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Emerging from the cocoon

Updated: Dec 14, 2020

There was never a doubt in my mind that I was a writer, but not like a real writer; Just a girl that’s been writing in a diary since the age of 9, who then started writing poems as early as seventh grade. The need to write came naturally. I was often told that I have a way with words. I knew this, but for some reason, I was still seeking for the perfect “career.” I usually thought that writing was just a hobby I was good at. If there is one thing, I have learned this past year, is that writing has always been the ideal career I just did not know it yet. This past year has taught me that no other career was going to work out because I was designed to create art with words.

Before becoming a wife and mother, more than a decade ago, I was participating in a few open mics. Experiencing the adrenaline of expressing myself on a stage was exhilarating while it lasted, but then I had to place my craft on hold, while I navigated marriage and motherhood. For a while I assumed, I had lost my inspiration. Poems did not come as easily anymore. I continued to journal consistently, however. Which, in my mind, did not count as real writing. Journaling only served to sort out my emotions. A place where I would come to pray or express my joys and/or frustrations. “That does not make me a writer,” is the lie I kept telling myself. Impostor syndrome much? I never considered becoming a professional writer a possibility. A poet, spoken word artist, perhaps, but never a writer. I did not know what the process of becoming a writer even entailed.

I thought I could just write poems and possibly start attending open mics again when the boys became more independent. About two or three years ago, I started playing with the idea of maybe attending writing workshops or even hosting my own after bumping into Natalie Goldberg’s, Writing down the Bones, in a thrift store. This is when I learned about marathons or writing in spiral notebooks about absolutely any topic. I wanted to get back to writing poetry but felt like I did not have it in me anymore. It had been close to ten years. though I never stopped reading. When I could not write or felt uninspired, there was always a book at arm’s length to enlighten me in other ways.

Once I intuitively felt I needed to return to writing I started praying for opportunities and the inspiration that would allow me into the world of writers. I wanted to participate in writing workshops but felt intimidated. Other times, I would be discouraged by the prices of these workshops. One day, a close friend sent me a post, and captioned it “Lisa, you have to do this.” It was The Washington Heights Memoir Project sponsored by Dominican Writers Association. It was an answered prayer and even though I was freaking out about the commitment, it was an opportunity I could not refuse. I knew this six-week workshop would change the trajectory of my life.

For the next six weeks, under the guidance of published writer, Francis Mateo, we wrote about our experiences growing up in Washington Heights. I suddenly found myself with other writers who felt similarly to me, who didn't feel like they were writers, though we all had so much to express. We bonded over our shared emotions not only about Washington Heights but about writing. Many writers I never heard from again once the workshop ended, but there a about 10 of us who yearned to learn how we can maintain this habit of writing, how could we fulfil our writer's goals??

Angela Abreu, founder of Dominican Writers Association, unlocked doors of opportunities with the knowledge and resources extended to me. I knew nothing about submitting to literary journals, about NAPO- and NANOWRIMO, or about starting a blog. I did not know about the process of publishing a book, or about branding oneself as a writer/author. I was oblivious about what it took to be a real writer. But in one year, Angy’s support and guidance propelled me to climb mountains I did not know existed.

I felt like an excited Kindergartener stepping into a school building for the first time. In just one year, I have attended numerous writing workshops and even hosted a couple of my own. My mind was being challenged in an exhilarating way. I started saying yes to all the opportunities that created a spark in my soul. I wanted to continue learning about the craft itself, and with that, the inspiration came flooding back. I just wanted to write. I felt at home physically and spiritually. Alicia Anabel Santos’ nine-week workshop was about to begin shortly after the memoir project ended. I was being called to take the leap. Not only did I take the workshop, I also attended the Masterclass right after. I took Peggy Robles-Alvarado’s, Performance of the Written Self where I learned about self-publishing and branding oneself as an author. Where I learned about EPK’s and artist statements. The current pandemic has been nothing short of a blessing despite the tragedies happening because of it. Fortunately, I have expanded exponentially within the comfort of my own home.

Writing is not easy but the act of it does get better and more addictive with time. Most times, if I don’t have a prompt or an actual idea to start with, I begin writing nonsense until a train of coherent thoughts begins to formulate. If I am not part of a workshop or a challenge, I will admit I become inconsistent with the writing. But I take it as the perfect time to rest and recharge.

I have learned how to quiet the ever-critical perfectionist in me by giving the page my best and releasing it. I am learning to be daring enough to put myself out there. Learning to slowly let go of fears that keep me paralyzed. I am learning to find my voice and listen to what it has to say. When I first met Angy, I was holding back, unsure of who I was as a writer and unclear of the stories that needed to be told.

Once I started taking the craft more seriously, I decided that my stack of poems and written work from the past could not continue collecting dust. I noticed that my story matters and that my writing does make an impact on Dominican readers/writers like myself. I am learning that my gift can heal myself and others in the process. Most importantly though, I have learned that our culture is deserving of bestselling authors as well. That our stories are worthy of being told and published. We are recording our voices and history for generations to come. There is nothing else I will rather be doing. I am enamored with this process and when it feels daunting, I “feel the fear and do it anyway.” If I let fear lead, I will be missing out on my own potential.

Advice for Writers:

To the writers who intend to begin writing someday, I hope you just start where you are. I hope you let fear say what it needs to say but keep pushing forward. I hope you do not get caught up in the excuses of needing the perfect settings for writing. I hope you do like Elizabeth Acevedo and not believe in writer’s block. That you start from anywhere in the story and ride the wave. Elizabeth Gilbert’s, Big Magic and Stephen King’s “On writing: A memoir on the craft,” have taught me valuable lessons on creatively pushing forward even when the rejection slips pile on. I have much to learn and many more books to read on craft, but in the meantime, I am getting hands-on practice. When reading books by the great, late Maya Angelou, I envision myself sitting at a grandmother’s feet entranced by her storytelling skills. I hope to use some of her techniques as a template of how I want to make my readers feel. The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo proved to me that I can combine my love for writing poetry and creative non-fiction all in one book.

Writing is a sacred practice for me and because of that I do not share my work with others when I am in the process of writing for submission. I rather not let people’s negativity or questionable energy influence my writing. I let it be what it is going to be all on its own.

The process of accepting myself as a writer: This past year I have learned how to call myself a writer. How to say yes to events, workshops, and activities that will help perfect my craft. I learned that my words and stories do make an impact. More importantly, I put into practice the skills I was learning by starting a blog, hosting writing workshops, and writing at five in the morning. These days, however, I am too exhausted for that and write amidst the chaos at whatever time of day. My family and those in my close circles understand that writing is important to me therefore, no one intervenes with my practice. The craft is respected and encouraged in my home. Even the boys understand that Mom is a writer, and she needs space and privacy sometimes. Having a support system that believes in you is imperative. And do if you can not find that in your immediate family, I recommend you go out and create your own. It will make a world of a difference. I am beginning to notice that when I'm working on a specific piece of writing I word vomit on the page or come to it, on and off, just to jot down ideas when they are still fresh. If I can offer any other tips it would be that you challenge yourself by saying yes to opportunities that you're curious about and align with your path. I encourage you to push past your limiting beliefs and see what you are made of. I feel that it helps to call your first draft shitty like Anne Lammot suggests because if that fact is out in the open, your inner editor is not allowed to criticize. For me, the magic happens in the editing process and so I do not restrict myself on the first draft. If an idea comes to mind, I attempt to catch it when it arrives. Even if I jot it on my phone, a post-it, or a brown paper bag (true story). I would then elaborate at a more convenient time. Often, ideas come to me in the shower which usually makes me rush out and get it down before the idea leaves me. I would say, do not get caught up in having the perfect settings for writing. As someone who loves procrastination, I urge you to stop procrastinating and just get on with it. And although I do have a writing space, it helps to switch it up because it leaves room for the muse to show up faster.

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