October Stories of Positivity

A few months ago, when I was trying to figure out my personal brand, I realized that I wanted to be a writer who could uplift, inspire, and educate others through her stories. The world is already filled with devastating news and negative energy, so I wanted to share a little bit of positivity in my tiny corner of the Internet.

When my friend Tata Mapa, editor-in-chief of My Pope Philippines, asked me to work on some stories for the magazine, I was thrilled! After all, what could be more positive and uplifting than a magazine about our beloved Pope Francis. This new title promises to be your monthly source of inspiration. Do check out the premier issue, which I helped copy edit. It’s available in book stores and magazine stands for only P85.

My Pope October 2017 cover

Here’s another story I wrote that’s out this month: “Seven Hours in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter” in Cosmopolitan Philippines’ October 2017 issue. In this article, I give practical tips on how to maximize your stay in the WWOHP in Osaka, Japan.

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One of the reasons I love the Harry Potter series is because it allows its readers—both young and old—to believe in magic. It’s not just a fun, feel-good story; it’s about the power of love, the value of friendship, and the belief that we can defeat evil.

Explore Hogwarts and the village of Hogsmeade at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Osaka, Japan.

So again, do grab a copy of Cosmopolitan’s October issue to read the whole story!

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Refresh Your Health in 5 Easy Ways

When I was working as a full-time managing editor, I found it extremely difficult to live a healthy lifestyle. I would spend long hours at the office just sitting at my desk, writing and editing articles. I used to run a lot (I even ran a marathon once), but as my workload got heavier, I found myself working out less and eating more. I have to admit, it was really hard for me to resist sweets, so whenever a bag of goodies would arrive at the office, I always had to have my share. Our food editor was also an excellent cook so whenever she would prepare dishes for an upcoming issue, the team would always get delicious, free meals!

Perhaps it was this combination of stress and unhealthy eating habits—not to mention the fact that I’m now in my thirties—that led me to gain weight and have a host of health problems over the years. Last year, I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, and just last July, I had some myomas removed via a laparoscopic surgery. This was part of the reason why I decided to take a break from full-time work. I needed to take care of my health so I could continue doing what I loved and taking care of the people I loved.

Last month, I was lucky enough to be invited to an event that was perfectly aligned with my goal of having a healthier lifestyle. Entitled “Refresh Your Health,” the event taught me a few things I could do to live a more well-balanced life.

1. Develop a regular yoga practice. The event started out with a 30-minute yoga session led by GoWell ambassador, Bubbles Paraiso. I’ve always believed that yoga is a great way to strengthen the body and calm the mind. Now that I’m cleared to start working out again, I hope to develop a more regular yoga practice. (For days when I can’t go to a yoga studio, I practice yoga at home by following this YouTube channel.)

Of course, it’s even better when you have a community to support you. If you’re looking for resources on holistic wellness and people to help you fulfill your workout goals, check out GoWell. (The Bull Runner Jaymie Pizarro, one of my ultimate running idols, is a GoWell ambassador too!)

Fairmont Fitness Center

The yoga class was held at Fairmont Makati’s clean and spacious fitness center.

2. Choose the right beauty products—or better yet, make your own! It’s no secret that many products in the market today are filled with toxic chemicals. If you’ll be applying something to your skin every day, you better make sure it’s safe. One way to do that is to make your own beauty products—that way, you know exactly what you’re putting in your body. I thought it would be hard, but turns out, it’s super easy! I even managed to make my own body polish using Himalayan salt and coconut oil, as well as a refreshing Lavender Peppermint Mist.

body polish and mist recipe

3. Apply acupressure on your face. Did you know that applying pressure on different points of your face can produce a variety of interesting results? For instance, pressing on point 1 (see image below) can calm the mind and relieve stiff neck and headaches. A representative from Kerstin Florian, a line of award-winning beauty products featuring natural, plant- and marine-based, active ingredients, taught us how to do this 16-point acupressure facial exercise. Now this is one workout I can easily do every day!

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4. Have a massage. There’s nothing like a relaxing massage to release the tension from one’s day. The Willow Stream Spa at Fairmont Makati focuses on energy renewal. I’m glad I got to try their massage—from the peaceful ambiance and the soothing music to their well-trained staff, it was definitely one of the most relaxing massages I’ve ever had. Visit their website to see their other offerings.

Willow Stream Spa Treatment Room

5. Go on a wellness retreat. I cannot express enough how wonderful it feels—and how absolutely necessary it is for one’s sanity—to take a few days off to nourish oneself. And I don’t mean a hectic vacation with a packed itinerary, where you come back feeling even more tired! What I mean is a retreat where you can take a few days off to spend some quiet moments in reflection. With an emphasis on health and wellness through fitness, movement, travel, and healthy eating, Flow Retreats are the perfect way to  nourish your body, mind, and soul. Check out FlowRetreats.com for upcoming retreats in Baler and El Nido.

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If you don’t want to go too far from the city, check out Flow Retreats’ fun, halloween-themed event this weekend.

Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

When I first read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child back in 2016, I liked the story but I felt it was lacking somehow. After all, it was written as a screenplay and didn’t have the same compelling storytelling and vivid descriptions as the first seven books. But when I finally got to watch the play at the Palace Theatre in London last month, I thought, “Now, that’s how this story is supposed to be experienced!”

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Below are five things I loved most about the play, along with some tips you might find helpful if you plan to watch it anytime soon. Don’t worry, I won’t be posting any spoilers because J.K. Rowling specifically requested that we #KeepTheSecrets!

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1. The bromance between Albus and Scorpius. Theirs was a forbidden bromance, as their fathers (Harry and Draco) were arch enemies. But these two just couldn’t help but become best friends. Kudos to Samuel Blenkin, the actor who played Scorpius. He was hilarious!

2. The incredibly talented cast and crew. Aside from the two lead actors, I also loved seeing the cast play Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Draco as their older selves. As playwright Jack Thorne said in the play’s souvenir program, this play had “a sensational cast and a crew that can make the ordinary extraordinary.” My dream is that one day I’ll get to watch Dan Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, and Tom Felton reprise their roles in this play as the adult versions of their characters in the HP movies.

Check out this behind the scenes shoot of this year’s cast:

3. The magic and special effects. People disappearing and reappearing, spells being cast, and dementors flying across the theatre—it was a play and a magic show rolled into one! It completely blew me away, and was unlike anything I’d ever seen in any other play before.

Spot the Dark Mark at the theatre in the photo below:

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4. Ron and Hermione. I have to admit, I was never a fan of this pairing. I always thought Harry and Hermione should have ended up together—especially since Dan Radcliffe and Emma Watson had such great chemistry in the movies. But the play showed me that Ron and Hermione are actually a good match—Ron’s playful, affectionate personality balances out Hermione’s serious, bookish demeanor. (I’ve always identified with Hermione, and now that I think about it, my husband is actually a lot like Ron!) Anyway, the actors in the play made me believe that Ron and Hermione were meant to be together.

5. Five hours of Harry Potter goodness. When we first bought tickets, I was baffled as to why we had to buy a set of two tickets for two days. Then I learned that the play is actually in two parts, and each part is about two and a half hours long. (The set we got was for two consecutive days but there are also days when you have Part One in the afternoon and Part Two in the evening.) Part One felt a bit slower, since we were just getting acquainted with the characters, but as soon as the curtains opened to reveal the intricately designed set at the Palace Theatre, I was transported into the Wizarding World. Part Two was definitely more exciting, but for a play that lasted almost five hours in total, I did not feel bored at all. I think Potterheads will agree that more Harry Potter is always a good thing!

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Tip: It’s not too late to buy tickets! Even if the play is fully booked, just keep trying because there are people who cancel at the last minute. We actually got three tickets just a month before we left for the U.K. (Though one of the seats was not located beside the other two.) Book your tickets at HarryPotterthePlay.com. The play will also be showing in Broadway by Spring 2018!

P.S. If you have some time between watching the two parts, be sure to check out the House of Minalima, which showcases many of the graphics that designers Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima created for the Harry Potter movies. It’s just walking distance from the Palace Theatre and is definitely worth a visit.

10 Steps to Becoming a Successful Freelancer

During my years as a full-time magazine editor, I would give out assignments to freelance writers, photographers, makeup artists, stylists, and illustrators. All these people would come together to help us editors produce the beautiful pages in our magazines and books.

When my magazine closed, I decided to give freelancing a try. After all, if our contributors could do it, I probably could too, right? But now that I’m a freelancer myself, I realized that it’s not as easy as it looks! Now that I no longer have a day job, now that my routine of going to the office every day is gone, there are moments when I get a panic attack and think: Where will I get my next paycheck? What if nobody assigns me anything anymore? What am I going to do with my life?!

Last Saturday, I attended the The Freelancer Fair 2017 at the Bayanihan Center and it helped address some questions I have about freelancing. It was a lively gathering with a variety of booths as well as a series of talks meant to empower the attendees.

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If you’re thinking about becoming a freelancer, or just earning some money on the side, here are a few things I learned from the speakers at the event.

1. Find your purpose. Before diving into your work or marketing your services, figure out your “why.” As author Simon Sinek said in his book Start with Why, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe.”

2. Know your strengths. What are you good at? What do people usually go to you for? What kind of services can you offer? And don’t just look at your day job or the course you took up in college. Think about your hobbies and passions too. Obsessed with running and healthy eating? Perhaps you can be a fitness coach! Have a knack for sales? Perhaps you can be a real estate agent. There is a common misconception that freelancers are only classified as online workers. But the truth is, a freelancer can be anyone from a virtual assistant or online shopper to a financial advisor or life coach. So no matter what your skills, you can find a way to make freelancing work for you.

3. Think of yourself as a business. As a freelancer, you are your own boss. That doesn’t mean you get to slack off. As a business owner, you need to be strategic about your business decisions and do a lot of hard work to make your business succeed.

4. Start collaborating (not competing). With so many freelancers out there (about 1.5 million in the online world according to the event organizers), it’s definitely tough. It’s easy to start thinking of everyone else as competition. But if you collaborate with fellow freelancers, then your community will grow, you can come up with a better product or service, and you might even learn something new.

5. Invest in yourself. If you’re not confident in your skills, invest in courses and tools to learn more about the job you want to do. Make time to study—no excuses.

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Photo by Corinne Kutz from Unsplash.com

6. Have a positive attitude. I couldn’t agree more with this piece of advice! There will be so many stumbling blocks along the way. But as long as you train your mind to be positive and do the work, everything else will follow. Believe in the power of the Universe!

7. Value your relationships. As the theme of the workshop goes, you need to cultivate relationships. Who do you want to serve? Find out where those people are and reach out to them. Take care of your clients, suppliers, and everyone else you’re working with. Most of all, always be kind.

8. Strive for excellence. Don’t settle for work that is “pwede na.” Do everything to the best of your ability.

9. Communicate your thoughts and ideas well. One of the most interesting questions during the creative freelancing panel was about how to deal with difficult clients. According to one panelist, you need to learn to challenge the client (in a nice way). Ask questions and work together; don’t just take orders.

10. Commit to wow your clients every time. I got this from inspirational speaker Francis Miranda, whose talk I enjoyed most. He says we should strive to be extraordinary (going beyond what everyone else does), progressive (always improving), and consistent (delivering consistently good quality work). After all, “the best marketing is a good experience that your client can’t stop raving about. Good experiences get clients. Wow experiences get loyalists.”

There are so many more tips and insights, but I think I’ll have to limit this post to 10 tips for now. I hope I can keep these in mind as I navigate the freelancing world—and I hope they are helpful to you as well. If there are other tips you’d like to share, please do post them in the comments. 🙂

On Heat Levels and Live Readings

As a writer, there are so many authors I admire and aspire to be like. Jane Austen and L.M. Montgomery for the classics. J.R.R. Tolkien, George R.R. Martin, and J.K. Rowling for epic fantasies. Rainbow Rowell, Stephanie Perkins, and Jennifer E. Smith for YA. Elizabeth Gilbert and Gretchen Rubin for self-help and inspiration. And so many more!

When we talk about authors, it’s usually the foreign ones who get more credit, but there are so many Filipino authors who also write great stories. I attended The Philippine Readers and Writers Festival last weekend and it was truly a celebration of local talent.

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The panel I attended was “Clever Hands: How to Write Steamy Scenes in New Adult Lit.” Featuring local authors Brigitte Bautista, Six de los Reyes, Clare Elizabeth Marquez, C.P. Santi, Ines Bautista-Yao, and Mina V. Esguerra, the discussion was definitely eye-opening. To summarize, there are several heat levels in romance, ranging from zero (clean), one (sweet), two (sensual), three (sexy and sizzling), and four (erotic romance). These heat levels can help clarify who your readers might be, and they will affect your characters, plot, and word choices. (I’ve read books across all heat levels, but in terms of my fiction, I think I’ll stick to level one… for now. Haha!)

The authors gave great writing tips, but the highlight of the session was definitely the live readings, done by actors Gio Gahol, Rachel Coates, and Fred Lo. It was thrilling to see the written word come alive before my eyes. Check out these videos to see what I mean. (Thank you to April of The Reading Belles for uploading.)

All That Glitters by Ines Bautista-Yao, a sweet romance about college kids Carlos and Billie. I’ve read this and highly recommend it!

Bucket List to Love by C.P. Santi. I love that it’s set in Japan—and after hearing this excerpt, I just had to get a copy.

I wish I could have attended more talks (and bought more books), but sitting in on this panel was definitely worth it. It inspired me to keep reading, writing, improving—and having fun along the way!

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Travel Journaling Tips from Abbey Sy and Christine Herrin

When I turned twelve years old, my parents gave me a beautiful, hardbound journal for my birthday. It was a light shade of pink with dainty, watercolored illustrations of flowers, a cafe, a plate of food, and a bottle of wine on the cover. It also came with a matching box that had a lock and key. Since then, I began writing pages and pages of words about my life.

In high school, I started scrapbooking. I became obsessed with lettering and calligraphy (back when it wasn’t all the rage yet and all I had to guide me was an old textbook from art class). I started sorting through my photos and old magazines, and cutting and pasting them onto this huge scrapbook. Every time we went to a movie or a trip, I would save all the ticket stubs, the maps, the souvenirs. My friends entrusted me as the memory keeper—the person who had a record of all the photos from all the memorable events in our young lives. By the time I graduated from college, I had more than a dozen thick scrapbooks and albums.

But as the world moved into the digital age, these hobbies fell by the wayside. It became too tedious to print and sort through hundreds of photos on my digicam. Once I started working, I became too busy to sit down and work on a scrapbook. Whereas before, I would write on my journal almost daily, now my handwritten entries are few and far between.

When artist Abbey Sy came out with her book, The ABCs of Hand Lettering, and later, The ABCs of Journaling, I was transported back to my high school days. I immediately got a copy of both books because they reminded me of a simpler time—a time when I was able to diligently record and reflect on my experiences. To me, journaling and scrapbooking weren’t just about preserving memories, they were also about helping me figure out who I was and my place in the world.

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Fangirl moment: I’m such a huge fan of Abbey’s work!

Last Saturday, August 19, I attended a travel journaling workshop at Common Folk Coffee Bar with Abbey and Christine Herrin, another talented artist who also happens to be my former officemate. It was such a fun gathering with fellow creatives and journaling enthusiasts, and it inspired me to start scrapbooking again, especially since I have two big trips coming up!

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With Abbey, Christine, and my fellow travelers at Common Folk Coffee Bar. (Photo courtesy of Abbey Sy)

If you’d like to go back to journaling and scrapbooking (like me) or if this is a hobby you want to start, here are a few of Abbey and Christine’s travel journaling tips:

BEFORE THE TRIP:

1. Do your research. Find inspiration online. Look for places that are not only Instagram-worthy, but that you and your travel buddies will also find interesting.

2. Decide on what journal you will use. It can be any old notebook you have lying around, but of course, I would recommend journals from either Abbey or Christine!

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Enjoy the Journey travel journal, P350, available at Abbey-Sy.com (Photo courtesy of Abbey Sy)

DURING THE TRIP:

3. Remember that there are many ways to journal. For instance, Christine collects ephemera (memorabilia and souvenirs) and sticks them on her journal along with her photos. Abbey does this as well, but she also draws and paints interesting places on her journey. So there is really no right or wrong way to do it. The important thing is to find what works for you.

4. When laying out the pages in your journal, draw or stick the ephemera first before you start writing. You can also use stickers, stamps, and washi tape to decorate it.

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Stamp sets by Christine Herrin, P850 each, available at EverydayExplorers.co. She also has a collab stamp sheet with Abbey! (Photo courtesy of Abbey Sy)

5. Do your journaling before breakfast or after dinner to free up headspace. It’s a nice way to remember and appreciate what happened the previous day, while also getting ready to face the day ahead. But don’t spend too much time documenting. Enjoy the place!

6. If you don’t have time to journal during the trip, just use ziplocks to store your ephemera and then work on your journal when you get home. You can also do random stuff like take a screenshot of the weather for the day. I love Christine’s Everyday Explorers journal because it’s filled with a list of prompts that can help you document your trip in a unique and interesting way. It also comes with a box where you can store your souvenirs.

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Everyday Explorers journal kit, available at EverydayExplorers.co. (Photo courtesy of Abbey Sy)

AFTER THE TRIP:

7. If you’re fixing your journal after the trip, decide whether you will arrange everything chronologically, by place, or by theme.

8. Collect and select. You don’t have to put ALL the details of your trip. Choose the best photos and ephemera, and just write the things you want to remember the most.

9. Set aside time to do it soon after your trip—otherwise, you’ll never get around to finishing it!

10. “Don’t be too precious.” As Christine said, don’t be afraid to write on that blank page, to mess it up, and to stick things on it. It’s your journal after all.

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My travel journaling loot. I’m so excited and I can’t wait to get started!

10 Tips for a Great Interview

One of the things I love most about being a writer is meeting people from all walks of life. Whether it’s a public school teacher from a far-flung province, a running coach who guides underprivileged young athletes, or a big celebrity with multiple endorsements, each person has a unique and interesting story to tell. While I often feel inspired after each interview, there is also a huge pressure to write about the subject in a way that does justice to his or her story—and to write an article that people will want to read all the way to the end.

The key to writing a great story about a person starts with the interview. Below are a few tips I’ve learned on how to have a meaningful conversation with your interviewee. (Disclaimer: I am not a hard news reporter, so these tips will mostly apply to feature articles.)

1. Research on your subject. Before you meet the person you are interviewing, do your research. Read up on articles that have been written about her before. After all, you don’t want to write an article with information that already exists online. You need to find a different way to write about this person.

2. Prepare your questions in advance. Once you’ve learned more about your subject, prepare your list of questions according to the topic of the article you’re writing. If your focus is on a celebrity’s new movie, for instance, it probably won’t help to bring up an old showbiz issue that has already been resolved.

3. Be friendly and curious, without being intrusive. Respect your subject’s boundaries. If she clearly states that she doesn’t want to talk about a certain topic, don’t push the issue. I’ve learned that once your subject becomes uncomfortable, the more she won’t answer your questions!

4. Genuinely listen. Don’t interrupt the subject while she is talking. If she diverts from the topic, wait for a break in her train of thought before gently steering her back to your preferred topic.

5. Ask interesting, open-ended questions. If your questions are just answerable by “yes” or “no,” you won’t get the meat you need for your article. It also helps to ask unique questions that will allow your interviewee to give more substantial answers, instead of the usual spiel she gives other interviewers. (I love watching Vogue’s 73 Questions series. Some of their questions are pretty good and can be used for a standard interview.)

6. Ask follow up questions. If something isn’t clear, don’t be afraid to ask more questions. You don’t have to strictly follow your list. Sometimes the best stories come out of topics you weren’t even planning to talk about.

7. Be professional. I once went to a press conference for a popular boy band. During the Q&A portion, a lady from the press went to the mic and started gushing about the band for the next five minutes. This is probably fine at a fan meet-and-greet, but definitely not at a press con! If you’re interviewing someone you are a huge fan of, it’s okay to show your appreciation, but don’t waste his or her time with endless gushing.

8. Never make the interview about you. Many times, you’ll find yourself relating to your interviewee. Perhaps you had a similar experience to what she was talking about or you have similar views about a certain topic. Don’t hog the spotlight by talking about yourself!

9. Be open. Different people have different views. You are not there to debate with your subject. You are there to learn more about her story.

10. Enjoy the conversation. The best interviews are those where you feel like you’re just talking to a friend over coffee. So just relax and have fun!

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Throwback to 2010 when I got the chance to interview Daniel Radcliffe over the phone. As a total Potterhead, it was a dream come true! It only lasted about five minutes (and my voice got very high after he said, “Hello, Angel!”) but I think I managed to keep my composure and write a good story, which was published in Candy magazine.

On Letting Go

Have you ever had to let go of a person, a place, or a thing you loved dearly? Saying goodbye is a natural part of life. Every day, seasons change, people pass away, relationships end, things get old and have to be thrown out.

As a writer, I often have to let go of the words I love. It’s easy when the work is not my own. As an editor, I go through every article that passes through me with a sharp set of shears, snipping away at unnecessary words in order to come up with a well-groomed piece that meets my required word count.

But when it comes to my own work, it’s a painful process, like cutting off my own fingers. When I wrote the first chapter of my new adult novella a few years ago, my words were like my children. They manifested themselves in my brain and my heart, and I was so inspired as I typed them out on my computer. I carved and polished them to perfection, before sending them off into the world.

When that novella was rejected by a local publisher last year, I had to take a good long look at my manuscript, and eventually made the tough decision to let go of that first chapter—the one I had carefully crafted and poured my heart into. It was hard, but necessary, if I wanted my first chapter to be strong and exciting enough to hook my reader.

This year, I had to let go of a lot more than just my words. I said goodbye to a dear cousin who recently passed, to a hardworking and talented team that I love, to a job that was as enjoyable as it was stressful, and to a company that I considered my second home for the past twelve years.

Of course, there were tears. There was—or rather, there is—fear and anxiety. But there is also joy. And there is hope. Because when one chapter ends, a new one begins.

Sometimes, it’s easier to hold on to the familiar, to stubbornly stay rooted in one place. But every time we let go of something, we make room for new things to grow—for new people, experiences, and stories to enter our lives. We just have to learn to welcome them with open arms.

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The August 2017 issue is my last as managing editor of Good Housekeeping Philippines. After 12 years and having handled several titles for Summit Media, I can truly say that it has been a wonderful and fulfilling journey. I will be eternally grateful to all the people I’ve worked with, the opportunities I’ve been given, and the lessons I’ve learned in the process. Today, a new adventure begins and I’m excited for what lies ahead. #PassionOn