SARAH: Can you talk a little about how you started writing and what advice you have for other first-time writers?
MELISSA: I was a voracious reader as a child—my aunt and grandma (lola) would leave me at the library after school for hours—and because of that, I started to write. I kept stacks of journals throughout the years, which I later burned after high school (I was very dramatic). When I was eight, I would write corny poems about the Philippines. My lola would frame and hang them on the wall. That was the first time anyone, let alone the woman who raised me, was proud of me, and it was because of my writing. I grew up in a very religious household and read Daily Bread every night before I slept. Once, I jotted down my favorite eight poems from different Daily Bread pamphlets and slipped the notepaper in front of my school’s binder. My lola thought I had written them! She walked to the liquor store early the next morning, photocopied my handwriting, and handled it out to my church of over 100 folks—most of them were my relatives. She bragged about these little devotional poems I had “written” for days. It was utterly embarrassing. Though I didn’t have the heart to tell her the truth, this was my start as a writer.
Read the whole interview here:
I was asked by the wonderful Sewanee writer, Sarah T. Schwab, to do an interview. I really enjoyed the experienced–it was fun to look back when I started to write. It’s always an ironic surprise when I remember I was born a writer. All the pieces that make me into a writer fell in the right places as I grew up: how I was left at the library and babysat by books and the unknowing librarian, how I wrote corny poems about the Philippines that my grandmother hung. Writing was my filter to feel the world, and it’s still that, it’s still that imperative to my life.
But after Sunday, a day full of writing and insecurities, I complained again: There’s so much work to being a writer. So much insecurities and self-deprecation and self-hatred and lots of “What the fuck are you even doing?” moments that dart in your head.
It’s because you will never make any money as a writer. You can even ask Junot Díaz this; he offered to show us his publisher’s book sales receipt last year at the VONA publishing panel, haha.
I had another one of those moments today. I lay in my bed and really asked myself: “What the fuck are you even doing? With this whole writing thing?” I looked at the magazine pages plastered on my wall, all art from the literary magazine I cofounded, TAYO, and I remembered the long nights I didn’t sleep to create and archive these wonderful pages of art. I thought of the nights I’ve edited and edited and edited and wrote and wrote and wrote. I thought of my family, and how they rarely mention my artistic endeavors, how my father didn’t quite understand the weight of the Glimmer Train win (neither do I, by the way, I still don’t), and I asked myself, really, what the fuck am I doing? Why am I trying so hard?
There are so many reasons. After reading this interview I gave just a few months ago in August, I was thankful to be reminded why I write. It was like a gift packaged in words, words I had written and given to myself.
But, it’s a complicated act, isn’t it? Writing. When I produce something, and I feel like it’s good, I want it to be seen. To be enjoyed and digested and taken in for the sake of itself.
And with that, I’ll end with these words. Things I have to remind myself every day:
Don’t write for the money or the applause or the cheers. Awards will always be political. Comparing art will always be subjective and based on the aesthetics of the committee panel. Write for the sake of it. Write because it gives you a sense of grounding. Because it adds something to your life that nothing else can, like falling in love or getting married or having a baby.
Remember Ron Swanson and his loving words to Leslie Knope: “Don’t start chasing applause and acclaim. That way lies madness.”
Remember Dear Sugar’s charming mantra to another writer who’s just as insecure as you are: “So write. Not like a girl. Not like a boy. Write like a motherfucker.”