. Mac Tiu: “Ilabay na ni sa Bankerohan River,” which he would deliver in his characteristically charming way that one would take it as sage advice. Funny, but the situation I was in reminded me of my Biology 1 class back in college when our professor compelled us to dissect a bullfrog and fastidiously examine whether its body parts were normal and complete.

After that, I now feel I have a much stronger understanding of the technical side of writing and a very healthy respect for the hard work it takes to be a successful writer. I benefitted enormously from the workshop not only as a result of the panelists’ insights and straight talking style or their sometimes funny yet paradigm-shifting comments, but also as a result of being surrounded by interested and interesting fellows who were more than willing to scour the grime from their works to make them better. Almost all were helpful and gave me much needed information, but none compared to the electricity of learning as much as Dr. Tiu’s and Prof. Montes’ insights. They conveyed their comments clearly and logically. The “Aha!” light bulb finally turned on in my brain. They inspired me to revisit my old works and apply the techniques that would rejuvenate them back to life.

Every day, every session went smoothly – from food to accommodations, from the opening program to our “graduation rites.” I have nothing to say but – wow! For this we have to acknowledge the unrelenting efforts of Workshop Director Jhoanna Lynn Cruz and her deputy, Dominique Cimafranca, who organized the event and were always on hand to make sure that everything went as planned. We were indeed very lucky to have experienced such generosity from the workshop’s sponsors: the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and the University of the Philippines Mindanao. The closing program was a huge success and we were indeed very lucky to be swarmed by former fellows of the Davao Writers Workshop and members of the Davao Writers Guild, like our esteemed Aida Rivera Ford.

The program also highlighted the awarding of DWG’s first Satur Apoyon Tigi sa Mubong Sugilanong Binisaya winners, which we got the chance to witness. Judges Macario Tiu, Don Pagusara, and Arnel Mardoquio were unanimous in praising the skill and spirit of the winning entries. The program ended with a bang as my fellow writers surprised the crowd with our talent presentations. Some of us read our newly-written poetic tributes, presented monologues, and rendered songs. The audience reception was great and the dinner was sumptuous.

To sum it up, the Davao Writers Workshop 2011 did not only amaze me but also inspired me to continue writing and to bring to life my thoughts. And, it did not fail to provide new insights that came from the expert’s personal experiences of writing. Robert McKee once said, “if you can’t play all the instruments in the orchestra of story, no matter what music may be in your imagination, you’re condemned to hum the same old tune.” Well, I want my voice to be heard by a multitude of people so I will take the challenge to hum new tunes. Congratulations to all the fellows of the Davao Writers Workshop 2011 and thank you to the Davao Writers Guild for continuing to provide beginning writers this opportunity to hone our skills.


Jondy Arpilleda teaches at the Holy Cross of Davao College. He has a PhD in Education, major in Applied Linguistics from the University of the Immaculate Conception, Davao City.

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