Wo shi zuojia. 我是作家,” I tell my Chinese friends. “I’m a writer,” I clarify when I pronounce the words wrong. This statement is always met with whoa’s, ooh’s and ahh’s. This is then quickly followed by “What do you write?”

    Wo zai xie xiaoshuo. 我在写小说,” I say. [“I am writing novels.”]

    To that, they would always respond with, “Where can I buy your book?”

    For years, that question has made me feel like a fraud, because I can’t direct them to a page or a site or anything to prove that I indeed do write novels. I explain that most of the novels that I wrote that are out are under someone else’s name (I was a ghostwriter for over two years). I then tell them that I’m in the process of writing my own novel.

    Most are amazed. Others are intrigued.

    I, on the other hand, just feel pressured. When am I going to finish a book? 

    And then it happened. I finished. On August 2016, I finished the first draft of my first novel.

    But let me clue you in on a little secret: I didn’t feel like any more of a writer after I finished my book.

    Why?

    Because I was already a writer before then.

    I was 12 years old when I finished my first book. It was a stupid teeny-bopper book, with no originality and a bunch of Mary Sue’s. It was my attempt at writing along the vein of a book series I loved reading back then: The Babysitter’s Club. If I remember correctly, the title of my book was The Bookworm Club or something. And it had no discernable plot and zero character development.

    My mom, however, printed it out and read it anyway. I think that to this day, she’s the only person who’s ever read that book. Even I was never interested enough to read what I wrote.

    It’s been my dream to become a writer for as long as I can remember. I was the type of kid who would most likely end up buying a book rather than a toy when brought to a toy store. I’d rather go to a library than a playground. I loved stories, and I still do. It’s why I love movies, games, books. I love a good story any way I can get it.

    Give me the ability to be able to tell my own story, and that’s golden to me. It’s why I gravitate towards games like EA Games’ Sims franchise. It’s like my very own virtual dollhouse, and each sim’s story is mine for the telling.

    I was in my early twenties when I began to see writing as something I wanted to do as a living. Before that, it just never was an option for me. As with most of the arts, to me, writing was a hobby, not a career. But several things happened that triggered my desire to become a writer. Here’s the order as I remember them:

    I wrote an article entitled The Kamikaze Mindset.

    It was a passionate political piece about the 2010 elections in the Philippines. It was the first time I got to vote for a president, and I was campaigning for Bro. Eddie Villanueva, amidst a lot of political controversy within the church and outside of it. I won’t delve to much into the details of it, but my dad shared the article and it somehow found its way to a missionary couple: David and Lorna Joannes.

    At that time, the couple was praying about building a team of artists and professionals to put together a coffee table book celebrating 500 years of Philippine history. They liked The Kamikaze Mindset and got in touch with me about being part of the team.

    The Ako Ay Pilipino: Noon at Ngayon (I’m a Filipino: Then and Now) Coffee Table Book

    For three months, we put together this book. Graphic artists, writers, marketing professionals. We’re not entirely sure how we did it, but it was done and ready for launching – in full colored print – for a Jubilee celebration on November of that year.

    I contributed at least ten stories and articles to the coffee table book. It was a dream come true to be able to be a part of the team, because it was a fusion of several things I loved: history, art and writing. By the time the book launched, I was already seriously praying about the possibility of becoming a full-time writer.

    “What are you writing right now?” – Sadhu Sundar Selvaraj

    I will never forget that chance encounter at the Mactan airport, right before the National Prayer Gathering in Cebu. We were waiting for our baggage when our senior pastor in Manila introduced us to the Indian prophet, Sadhu Sundar Selvaraj.

    I’m a very socially awkward person, so I kind of just smiled at him and said hi as we shook hands.

    “What do you do?” he asked me.

    “I’m a software developer,” I told him.

    “Oh okay, so what are you writing right now?”

    I was confused. I didn’t know what to say, so I said, “Software.”

    He snickered. “Anything?”

    Still confused, I began rambling about random programming languages I knew. “Smalltalk, Java, mainframe…”

    He just smiled and someone pulled him away, but the question stuck with me, “What are you writing right now?”

    If I wanted to become a writer, I figured I should’ve had an answer to that question.

    I quit my day job.

    Stupid decision. Not advisable. But I did it anyway, and in a strange way, I don’t regret it.

    At this point, I already had an active profile on a freelancer website and have had several paying clients on and off.

    Other than that, I was miserable in my eight-to-five. I figured life was too short to be miserable, and decided to just not be stuck anymore, so I quit. I returned to my hometown and embarked on my journey as a freelance writer.

    Within a few months, I got my first gig as a ghostwriter and that was my work for over two years.

    I had a great time ghostwriting, until…

    I realized that people were actually reading what I was writing. One night, for some reason, I felt the urge to Google the names of the characters in one of the series I was ghostwriting. That’s when I discovered that the series had already become a bestseller and had already sold at least a million copies internationally. At first, I was thrilled, but then the more I read reviews of the work, the more I got this sinking feeling in my stomach.

    I’m a Christian, and I knew… I knew that I was compromising. I knew that if Jesus was a writer, He wouldn’t be writing these things. It’s part of what I enjoyed so much about being a ghostwriter. I got to write stories I never would’ve explored on my own as a professing Christian.

    And so… I repented and then quit my job as a ghostwriter. I then started writing my first novel, and everything went downhill from there, all because…

    …I didn’t get rejected.

    After finishing writing 3 chapters of my novel, I was dying for some sort of validation, so I figured I’d get my first rejection letter out of the way. I sent a book proposal to my dream agent – one who’s worked with some of my favorite Christian authors – and waited for the dreaded rejection of six weeks of silence. Instead, after two days, I got a response saying that if I finished the book, she wanted to read the full manuscript.

    I was stunned. And then I was elated. And then I choked.

    After receiving that letter, I got the worst writer’s block I’ve ever had in my life.

    Point? I was an amateur. I had grandiose dreams about what it would be like to be a published author. And I couldn’t keep up with my dreams.

    I fell into depression.

    But God is faithful. You see, I’m not just a writer. I’m also many other things. I have a calling and heart for missions. I’m a youth leader, and dare I say it, a forerunner. But none of my reality aligned with what I expected things to be in my head. God brought me through a season of breaking, of realizing who I was before Him.

    And I realized that more than anything, more than being a writer or a missionary or whatever other label the world had for me, I was really just God’s daughter.

    I won’t bore you with the nitty gritty details, but I ended up serving Him in China for two years. And in that period of time, I also finished and published my first novel: The Sacred Scarred.

    Does that mean I’m more of a writer now than I was before?

    No. I don’t believe so.

    I am a writer, because that’s what He created me to be.

    It’s in my bones, in my nature as a human being. This is why I get confused when people tell me that they want to become a writer, but don’t know how. To me, if you want to become a writer, write. It’s hard work. It’s not even that profitable – especially in the beginning, but if you were called to write, you will write. You have to.

    And if you’re a writer, you’re a writer. It’s not dependent on how many books or articles you wrote. Or how many books you’ve sold. If this is part of your identity as a human being, then it is you. You are a writer. And He has placed stories and words in you that can only be told as uniquely as possible by you.

    So there it is… The story of how I got around to calling myself a writer.

    How about you? Are you a writer too?

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    Joanna Alonzo

    Author/Founder at Almond Tree Publications
    Joanna Alonzo is a walking paradox. She is a beautiful, albeit messy, mixture of thought and emotion, expressed in the form of hopefully readable – and relatable – stories. She is a kingdom kid, who looks forward to being a writer and storyteller even when she reaches heaven. She is passionate about the unreached, about those who have yet to know the Love she found in the arms of the Almighty. She is intrigued by the world and its people, who day by day, continue to convince her that God is the greatest Storyteller of all.
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