i have received many inquiries on how to succeed in a country where people do not read books. first, let us define what success means for you. if it means the ability to write well, with technical expertise and the gift to transmute ideas into emotions and experience on the page, then maybe the following would help:
1. If you write prose, master grammar and the elements of style. That is also the title of the iconic book of strunk and white.
2. Read the classics. I do not mean just the Western classics, but also the Eastern ones. And as important these days, the Asian and Southeast Asian writings, focusing on the Philippines. As TS Eliot said in Tradition and the Individual Talent, we stand on the bones of our ancestors not to bury them deeper, but for us to reach loftier heights. In short, you should know what has been written, build on it to enrich your writing, and scope around for some new things (Ezra Pound's "make it new") that can be the focus and fulcrum of your work.
This is what the young punk who wrote a withering review in the Philippines Free Press of Ricky Lee's first novel failed to consider. He called the novel shit, and the next novel, an unfinished one whose first chapter was printed in the first novel, as shit as well. Unless you are drawing attention to yourself, how could you call shit an unfinished, unpublished novel whose entirety you have not read? That, ladies and gentlemen, also smell not of roses but of something fecal as well. And if you are an advocate of new, experimental writing, fine. But one day, when you have finished and published your great new experimental Philippine writing, then do show them to us so we can read them as well.
3. If you write poems, then also devour the classics, Western as well as Eastern, including the multicultural, bybridized ones of the last 30 years. I personally favour the Tang Dynasty poets, Wang Wei and Li Po and Tu Fu, as well as the masters of the haiku, Basho and Issa and Buson. And also the crazy Westerners: Rilke and Roethke and Plath, and the magical Spanish and Latino Americanos: Lorca, Neruda, Vallejo.
4. Write and write and write. In my time we wrote in journals. Every day. Now it is the blog. But whether journal or blog or thesis or the great Filipino Novel, pour everything you have into it -- skin and soul and something else that only you can give.
5. Join contests. Not to make a lot of money, because you won't, but for two things -- to get validation from the so-called masters, and to build a strong CV that is required by the publishing houses. True, many publishers will not touch the work of a young writer with no award, no grants abroad, a CV without a spine, as some would put it. It may be unfair, to the writer who did not join contests or send an application for a fellowship abroad, but whether here, in Alaska or in the Daily Planet of New York, things are basically the same.
As for the definition of success as financial, you only make money as a writer in the Philippines:
1. If you write a political biography of somebody running for elections. Nick Joaquin did, and his going rate before he died was at least P1.5 million. But he was Saint Nick, writer par excellence, and literary godfather of us all. Some of his political biographies read like riveting fiction, and maybe, that was his intention after all?
2. If you write a series of elementary or high school textbooks. One of my friends did, and every March, he would collect millions of pesos in royalties and would buy lechon for the whole department to feast on. When you write a series of textbooks, the whole marketing machinery of the publisher goes to work on the superintendents, the supervisors, the head teachers, the chairmen. I did not say they would bribe the whole kit and caboodle: I just said they would go to work.
3. If you join advertising and PR. I now work as a Communications Officer at the United Nations Development Programme, and in our tall and ritzy building at the RCBC Plaza in Makati I would see my former students -- now hotshots of the biggest ad and PR companies in the country. Some of them also worked for multinational companies in SE Asia. It is good money, and money honestly earned, if you have the facility, the slippery ability, with words, their nuances and shadows, their very essences.
4. PR also includes political PR. You can get rich quick if your boss is a senator who has an IQ below sea level, arrives early for the attendance checking, and leaves ASAP to go carousing not in the bookstores but in the dim, dark chambers reeking of sulfur where politics in this country is ran. Since yours is the only brains in his office, naturally you can do magic realism and get the fattest paycheck every fifteen days.
5. Run for elections. But then, you do not run for elections to make money in this poor but beautiful country. Otherwise, you would just end up like the blood-thirsty politicians that you loved to satirize when you were younger and poorer, and had stars in your eyes.