What I learned writing a book (I learned from motherhood)
Last year, my friend Kit invited me to speak at her coffee house 55Square Café's Kwento at Kape series (in partnership with When in Manila, whaaat). The talk was last February 26, and here's what I shared: on writing the #ChickenNuggetProject and motherhood and doing my best not to panic (spoiler: I still did).
Hi, everyone! Good afternoon, and thanks for being here today.
When my son was two, we kicked back on the beanbag and loaded Bambi in the DVD player.
I hadn’t seen Bambi in a while but I do remember the (spoiler!) gunshot and the dead mother deer. Would my little baby be able to handle it? Was this a good idea? I wasn’t sure.
But I figured I’d be around if he needed any hugs or questions answered, like, “What happened?” or “Why is Bambi sad?” or —
“Mommy who’s that?”
That being The Great Prince of the Forest.
“That’s Bambi’s dad.”
It was then I realized that he had never before heard or said the word “dad,” and his first ever encounter with it was in reference to a deer. There’s been no reason for him to hear it; even at home, my own dad is “popop.”
So yes, my son, that’s Bambi’s dad. He’s kind of like a mom, except he’s a boy.
Some kids have a mom and dad. Some just have a mom, and some just have a dad. Some have two mommies, some have two daddies; some have two daddies and a mom, some have two mommies and a dad! There are so many different kids of families.
Like ours: you have Mommy. And you also have Manang Oa, Manong Ethan, Momom, and Popop. Your ninangs and ninongs! And all your titos and titas.
We all love you so much — and not just because you’re unbelievably cute. You’re a sweetheart who has and deserves all the love in the world.
And I think that’s pretty cool.
But not as cool as you are. Of course.
Hi, I’m Mikli.
Motherhood came as a surprise. I went from little girl, to little girl with a little boy. At 20, I was leaking breastmilk from under my PE shirt and rushing to pump before my neuropsychology class!
Last year, I wrote the #ChickenNuggetProject, or “I Love You.” “I Love Chicken Nuggets!” & Other Tales of Motherhood. It’s a compilation of stories on parenting while still growing up myself, and finding I'm learning a lot more from my son than I'm teaching him.
The book was originally not a book. It was a panic attack!
My son had just passed his school’s entrance exam, and there’s nothing quite like holding the acceptance letter and seeing the tuition fee right there to scare you into moving your butt. My savings weren’t going to last forever, not if I had to spend on things like school-sanctioned granola bars and candy to put in the kids’ emergency bags.
So I did what I had to do: something. Anything.
At that time, I had been blogging on stesha.org for maybe two years: makeup, life lately, random stuff. But it was time to level up! Now was the time to monetize!
So I set up a different website. Mikli Likes to Raket, subtitle, Raket Like a Hurricane was my first attempt at an Anything At All. I was offering… “words, portraits, and hashtag makeup by you.” I don’t know. I had no idea what I was doing.
That soon became candid.ph on Wordpress. I had about nine different services because I was a little crazy, but crazy is as cash-strapped does. I built the website myself, wrote all sorts of copy, and … abandoned it as soon as I realized I wasn’t into teaching other people makeup or taking portraits of people who are not my son.
Then that became Iskwelahow. I envisioned a learning hub that taught all the stuff they didn’t teach us in school. But after a couple entries I realized, so, ano? Is this going to be a blog about everything? I got so overwhelmed.
But while this whole circus of me trying (and failing!) at new things was going on, I was also sharing posts on Facebook.
Like the one from the time we went to the dentist, and my son was freaking out on our way there.
He humored me and we practiced how to “surf” our way through the adrenaline and fast heartbeats. We did things like feeling our scared feelings at the pits of our stomach and breathing through them anyway to keep calm.
And he did it. He spoke to the dentist through silent tears and a voice that was shaking hard. “I promise I’ll floss!”
When he was done, I was going to congratulate him with, "That wasn't so bad, was it?" until I caught myself. We say it so often we don't even think it, but what would I be telling my son had I said that?
That his bravery - all the effort he put into working through his fears - was wala lang pala? That this Big Deal for him was, eh, just "not so"? Or even worse: teaching him that scared feelings aren't valid, and so if someone else is feeling that way, ano ba, it's not so bad? That's like anti-compassion. It was tantamount to saying y struggles aren't "so bad", snap out of it, why were you having a hard time when it’s supposed to be so easy!
I didn't want to teach my kid that. That was the opposite of what I meant.
I was so proud of him for being brave. It wasn’t that he wasn’t scared. It was that he was scared, and did it anyway. “Adrenamine” and all!
And so instead I said, that he was brave. That he felt scared, and had reason to be scared and worked really hard to make it through. He did it, and hey, this is now something that he knows he can do!
They say it's the small things. And a trip to the dentist may not mean much … but it meant a lot.
And so it was the small things. Like a comment I got on this post telling me to “write a book!”
Oo naman I was flattered! But hanggang flattered lang.
And then someone else said it, on another post. I was very j-smiley (you know, the Y!M emoticon), very aw shucks, thanks, — then I’d trail off with “hahaha”s.
And then another person said it, on yet another post. And another, and another, and —
Looking back now, I don’t know why I didn’t think of writing a book in the first place. I was writing since I was a little girl. In school, when we were asked to “be creative” with our work, I’d ask my teachers if I could be creative with my words instead, when I know they meant “color and decorate.”
I closed my eyes and abandoned all my other new blogs. I went back and focused on stesha.org, overhauled my website completely, and niched down and told more stories like the one above.
Then I got to work on my book by —
I DON’T KNOW.
I didn’t know what I was doing, for real. So I set up a spreadsheet — I gathered stories, tweets, pictures. I tried to look for common threads, I tried to see who was reacting. Who’s my target market? What do they want from me? What do I write about?
I did a test run. I made a small guide called The Birds and The Babies: How to Not Panic When Your Kid Asks You an Awkward Question.
But that came out weird, and didn’t get the response I was looking for. Which kind of made sense, because why would my childless college friends be into a resource for parents? And I realized, that, as a parent anyway, there’s this feeling of, “I want to learn, but I don’t want to be taught.” How do I walk that line?
So I scrapped that, and was duly disheartened. I sulked for a week. I didn’t know what to do. I felt like that was such a sincere attempt and it fell flat. Anuna friends?
And it was a heart to heart with my sister in this very cafe that got me back on track. I sat and asked her, “Okay, why do you read my blog? Why do you like my tweets?”
And she said, “‘Cause K is SO WEIRD. And you’re so weird. And you’re both so weird together! It’s different. It’s refreshing! And it’s real. You don’t see that anywhere else.”
“So I should just write about us?”
That was about August or September last year. The book was available for pre-order last November, the eBook dropped December 1, and these physical books made their debut a few days before Christmas. Finishing a book in three or so months was like saying, “So what's a good way to wring my creative juices Sahara-levels dry and just NOT SLEEP, for the funsies, for a very long time?"
But I stuck to the schedule — mostly because I really wanted to launch on my birthday in November. Facebook gives me the spotlight one day a year. I might as well use it. I have a son to send to school! Pakapalan na ng mukha, friends!
It was my first time to write — and finish! — a book.
But I wasn’t starting from scratch. A lot of what I learned writing a book, I learned from motherhood.
Like how to eat jellybeans
Sure, I’d laugh off people’s “write a book” comments — the same way I’d laugh at my own attempts to write a book. I started one years ago. Chapter one was on nipples. But it never got past that because, hah, me, write a book?
One: apparently, yes, me, write a book!
And two: I still have that chapter on nipples in this one. (It made it, friends!)
But once upon a time, all it was was barely a draft. I was too afraid to try.
The same way I’m too afraid to try Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans! I don’t get the appeal of accidentally eating earwax or vomit or booger when all I want is a nice tutti frutti.
But my son loves them, and even better-slash-worse, loves to share them. He’ll put one to my lips and be all, “Try this, mommy!” And I’ll close my lips and be like, nuh uh. I’m not risking that being Rotten Egg!
But that’s not his approach at all.
I watched him and his beans. He’d take a bean, bite down once, then either throw it away or keep eating it. No hesitation, like, duh, mommy that’s just how you eat beans.
Here was my son, no fear at all of making an earthworm-flavored mistake in his pursuit of marshmallow. And when he did bite into a dirt-flavored bean: no big deal, next.
That’s what I should have been doing with my book, all those years ago. I should have “taken bites.” I should have been making mistakes.
“What if the chapter isn’t any good?” “Write it anyway and you’ll find out!”
“What if I don’t know how to make a book?” “Do it and you’ll find out!”
“What if no one likes it?” ”Do it and you’ll find out!”
Biting into the bean is the surestway of knowing whether to keep chewing. And it’ll get me to a blueberry-flavored one faster than not biting into any beans at all.
The #ChickenNuggetProject now exists thanks to my literary equivalents of bellybutton lint-flavored beans. I’ve got dead blogs, awkward photoshoots, and nights spent screaming at my computer asking myself, “WHY DID I THINK I COULD WRITE KASI?” — because I’ve taken my son’s advice and bitten into the jellybeans.
I put my work out there, and when my work is basically me, it’s the internet equivalent of standing in the middle of a Family reunion and asking my relatives to comment on my weight. It’s vulnerable, and scary, and aaaaah.
So, sure, 5-years-ago-me didn’t make any business mistakes. But she didn’t publish a book either.
So my business model was jellybeans — my business strategy was:
Grade school math
I didn’t just want to write a book for self-fulfilment. I needed to be profitable! If I was going to gain 20 pounds from all my 3am snacking, that had better mean my son is getting educated by the end of it!
Writing the book was hard. Really hard. Finishing a chapter would leave me so emotionally UBOS because I’d poured all of me on those pages. Writing meant reliving the most intense parts of my last five years, digging up things I thought I’d forgotten, and feeling everything all over again — and over and over, as I would edit. A chapter took so much out of me that I would take days off to recover before I could bring myself to write another.
And that was the easy part.
Because what is this Launch? What is this Making Money? What is this Marketing and Selling and BEING NOT AN INTROVERT? There were so many things that I didn’t even know what I didn’t know! How was I going to figure all this out?
The same way my son figured out math.
He’s in Kindergarden, and he comes home with homework like, 17-5, or 10+6, or Timmy had 12 watermelons and bought 8 more because apparently kids are really into healthy living.
One night, he asked if our bedtime story could be math. Um, yes, my little strangebean, sure!
He got our little whiteboard and began making his own math problems. He’d do a little 10+3, solve it, give himself a check, erase the problem, and write a new one. So I let him have fun on his own for a while, until he went, “Mommy, can we solve this?”
“This” turned out to be “309 + 402.”
”That? Are you sure?”
“Three digits?” (With carrying, ah.)
“Is this what you’re learning in school already?”
“No, not yet,” he said. ”Can you teach me?”
And that’s what I should have said. I was stuck in my head for so long, wondering how I would ever figure things out, when — almost stupidly — all I needed to do was ask.
I love learning! I list it in slumbooks as a hobby! Which is why I felt so frustrated when I forgot that asking was a thing! I got so caught up in being an strong, independent woman who could do it all on her own, when I didn’t have to.
Asking is hard. It’s admitting that I don’t know. It’s announcing that I don’t know.
But what my son taught me was that, when “I don’t know” is used as a beginning to find out more, that’s when learning happens — and in a much quicker way than if I’d stubborn’d my way through my roadblocks.
So I asked for help. I enrolled in super fun and interactive e-courses and participated nonstop. I got feedback from mentors and classmates. I posted random questions on Facebook and asked them in emails. I bugged everyone I could to please, please, proofread my work, can you read this, short lang, what do you think? I bribed my sister with a Spirals buffet meal (that I still have to cash in) to design my book cover, and good thing I did, because she also smacked me on the head and went, “You don’t have a launch strategy? Gimme,” and she started drawing.
I got by with a little help from my friends.
And my son started solving some seriously nerdy math.
And if I'm also being nerdy,
is another favorite hobby of mine.
Maybe it’s the getting pregnant at 19, I dunno, I dunno. But when life comes at ‘ya fast, keeping up just becomes cardio.
When I became a mom, I made a promise to always answer my son’s questions honestly. I was a curious kid growing up and would get straight up pissed every time an adult would brush me off with an, “I’ll tell you when you’re older.”
Excuse me, I’m two seconds older NOW, you can tell me! — is a comeback I wish 6-year-old Mikli thought of.
I grew up to be a party pooper because I insisted on figuring out the secrets to magic tricks, and wouldn’t stop ’til I knew how they did it. Go and open your other hand, Tito. I know you didn’t really make those toothpicks disappear! I was the worst.
I called out magicians on their tricks, and adults for their sloppy explanations. I was always so confused and, okay, mad, that my questions was so easily dismissed. That I was so easily dismissed! And all because what, they couldn’t think of how to explain? They felt awkward? Were they just tamad?
Well, joke’s on you because guess who grew up relentless? If they weren’t going to find a way to explain it to me, I was going to find a way to get the answer myself.
Now it’s been about twenty years since The Toothpick Incident. I have my own son, and what is parenting if not projecting your own frustrations onto your children, no? I decided I wanted to raise a kid who wasn’t afraid to be curious, and always felt like he could come to me. And that meant answering all of his questions, truthfully, and in a way he could understand.
And because I said that, of course I get questions like, “Mommy, what’s porn?” and “Why do people use drugs?” and “Mommy, why is your stomach so jiggly?”
Nothing like answering awkward questions to a) bring you closer to your kid, and b) train your brain to work out how opt-ins, content, landing pages, email sequences, building an email list to send the sequences to, posts that sell, trying to make those posts that sell not sound salesy and gross, e-commerce, non-e commerce, printing books, copyright, coming up with a launch strategy, implementing the launch strategy work — without panicking.
I’m kidding. I might have panicked. But being in the headspace of, “this is gonna be figured out” got me to push through the paralysis and into the doing.
That was my philosophy: finding a way. That the solutions exist, they just have to be found. It’s like solving a puzzle. I just have to try a lot until something clicks, and have to have faith that it eventually will click, if I keep trying.
Writing a book was just a series of small challenges after another. I might not have known how to go from a story on nipples to signed, sealed, delivered, tah dah, a book, but I knew I could figure out the next step. Then just the next. Then the next.
One baby step at a time. A small step forward is still a step forward.
I feel like sometimes the world underestimates baby steps.
When, so much of the time, it’s the baby steps that get things done.
I’m launching another little project soon. It’s called #DearFutureKid, and it’s writing small letters, about small things, to small kids. It’s a community project, and I’d like to invite you to join me; I’ll share details on the blog.
Mareng Whitney Houston said that she believes the children are our future; teach them well. Sorry, Tita Whitney, but if I may refute:
It seems they’ve got a lot to teach us.
I’m Mikli, and this is K. Thanks everyone.
The #ChickenNuggetProject is available in both print and eBook form here for PhP 511.