The Reading Spree

Flipping pages and finding common denominators

Category: Opinion

Applying for a National Writing Workshop: A Non-Definitive Guide

I think I’ve mentioned only once on this blog that I was a creative nonfiction writing fellow for this year’s UST National Writers’ Workshop. But I know I’ve talked about it to death the past couple months and posted endlessly on social media, so bear with me because this is the last time I’ll talk about it. 😉

I really didn’t think I’d get in. Countless writers from around the country submit their manuscripts every year to UST, as well as for the UP, DLSU, Ateneo, Silliman and Iligan national workshops; and competition’s always tight. Plus there’s the mentorship/patronage stuff I talked about before, which I think exists in every institution, not just in creative writing.

Those who know me well also know I was terrified. It was my first-ever national workshop, and before that I relied only on small and comfortable class workshops. I didn’t know anyone at UST except for one professor, and we met only once. I’ve heard horror stories of fellows getting thoroughly chewed out at workshops like these, of panelists on their best diva behavior, of the high attrition rate of writers post-workshop.

But it all worked out in the end. I had an amazing time and learned so much. It’s always good to hear other viewpoints, find holes in your work that you didn’t know existed, and widen your writing-centric support system.

I think a co-fellow got it right when he said we still have a high from the workshop. So we were surprised when the UST Center for Creative Writing and Literary Studies (UST CCWLS) announced it was already accepting applications for next year’s workshop. Break-up stage na, mga bes.

(Several other calls for submission have popped up afterward, like the one for the 57th UP National Writers’ Workshop. Awards season is also underway, with this year’s Palancas in the bag, and the Philippines Graphic‘s Nick Joaquin Literary Awards scheduled on September 13.)

Here’s the official poster for the 2018 UST workshop, if you’re interested.

(Go to the UST CCWLS Facebook page for more info, and to see the photos and videos from this year’s workshop.)

I had to answer a lot of questions when I got back, mostly about applying for writing fellowships and how the workshop went. You can say this is my attempt to answer everything. Since I’ve only been to the UST workshop, that serves as my main reference. I guess some items could apply to other national workshops as well, or even journal/anthology submissions.

Also, I have creative nonfiction writers and manuscripts in mind for this blog, but I think some advice could work for writers in other genres, too.

Lastly, I don’t guarantee your acceptance into any workshop. Walang sisihan, ha.

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On Mentorship and Patronage in the Philippine Literary Scene

I don’t know if the other Philippine MFA creative writing programs do this, but the one I’m enrolled in has a few daunting requirements for its students. High GPA requirement aside, before I can take the comprehensive exams and do my thesis, I have to be published in an inter/national refereed literary journal, and become a fellow in a national writing workshop (and maybe win a writing award, while I’m at it).

Oh, and it would be really nice if I accomplish all these within my first two years in the program.

Sarcastic Hermione Granger GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

No wonder I’ve started to have (mild) cold sweats every time writing workshops, publishers/editors, and contest admins issue calls for submissions. Even then, I let all those recent deadlines pass by because I thought my work was still raw.

But I finally caved last month. Partly because of the aforementioned school requirements and partly out of genuine curiosity and desire, I sent in my creative nonfiction material for the UST National Writers’ Workshop, and a short story for Likhaan‘s 11th edition, which is doing popular science writing and speculative fiction this year. My fingers are crossed; but I’m also realistic about my chances. I know full well that I might not get into both. If that’s the case, I can always try again next year, or with other workshops and publications.

For the UST workshop (and I guess this also goes for other national workshops as well), all applicants were asked to supply the screening panel with a recommendation letter from their literary mentors. I asked (rather, bugged) my own mentor for the same thing for my grad school application, so it was natural for me to do the same thing here. She’s also gone through the whole stressful workshop-application process, so she knew it was only a matter of time before I asked again.

But then a classmate and friend asked me who did my recommendation letter, and said he didn’t know who to ask for his. It reminded me that not all good writers have mentors that already belong to the PH literati or are recognized by them, or will choose to take the same path as they did. Anyone can be a great writer and not play the sino-kilala-mo game, or have a long list of workshops attended or awards won, or a creative writing degree, to boot. We submit our work for validation, but we all need to remember that that’s not the only way to get it.

It also reminded me of the patronage that’s long been in place in our literary scene (and, everywhere else, to be honest) — the kind that Adam David railed against on his blog back in the late ’00s, and Katrina Stuart Santiago on Rogue in the early ’10s.

(Here’s another great essay on PH lit patronage and politics: Monica Macansantos’ 2015 work “Becoming a Writer: The Silences we Write Against”, published in TAYO Literary Magazine.)

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On the Validation and Value of Filipino Writers

I had meant to publish this back in September. But then life got in the way, and I forgot to do so. As usual.

Ummmm. Better late than never?

Embed from Getty Images

My MFA classmates and I often give each other a heads up on calls for submissions, national writing fellowships, and the books we have read and obsess over (among other things) via our Facebook group chats. The posts pile up real quickly when everyone’s online, and when there are several calls and contests going on at the same time.

A few months ago, we were talking about two calls for submissions: one for next year’s Fantasy: Filipino Fiction for Young Adults anthology, and one for this year’s F. Sionil José Young Writers Awards. Several classmates were considering submitting to one or both calls. Since I don’t write YA or fantasy fiction, and I don’t fall under the “young writer” category anymore, I wasn’t paying attention to that part of the conversation.

However, I got riled up when the talk shifted to writers’ compensation. The YA anthology project is paying its writers a pittance of P500 for their work. In stark contrast, the Young Writers Awards is handing out P50,000 for its first-place winner, P30,000 for the second-placer, and P20,000 for the third-placer.

I couldn’t help but start cursing; to borrow a line from that popular local Cornetto campaign, hanggang saan aabot ang P500 mo?

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Column: E or Tree? Of Books and E-Books.

So I thought I already posted my last blog update for the year. Sorry; I’m taking that back. This is the last one for 2014. 🙂

A fellow tech writer asked me for my views on the long-running battle between print books and e-books. This was my response.

(Reposted with permission from 2nd Opinion. You can find the original post here, and it’s also on the magazine’s December 2014 issue. Add ’em up on Facebook, too!)

See? They can play nice. “e-book | e-reader” by Cristian Eslava. (via Flickr and CC BY-SA 2.0)

“E” or Tree?
Why not use both?
by KC Calpo

There are three specific words that I’ve been hearing for years, words that almost automatically get an eye roll in response.

“Print is dead.”

Is it, really? I don’t think so. Not yet, anyway. Give it a few extra decades, maybe.

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What If…?

It’s a scorching Sunday afternoon in Manila, with the temperature predicted to hit 35°C. Best to stay indoors until at least 5PM, folks!

I suggest watching this short film by The Bakery while waiting for things to cool down a bit. The Last Bookshop shows us a scenario that (sadly) has a good chance of happening in the future: a complete dependence on technology, which can lead to the “novelty” of printed books for the younger generation.

The short film also had an impact on me for the following reasons:

  1. That bookstore is gorgeous. Need I say more?
  2. Kids bonding with adults over a shared interest, and learning from them − this always gets me.
  3. “If I were to die, what happens to my books?” Right now, I don’t have much to give to the younger members of my family. My meager book collection can be handed down to them when I leave, and I think that out of everything I own, my books have the most value. They would give my nieces and nephews a good idea of who I am, what I like, what my interests are, and which worlds I love to get lost in. I can’t do this with e-books, seeing as I don’t really “own” what I’ve bought.
  4. The Harry Potter reference. And “Gamazon”. Nice touch.
  5. That ending. Heartbreaking, man.

Enough talk. Watch The Last Bookshop, then head to the nearest book store and take a whole trove of printed material home with you. Then read. As much as you can. Then read some more.

(H/T: Jen Non; article on The Huffington Post – Books. BTW, it’s “principal” villain, not “principle”. :P)

And… as always, this isn’t a sponsored post.


Intermission.So… ummmmm… this happened.

Taking a short break; will be back soon.

Gotta look at the bright side, though: now I have more time to read! 😉

379 Days Later…

Photo by Herman Brinkman (, downloaded from stock.xchng (

The Reading Spree comes back to life!

A whole damn lot can happen in 379 days: tons of work (which is actually a great thing), vacations, downtimes, etc. And as can be expected, the number of new books keeps growing while the old acquisitions stayed put in my bookshelf. This means much more goodies to plow through; more themes to use; and more characters, storylines and twists to get lost in.

Aiming for at least one comprehensive review and several updates per month. That should be good considering everything I have on my plate right now.

Enough talk. Let the reading and reviewing commence!

Feels great to be back. 🙂


After a two-month vacation, I finally went back to work and things eventually piled up. So yes, I haven’t gotten back to my growing book pile. Maybe this long weekend, I can work on it.

It also didn’t help that I picked a very depressing theme. Oh well. Gotta finish what I started. 😛

While the 3rd review has been temporarily put on hold, here are three things that will make Filipino writers and bookworms all warm and fuzzy this April:

1) Mark this date: April 24, 2010. Why? Instituto Cervantes de Manila will hold the 5th Dia del Libro.

From their Facebook page:

From 10 am to 6pm, bibliophiles can get their hands on a wide selection of books: children and young adult titles, dictionaries, novels, and non-fiction titles, at the Día del Libro book fair. Available at even madder prices, brand new books go for as low as Php20.00. And to make the deal even sweeter, Instituto Cervantes gives a red rose with every purchase. And to cap the day, a Book Party with a live band will entertain you until midnight.

Stop by the Instituto Cervantes blog for more information and updates.

2) Filipino author Miguel Syjuco made headlines back in 2008 for winning the Man Asian Literary Prize for his first novel, Ilustrado. Two years later, the novel is now available for pre-order via Powerbooks.

3) Creative writers, essayists and poets, take note: you can now submit your entries for the 2010 Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards. Deadline’s on April 30, 2010.

It’s gonna be a great April!

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