The notebooks of Miguel Syjuco

07 June 2010

The author Miguel Syjuco talks us through the various notebooks he used while writing Ilustrado, his Man Asian Literature award-winning debut novel.

by Miguel Syjuco

In the four years working on Ilustrado, I kept numerous notebooks. This, from the first years, contains: notes about what the epilogue should convey, as a goal to write toward; Idle lines that never made it into the book; Reminder to self to create character sketches; And an anecdote that conveys Crispin Salvador's relationship with his own writing. Crossed out bits mean I either used them in the book or jettisoned the idea as not suitable.

This was my main notebook, kept beside my bed. Upon retiring in the evening, I'd write to-do for the next day. Upon waking in the mornings, I'd scribble images, stories, or ideas I'd dreamed. Those time when an active mind drove me to insomnia, I'd scrawl ideas and lines in the darkness, so as not to disturb my sleeping girlfriend. I always had this book at hand whenever I'd smoke marijuana, usually once a week or fortnight, so that I could record the ideas that came to me whilst stoned; often, such lines proved useless, but many times the weed helped me dig deeply into my mind for unexpectedly good ideas.

As a journalist moonlighting as a novelist, I always had notebooks at hand. I scribbled notes on the novel in between notes for work and personal life. In the smaller notebook, always kept in the pocket of my coat or trousers, are inspirational quotes from scripture and Philip Roth, recipes for leche flan and pavlova, and an important note about how to create the dinner scene with Miguel, Sadie, and Sadie's family. The reporters' notebook, which I used while working, is scribbled with to-do notes for tasks I wanted to attend to upon returning home to my novel after the long day's work at the newspaper. At my computer at home, on the kitchen table, I'd go through each notebook, and every scrap of paper (receipt, bill, envelope) on which I'd scrawled an idea, and work see if they fit into the novel. I spent my days like a magpie, collecting ideas, images, anecdotes from here and there and bringing them home to construct my novel.

 

 

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