Be An Author Or Keep A Day Job? This Writer Balances Both

Writers are often stereotyped to be either filthy rich that they can afford to sit all day in front of the computer, or prolific enough to survive on royalties and advances. In fact, many of our beloved authors have kept day jobs to pursue their passion.

Long before Charles Dickens wrote novels, he put in menial hours at a boot polish factory in London. Octavia Butler, who revolutionized science fiction, worked as a dishwasher, telemarketer, and potato chips inspector.

Even up to this day, most writers – in the Philippines, especially – have day jobs. Berna Sastrillo, a young playwright and author of Detective Boys of Masangkay: Ang Mangkukulam, is a web content writer at a digital marketing agency in Makati.

You may think that she has the best day job in the world for a writer. But since her medium in writing has always been Filipino, it took her a while to get comfortable with writing in English. While she enjoys every moment in the office, her focus shifts to passion projects the moment she clocks out.

Like most of us, she wakes up early in the morning, braves the horrendous Metro Manila traffic, and works nine hours, five times a week. In the evening, when most of us are probably still working overtime, commuting, or relaxing on the sofa, Berna is typing away a short story, a play, or fragments of her upcoming book.

When she’s not in her personal workspace, she’s in her favorite coffee shop. She jokes that the price of the coffee motivates her to get things done. But if truth be told, it’s her “do whatever it takes” mentality that gets her to reach her goals, sometimes at the expense of missing her favorite TV show or extra hours of sleep.

Detective Boys of Masangkay: Ang Mangkukulam

Her debut novel is a mystery book for children titled, Detective Boys of Masangkay: Ang Mangkukulam, which according to her is a tribute to fellow 90s kids. Berna attributes the success of DBM to her PBBY’s Kabanata Workshop experience in 2014.

“Sir Allan Derain, Sir Nanoy Rafael, and Sir Rayvi Sunico, as well as my co-fellows, guided me while writing the manuscript,” she asserts. Soon enough, Ani Almario, VP of Adarna House Inc. and a PBBY officer, showed interest in publishing her manuscript.

Illustration by Borg Sinaban

A former fellow of the IYAS Creative Writing Workshop and Virgin Labfest Fellowship, Berna stresses the importance of joining workshops. She maintains that “workshops give aspiring writers the opportunity to meet people in the literary community.”

On top of participating in workshops, Berna adds that her film background influenced her process of writing DBM: “I treat every chapter in DBM as a sequence in a screenplay, so that I can achieve a better story flow.” With Adarna House’s guidance and marketing efforts, her debut novel is a success. In fact, she’s now working on the second book of the DBM series.

What Literary Success Means to Berna

Every writer has his or her own definition of literary success. To Berna, it’s not about getting published or winning a Palanca; it’s all about writing stories that can change people’s lives and resonate across generations. This aspiration, perhaps, holds true for many Filipino writers as well, and explains why many of them go off to become teachers and university professors. Berna fondly recalls a recent experience reading her book to a bunch of kids in a training center in Pampanga, describing it as “fulfilling.”

Like many successful writers, Berna’s literary journey wasn’t a linear path. After graduating BA Film from UP, she tried out different jobs and side gigs, and even worked on a documentary film. It was her mother’s death, and the grief and longing that came with it, that rekindled her passion for the arts.

She made other sacrifices as well, one of which is spending time with friends. She says, “I rarely go out with them now. I think that’s part of growing up; my priorities have changed and I believe I’m at the stage of my life where I should start chasing my dreams before it’s too late. But that doesn’t mean I no longer love my friends; I try to be there during special moments in their lives.” And like a true 90s kid, she exclaims, “Shout out to my high school barkada! I miss you, guys! UBE, soon.”

Berna’s Tips for Aspiring Writers

Read, read, and read. To become a better storyteller and writer, you need to expose yourself to great stories.

Join workshops. Many young writers are afraid to let other people read their work. But I can’t stress enough how critique can improve your writing and toughen your heart as a writer. Also, as I’ve mentioned, workshops bring opportunities to meet people and find your place in the scene. Perhaps, you’d meet your publisher in one of the workshops you joined, like what happened to me.

Don’t be afraid to submit your work. Be fearless, as you have nothing to lose. If your work got accepted in an anthology, it’s enough validation that you’re doing a good job and you should write more.  If you got rejected, see it as a challenge to improve your writing so you must write more. Bookmark panitikan.com.ph and watch out for call for entries and publishing opportunities.

Live your life. As what I share with the kids who read my books: “Patuloy na maglaro, makipagkaibigan, maglakbay, at mabuhay! Mag-ipon ng mga karanasan kung saan pwede kang makakuha ng inspirasyon para magsulat. (Keep playing, make friends, travel, and live! Collect experiences where you can find inspiration to write)

Berna Sastrillo is one young Filipino writer to look up to. She’s a living example that you can chase your dream, even with little time and resources in your hands. Making a mark in the literary scene is more than just a pipe dream. So grab that pen and keep on writing!

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