Saturday, September 27, 2014

Confessions of a “Rewriter”

REWRITING IS THE new writing.

In an internet universe where content is allegedly king, writing has transmogrified into a product—a cheap commodity—to be mass produced, sold and re-sold for profit.

Quantity and unique views are what matter. And quality? Someone will have to re-define what this concept means in the website factories that mass produce stories.

My beloved profession, known and revered in the analog world of past centuries as “writing,” has been grotesquely twisted and co-opted into this thing called “Rewriting.”

Rewriters like me are the Minions of that “internet space” called “content aggregation.” We tirelessly rewrite stories picked-up off the internet so these stories still make sense and, most important, bypass that bane of all rewriters, CopyScape.

We mass produce stories by the thousands. I’ve rewritten over 5,000 news stories for over half a dozen content aggregation websites.

I’ve rewritten science, technology, business and entertainment stories. I’m the proud owner of so much mundane information my short-term memory is in dangerous overload.

But 5,000 stories is nothing. One Filipina rewriter I wrote with said she’d rewritten over 20,000 stories.

When I was a newbie rewriter, I did five stories a day. I peaked at 15 stories a day, five days a week when I got the hang of this job.

It takes anywhere from four to five hours of searching, selecting, reading, understanding and rewriting to manufacture 15 stories. The price you pay for mass producing stories is everlasting neck and shoulder pain.

Rewriting stories by the dozen greatly offends my sensibilities as a classically trained writer who cut his teeth on typewriters.  You know, typewriters.

Grandpa’s version of the desktop PC that goes tack-tack when you hammer at the keys and prints words using this prehistoric printer-thing called a ribbon.

But writers write for two Muses: Clio and Melpomene.

Clio because classical writers have this innate hubris their stories will be deified by history. Melpomene because writing is always a tragedy, especially if she becomes your mistress.

You won’t get rich writing but Minions like me hack away at their keyboards for P100 a story. That’s a tragedy of Homeric proportions.

Don’t laugh, ye barefaced whelps. This pittance helps pay the bills. It does for me and hundreds of other Filipino rewriters.

Just who are these faceless Minions that sprout from this mutant branch in the Tree of Writing called Rewriting?

Right now, I lead a team of seven science and technology writers. We rewrite for a content aggregation company based in New York, USA. All my rewriters are Filipinos.

They’re young, mostly women in their 20s. They’re romantic, far too respectful of authority and single.  They’re well-educated, all of them.

Most of them majored in courses identified with writing such as journalism and communication arts. I’ve got a writer with a degree in computer engineering while another’s a veterinarian, or a veterinarian geek, as he describes himself.

My rewriters are from University of the Philippines, Miriam College Foundation, Inc., Ateneo de Manila University, University of Southeastern Philippines in Davao City, University of Santo Tomas and University of the Philippines, Los BaƱos.

Most of them have done this kind of work before. Some of them have done SEO (search engine optimization) writing, which is the evil twin of rewriting.

They’re all in the process of attaining their full potential as writers. Their writing reflects their uncertainty and fear of making mistakes. They write cautiously.

But these kids work hard, understand science and tech and take pride in being part of a successful team.

They’re all idealistic—as a rewriter must be. Without this basic quality, a rewriter won’t endure the daily grind she inflicts on herself. That makes them heroic in my eyes.

Rewriting science and technology stories is never easy.  You have to read, understand, understand, understand and then rewrite.

Rewriting’s still journalism in its structure and its emphasis on accurate information. It might not look that way to classical writers but it is.

My people rewrite five to seven stories five days a week. On Saturdays, they do three stories. Sunday is a day-off. You can write on Sundays if you want to. Every peso helps.

And why do I claim rewriting’s the new writing?

Because in this country that still speaks and writes the best English in Southeast Asia, rewriting is the only financially and professionally rewarding offshoot of writing available to Filipinos that write in English.

Media is closed to most Filipino writers in English. There are only three English broadsheets and the chances of a kid landing a job as a reporter in any of these papers is probably the equivalent of winning the Lotto.

TV and radio are out. Filipino is the language of the masses these media pander to.

My official job is to edit my team’s stories. My personal commitment is to help these kids become better writers by combining their experience with osmosis.

Rewriting that’s been well edited has a tendency to seep into a rewriter’s consciousness by osmosis. The rewriter sees his original, reads the edited version, says to herself, “This looks better” and rewrites better stories the next time around.

I’ve seen this happen. Writers and rewriters that want to be better writers will motivate themselves to be better writers. Quotas won’t get them to improve.

Rewriting is the only discipline that’s keeping alive the art of English writing in this country.

The thousands of young Filipinas and the smattering of young Filipino men that persist in writing in English deserve recognition for their ardor.

Sure, rewriting’s a job but as these kids get better at it, the job will become a vocation for many and an obsession for the zealous few.

Writing in English will remain alive in this country, thanks to the Filipino rewriter.

Melpomene be praised.