My three guiding words for 2017

Dear Reader,

I just posted my second essay for the essay a week challenge (#52essays2017). Wow, so glad I was able to get this one out before it started to get busy this week.

School is back next week and the instructors came back this week. Lots to do, including syllabus and the first couple of days of lessons. So I knew I needed to get this essay out today.

Here’s a snippet:

My dreams use to fit on a small slip of paper, scribbled in black ink while sobbing in frustration, anger, and fear.

“What do you want, Icess? What the hell is it that you want?” I asked myself this through gritted teeth.

Not this, these feelings of inadequacy and of blaming myself. I didn’t want my job and I couldn’t figure out why. But the list I wrote. The scribbles. That was real. Super real. It was also the last time I dreamed really big. I dreamed so big that I was afraid of it and hid it under my desk calendar so no one would see it but me.

That time in my life was brutal. I don’t want to rehash that here but basically, this. It was brutal because I had forgotten how to do two simple things.

To read the rest of it, click here.

Wrapping up 2016 and looking at 2017

Note: This is part 1 of 2 of my new year resolutions post. 

Dear Reader,

Whoa! I didn’t think that year was going to end. Seriously, 2016 was…well…it’s gone now. Hello, 2017!

So, it’s been awhile since I did an update on how I was doing with my resolutions (from 2016). Seriously didn’t write anything for the last four months or so.  To remind you here’s what I said I wanted to accomplish in 2016.

And wow! While I didn’t accomplish all my goals, I accomplished enough that I am going to say I was successful with my resolutions. So definitely a successful year in writing.

Here’s what was successful:

2016 Resolution: More submissions.

What worked: I totally submitted more this year than I ever have. Total submissions are about 18 submissions. I say about because not every publication uses Submittable, which I use to track acceptances. Those weren’t on Submittable were email submission shops so this is a close guestimation. I have published four. A couple of editors want me to work on the piece submitted and to resubmit. Considering that the year before it was 2 may be three submissions, I’m doing okay.

Out of those 18 or so submissions, I have published four. A couple of editors want me to work on the piece submitted and resubmit. Considering that the year before it was 2 maybe be three submissions, I’m doing okay.

One major thing that helped was to give myself a goal of three submissions per month which is completely do-able.  I was able to do it most months (except for the months it got really heavy at work. One hundred papers to grade all at once? That’s a lot.).

Another thing that helped, a Submission Blitz. I totally wrote about it here. And I tried to go to as many readings and writing workshops that I could go to so that I could learn new things and so that I could fuel my gumption. Which I did and it was awesome.

2016 Resolution: Work more in non-fiction

What worked: Well everything, I suppose. I started writing an essay about my depression and it was one of the ones published this year. From here I started writing my memoir, which at this point is a hybrid of creative non-fiction and poetry. In fact, I worked more in those two genres than I did in fiction.

This resulted in a ton of new work and in doing one of this year’s resolutions, the 52 essays a week challenge created by my friend Vanessa Martir. She’s badass and she spent her 2016 writing an essay a week. I’m joining in this year along with more than 400 other writers. I’ll write more about this in my next post but here’s what I wrote for this week.

2016 Resolution: Taking care of myself

What worked: This was a hit or miss. I took care of myself when self-care was needed but that’s where it ended. It’s my fault because for this one I didn’t have very specific goals.

What I did learn was to listen to my body more and to obey it. When I needed time, I found it. When I needed quiet, I plugged in my earphones. I also learned to put myself first before the work, something I have huge issues with in the past. I’m a workhorse so forcing myself to stop working is a big deal. So I took more breaks and became comfortable knowing that the work would get done.

What I didn’t accomplish:

  • Write more short stories
  • Continue my Afro-Latina journey
  • Jennie Manning
  • Blogging

Jennie Manning isn’t completed but I continued working on the novel through the year. Blogging wasn’t as often as I would like (boo!) because it was sacrificed to write more so I don’t really feel that bad about it. I didn’t write one short story but I did attend a short story workshop.

So what about 2017? What do I have in store for this year? That you will have to wait until Monday. That’s when I’ll post my next #52essays2017 installment. And this one is a doozy!

 

Learning to write blackout poetry

Dear Reader,

I have been in that space between heaven and a traffic jam lately. With the new gig, trying to find time to write since the  Submission Saturday last month has been a bit difficult. Finding my rhythm is has been harder than I thought and I’m still working on it. Between grading, prepping classes, and trying to finish Jennie AND that project I told you about a couple of months ago, it’s all been overwhelming.

However, thank GOODNESS for Tintero Projects writing workshops this month! Each Sunday this month the organization, founded by my good friends Jasminne and Lupe Mendez, is hosting a writing workshop in different disciplines under the theme “Thrill You”. So by disciplines, I mean short fiction, poetry, playwriting, long form fiction, etc.

On Sunday, I  attended the poetry workshop. I’ve been writing a lot of poetry lately and even submitted some to publications. So I was interested in this workshop. (Last week’s was short fiction. Shout out to Hugo for leading that workshop.)

We worked on Blackout Poetry, a type of found poem that allows writers to create a new piece from an existing writing by blackout words and phrases they won’t use. Lupe, who lead the workshop, is in a middle of an amazing project and he’s using blackout poetry to tell such an interesting story through poetry. (I’m sure he’d rather tell you himself than me spilling the beans so I’ll invite him to the blog.)

Here’s a video on how to do it.

I’ve worked on Blackout Poetry before as part of a Writers In the School training session. At first, I found the form just weird. I wasn’t sure that the poetry I was doing in this technique was, for lack of a better word, right. But trying it again during the workshop, it felt more focused. I was pretty proud of the work I did that I’m thinking about working on it and submitting it.

Here’s some basic rules for creating a black out poem, according to Lupe:

  • Find whatever words make sense for you
  • Your marker is your friend ( You can take off the ending of words like -ing and -ed to help you out.)
  • You can black out as little or as much as you think is necessary
  • You can change the punctuation — add or subtract it.

Here’s one that I worked on when I got home.

Some black out poetry I’m playing with after yesterday’s Tintero Project poetry workshop.

A photo posted by Icess Fernandez Rojas (@writin2insanity) on Oct 10, 2016 at 9:05am PDT

 

I’ll be leading the Oct. 23 workshop focusing on thrilling super heroes and villains. If you’re in the Houston area, coming join in!

thrill-you

Enjoy the writing,

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What to read during Hispanic Heritage Month

Dear Reader,

Happy  Hispanic Heritage Month! Yes, it’s the time of year where we celebrate the contributions of Latinos and Hispanics (for some there is a difference). It’s also a time to celebrate the independence day of many Latin American countries.  In the next month, several countries will celebrate their independence day including my own fellow Chapines of Guatemala! (El Salvador, Honduras, and Costa Rica are the others who celebrate today. Tomorrow Mexico celebrates.)

So when I came across book tuber My Name is Marines, who created a list of books she’ll be reading in celebration (#hispanicheritagereads), I was down! Love this idea.

I’ll be celebrating as well. My list won’t be as long as hers but I can at least give suggestions of some reads. Ironically, some of the authors listed below are my friends so, you know how it goes when you’re a writer and you’re the LAST person to publish a book.

My shame is real guys. So real.

Also, I wanted to pick books by Latino authors you may not have readily heard of. I wanted this to be an opportunity to give some exposure to some fellow Latino writers who also deserve some light on their amazing work.

Okay, here we go. Let’s start with…

Short stories or short story collections

I am teaching House Made of Sugar to my English composition class. I have been for about a year and each time I teach it my students fall in love with it. I fall deeper in love with it. It’s about superstitions, love, marriage, and lies. That’s the simplified version of this story, which doesn’t do it justice but hopefully, it’s enough to make you want to read this story, which you can read for free at Longreads.

The story is part of Silvina Ocampo’s collection Thus Were Their Faces. I haven’t purchased it yet but I’m excited to add this to my collection.

Another short story collection that I so want to check out is Daniel Jose Older’s Salsa Nocturna: Stories. Here’s what Goodreads has to say about the collection.

A 300 year-old story collector enlists the help of the computer hacker next door to save her dying sister. A half-resurrected cleanup man for Death’s sprawling bureaucracy faces a phantom pachyderm, doll-collecting sorceresses, and his own ghoulish bosses. Gordo, the old Cubano that watches over the graveyards and sleeping children of Brooklyn, stirs and lights another Malaguena. Down the midnight streets of New York, a whole invisible universe churns to life in Daniel Jose Older’s debut collection of ghost noir.”

Ghost, ghouls, and noir? I’m there. I saw on Amazon that this has been re-issued with two new stories and that fits the timeline of his Bone Street Rumba series. So I’m interested to read this, especially since I’m not familiar with the series. However, I am familiar with another novel he’s written that’s turning into a series, which is…

YA

Shadowshaper! I can NOT accurately tell you how much I LOVED this book. I don’t read YA usually so I didn’t know what to expect when I picked it up. Just decided to read it since I’m one of his Twitter followers. And WOW! This book is an adventure that involves a family secret, murals, paintings, and the battle to save the world.

What I LOVE about this book is how Older treats Afro-Latinidad in this book. I saw myself as a young girl and I never see my youth reflected back  to me in books ever. This made me love it even more.

Recently, this book won the Best Young Adult Fiction category in the International Latino Book Awards.

Island of Dreams written by my awesome, amazing friend Jasminne Mendez. She won the Best Young Adult Latino Focused Book category in the International Latino Book Awards in 2015. This is her memoir told through poetry and short stories. She’s dealing with some big things here — identity, family, self-discovery, assimilation, as being Dominican in America (which is easier said than done sometimes). One of my favorite poems is about her grandfather and everything she knows and doesn’t know about him. Heartbreaking. Real. It be like that sometimes.

Poetry

I’m not a poetry person. I’ll read it but it doesn’t hit me like fiction or non-fiction does because I’m a prose person. However, I do enjoy reading outside my comfort zone sometimes.

Leslie Contreras Schwartz’s Fuego is on my list to pick up. Yes, another one of my friends. I’ve heard some of her pieces in this collection and I enjoyed them. When I think of her poetry, what I’ve heard so far, I think of a snapshot of survival and the price of motherhood.

Her collection is on my list and I can’t wait to dive in. And since she’s a friend of mine, I’m sure that I’ll be asking her questions.

From Amazon:

From the bed of the hospital, to the classroom of fourth-grade refugees, or the icy waters being swum by a long-distance swimmer, Fuego is a book that explores the extraordinary in the ordinary, the body as a surreal form of existence. At the core of the book is the theme of survival and the awe at being able to survive, and the glory of being ordinary and alive. In this debut poetry collection, Fuego explores the failure and blessing of childhood, the surrealism of birth and motherhood, and the estrangement of the body from itself and others.

Fiction

Hanging Upside Down is what’s on my nightstand right now. My friend Anthony Otero (who will be on the blog soon) self-published this book and also the follow-up, Book of Isabel. I may be biased (I am) but it probably should have been picked up by one of the major publishers. Otero protagonist, Luis, gets into one bad situation after another and most times without even trying. Women are his downfall and his salvation…sometimes.

I’m in the middle of reading this one and want to get into Book of Isabel, the follow-up, soon.

Well, there you go. That’s just a quick snippet. There are definitely more books to explore and more authors but this should get you started. And yes, I haven’t added non-fiction yet to this list. That list will be coming soon. Perhaps later on in the month. We’ll see.

Happy Reading,

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5 lessons I learned while submitting to literary journals

Dear Reader,

What a wonderful way to spend a Saturday afternoon!

The national organization, Women Who Submit, organized a national Submission Blitz on Saturday. Blitz as in everyone get in Formation and submit your stuff. Stop playing.

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And I got in Formation — seven times. I submitted to seven publications and I’m actually eyeing two more that I’ll submit to in the next week. By far this is the most I’ve submitted in one month. My goal from the beginning of the year was to submit to three publications each month. So far I’ve been doing that except for the past two months (post coming up on that.) So I’ve definitely more than made up for the lack of submissions the past couple of months.

But here’s the awesome thing about the blitz, at least in Houston…the ladies who showed up to blitz were all women of color. All of us worked on our pieces and submitted them to places that, truth by told, weren’t ready for us. We had an opportunity here to really embrace the writing life, the scary part, the part where we expose our vulnerable underbellies to the world.

For me, it was empowering and a bit scary because this fiction writer submitted creative non-fiction and poetry for the first time. I’ve been working on Jennie so long that I hadn’t written any short stories.  For the first time, my submissions did not include fiction.

So we’ll see what happens. I can say that I received one rejection on blitz day but that was  a submission from a couple of months ago. I hope that’s not a sign.

So here’s what I learned about submissions to lit journals during the blitz:

1) Have a bio ready

It’s interesting how many journals ask that you submit a short bio along with your piece. I was actually surprised. Thankfully, I had something already written up that I could edit quickly but some of my fellow writers didn’t and they had to write one on the fly. That’s not an easy thing if your brain is already in submit mode and not in composing mode. Do yourself a favor. Write a short bio that you could use whenever you need. It can also be the last paragraph in your cover letter.

Talking about cover letters…

2) Learn to write a cover letter on the fly

This one kinda drove me nuts. All of my submissions required a cover letter, which is odd since there is a debate on whether lit journals actually read them. Some want to be seduced by a cover letter. Others just go straight for the entry.

Yeah, it’s a thing.

So, I defaulted to this little piece of advice for writing one. Basically, it shouldn’t take long to write one but there are some things you should follow, other than your basic grammar rules.

3) Be brave

So, I submitted to Tin House. THE Tin House. When I woke up Saturday morning that wasn’t something that I thought I’d be doing but there it was.

Sometimes, you just gotta be brave and hit submit. What’s the worst that can happen? Someone is going to say no to your poems? A no is better than a nothing, which is what you hear when you don’t submit. So be brave and hit the button already. You never know.

4) Love exporting into Word docs

My love for Scrivener knows no bounds. I heart that writing program so much I purchased it for every writing machine I’ve ever owned. My favorite thing is using the export button when I’m going to submit. Literally, it converts it to a Word doc and all I have to do it type the title in and give it a once over.

Seriously, I highly recommend Scrivener. And there’s a new iOS version I’m currently playing with.

5) It’s always better when you make it into a party

The best part of the submission blitz hands down was being among kindred spirits. We literally cheered each other on as we submitted our pieces. We could bounce ideas off each other. When one of us had a question, another person could answer it. And, of course, food and drink. Everything is better with food and drink.

Would I do this again? You bet I would and I hope that the organization plans another blitz and that more women and women of color submit our incredibly important and needed work out to the world.

Write (and submit) on!

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How Mercury Retrograde can help your writing

Dear Reader,

A week ago, my beloved MacBook died. DIED!

I was about to start that day’s Rockstar Writers session when the screen died. Everything else was working but the screen said no more. After my hysterics, my  second thought was to look at the calendar. Mercury Retrograde was the next week. Then everything made sense. It was time to hunker down.

What is Mercury Retrograde? 

It’s the period where the planet Mercury slows down its orbit so much that it looks like it’s moving backwards, there for it is in retrograde motion.

It happens a couple of times a year and it lasts about 3 weeks.

What does that mean?

Mercury rules communication, clear thinking, travel, and mechanical tool related to those things like automobiles and computers. The past also comes back to haunt you in several ways. Maybe someone you haven’t hear from appears about of the blue. Maybe you think about situations and things that you had forgotten about from your past.

That also means that you’re going to have several conversations over and over again. There will be misunderstandings  and things. And, yes, your computer may join mine in that microchip in the sky.

Also, this isn’t a time to sign contracts or make life-altering decisions. Just FYI.

How does that apply to your writing?

The great thing about Mercury Retrograde is that it is really about pausing and taking a deep look at things. It’s about reassessing, revising, reviewing, relaxing. It’s about getting some things done.

Which is probably why communication and travel are so wonky at the moment. Seriously, Mercury Retrograde is bad for communications but FANTASTIC for writing. While I don’t recommend starting something new, I do recommend to take this time to look at some things associated with your writing.

Reassess and Review

Don’t start your new project until after Sept. 22.  A new book or project is technically a new contract, which is a no-no during this time. However, this means that that story you started but couldn’t finish is up for grabs. That means that that book you’re still working on (cough Jennie Manning cough) is still good to tinker with.

The difference? You have to reaccess and review. That means slow down and have a deep think about your work and the direction it’s going. Some good questions to ask would be:

  • Is this the direction I want my work to go in?
  • Is this the direction I want to go in as a writer/artist?
  • Does this fill me and make me happy?
  • What do I need to do to streamline my process (if at all)?
  • Do I understand my process?
  • Does this work make sense right now? How does it need for it to grow to its full potential?

This is a great time to take something you started but then put away and to play with it. Who knows what will come from it now!

Revision

As I’ve told my students before, revision means to re-envision the writing. Revision is the act of molding your work over and over until it is where you want it.

Retrograde is a perfect time to get that done since you have to slow down and think. Go crazy in this aspect of things. Rework and re-envision your work.

Also needing some revision is your creative space. This is a perfect time to clear and streamline the space where you create. That could be your desk, your bookshelf (creation also happens during reading), or your cell phone/tablet apps. Indeed, anything that you use to create.  Since you’re being more intentional with your work during this period, then you should start with a clear slate.

Relax

This one is will be hard because it’s the beginning of the submission season. And if you’re anything like me, you’re wanting to go hard right now on the submissions. It’s the perfect time to attack submit!

But haven’t you been busy writing? Isn’t it time to take a break anyway?

I know the compulsion now is to submit, submit, submit. I, personally, am going to limit my submission these three weeks and focus more on the revision part of my writing. I only have one day scheduled for submissions during this month.

Here’s my logic for this: the deadlines will always be there, especially after Retrograde. For those I feel compelled to submit to, I’ll do during the submission blitz. After the 22nd, I’ll pick it back up.

Meanwhile, I’m gonna chill because Retrograde.

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I can’t say much about my departed MacBook Pro (sigh) but the work continues and so does the writing. Until Retrograde finishes, I’m taking it easy and maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to finish the second draft of Jennie Manning.

Happy writing!

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Where to find places to publish your writing

Dear Reader,

I can’t believe I haven’t written this post before now.

I was with writer friends recently when we talked about where to submit our work for publication. For some writers, especially for new writers, this is a confusing thing. It used to be that you look at the Writer’s Market and submit a SASE with a pitch and then cross your fingers. Or go to a bookstore, check out the lit journals and send things along.

Things have changed so drastically now. It has been such a drastic change that it’s sometimes difficult to figure out which rules are still in place. Now a lot of the heavy lifting  happens online. Lots of lit mags are online only, while there are those that still publish psychical copies. Then there is social media, where some networking with writers and editors could help get your publishing credit.

Here are some places to start looking.

Author’s Publish Magazine

It’s not really a magazine, it’s a great list-serv. Sent to your mailbox at least once a week, the organizers send a list of not only lit magazines but book publishers looking for work. They also have interviews with new magazines coming into the market and articles about useful stuff like the top 5 publishers for new writers. In addition, they offer free e-books about different aspects of the writing life.  

The cost for all this awesomeness? Free. Super free. Great resource.

Submittable

This is the apex of  submission life since almost every lit mag uses this service to organize work that comes in. Because of that, the Submittable blog usually has a LONG list of publications whose deadlines are coming due. 

Here’s the thing, you’ve got to have things ready to rock and roll because you only get a couple of days to submit. Sometimes, a couple of hours. It depends on when they post in relation to the deadline.

Facebook groups

There’s a couple of Call for Submissions groups and pages. I’ve linked to one of the open pages above. Some of them are closed but if you ask to be included they usually respond pretty quickly.

What’s so great about these groups is that editors for literary journals are usually part of the group so if you have a question, they can answer you rather quickly. It’s also one of the first places where these journals will post their calls for submissions.

There are tons of these groups on Facebook including those for poets, genre writers, and fiction/flash fiction writers. Non-fiction is a bit more difficult but can be found on Facebook.

Poets and Writers

This is the go-to site everyone goes to. Why? Because there’s not only a literary journal database but a small press database and a writing contest database. There’s also some writing articles about writing and interviews with writers. Great resource. Also free.

Doutrope

This one will cost you some money. Not a lot of money, though. The submissions list is extensive and goes across genres and disciplines — poetry, fiction, non-fiction. They work to constantly update their site.

The subscription also comes with a submissions tracker, a calendar of upcoming themes, and interviews with editors. Good stuff here.

Sofrito for your Soul

My friend George’s website nearly 20 years strong, celebrates the voz of the nation by creating space for Latinx writers. Here’s snippet from their Write for Us page.

Sofrito For Your Soul invites you to become part of our cultural revolution once again. As we begin to rebuild some of the archives that have blessed these pages over the last 15 years…we once again open the doors to hear your voz!

Sofrito For Your Soul is a reality because of people like you who contribute and help us grow. We are looking for articles, columns, short stories, music, written and spoken word poetry, video as well as all kinds of artwork to document the evolution of our culture in the United States.

 

There are a lot of places looking for your work. Although that may not make it any easier to get work accepted to places but it does open a whole new world of possibilities.

 

Happy hunting,

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Reading the Relentless Files

Dear Reader,

Good Sunday morning! I hope you’re doing well and that the writing is flowing as well as the coffee and that you’re doing the work you’ve always wanted to do.

It’s been a busy week for me and this upcoming week will be even busier. But I wanted to share this essay with you from my friend Vanessa Martir’s website, Digging into Memory. She is an essayist, poet, fiction writer, and all around badass. This year, she’s pledged to write an essay a week and man, she is sticking to it! Great job, Vanessa!

This particular essay I’m sharing from her series has so many truth bombs. Love me a good truth bomb. The first sentence alone drips with truth and feeling. Here’s another section that jolted some truth in me, when she talked to writer Chris Abani about self-care:

“Then he got serious and said that I will come up with ways to take care of myself, like the boxing I was doing at that time and my walks in the forest. But there will come a time when those things won’t work and I will have to reinvent my methods of self-care. ‘You will always have to reinvent those ways, Vanessa.'”

I haven’t written much about self-care on this site but I’ve hinted at it. (This will be something I’ll be correcting real soon.) Part of the writer’s life is to dig deep with your work (yes, even genre writers have to do this. Especially genre writers, I’d say.)

Sometimes, while digging some emotions/feelings/thoughts bubble up that you don’t want to deal with. We have to pick at the scabs and pour alcohol on them to re-bleed on the page. It isn’t pleasant. It’s not supposed to be. But the craft is empty if it isn’t followed by the emotional work. That’s what makes it authentic.

I’ll write more about this soon. In the meantime, read Vanessa’s essay and her Relentless Files for more truth bombs. Definitely worth the read and the time invested.

Doing the work,

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Vanessa Martir's Blog

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*An essay a week in 2016*

Here’s the thing no one tells you about digging into memory and writing about the ghosts that haunt you: you will have to relive those moments and it will leave you reeling and you will carry that reeling in your chest and you won’t know what to do with it or yourself, and you will snap at people, the people you love most, who hold you when you’re heaving, and you won’t know what to do with that pain so you lash out and you can’t help yourself…in the moment, you will blame those people, say it is them, their nagging, their demands…and only later, when you’ve had time to calm fuck down will you see that it wasn’t them, it was you and your shit coming up…and you will be so fucking sorry but sorry doesn’t heal the pain you already caused…so what…

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Artist Profile: Icess Fernandez Rojas

I am so excited to be featured on Trevor Boffone’s website today. I love sharing what I’m working on and my thoughts on the writing process but I forgot to add…I’m still working on the Afro Latinos anthology! Yikes! That was my bad.

Hope you enjoy the interview!

Trevor Boffone, Ph.D.

Name:  Icess Fernandez RojasIcess Fernandez Pic 1

Hometown:  Houston, TX – baby!

Residence:  North Shore

What is your earliest memory of writing? 

The womb, as I was writing my grievances for the tiny room of which I was assigned. I’ve been giving my mom headaches ever since. Ha! It’s part of my charm, she says.

How did you become a writer?

That’s a really hard question. I wrote short stories and things in school and as a hobby (it is no longer a hobby). I always knew I’d write books but I believe that I began learning some of the fundamentals of writing as a journalist. It’s a great training ground for the nitty gritty like writing to a length or word count, writing on deadline, keeping the reader in mind, asking questions of characters (sources). However, I think what launched my writing ahead, really solidified it in my head and brought me…

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Why do I love teaching writing?

Dear Reader,

Someone recently posed a question to me. When you think about teaching creative writing, what does that mean?

The answer was easy and came to me quickly. This is all about empowerment. Writing, especially creatively, is about being empowered and empowering others.

This is why I love teaching writers. In my career, I’ve taught children, college students, and adults.

Me teaching

And each time I’ve taught, no matter what the age group, something magical happens. Students’ opinion toward writing change and, while they may or may not get into it, they start appreciating it and writing becomes accessible.

Accessible: (adjective) easy to approach, reach, enter, speak with, or use.

For me, English wasn’t always accessible. That’s because another language came off my tongue first.  My first language was Spanish. I went to kindergarten not knowing that much English, just whatever I heard on Sesame Street and Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. I remember a teacher thinking I wasn’t very smart when I first started school. Surprise, surprise, East Harris County in the 80s was not nice to daughters of immigrants.  My mom, with her limited English, complained to the point that the teacher was fired.

I was put in ESL classes and had to have extra tutoring in English. My mom would read to me every night in her broken English until I practically memorized books.

And then, in 5th grade, something amazing happened. I skipped a reading level. Now I was one level away from the gifted kids. That’s when I made a promise to myself. I was going to do this English thing — reading and writing —  better than the smart kids. If being able to command this language in the written form was seen as  a magic trick, I was going to do that magic trick better than anyone else.

By high school, I was in English honors courses and taking AP English classes. For me, writing was empowerment. It meant that I could write and understand the world around me in a way that other people couldn’t. And that meant, if I got really good, I could write my own ticket in life.

Empower: (verb) give (someone) the authority or power to do something.

Fast forward to my first adjunct English class. I started my college teaching career in Louisiana.  And in my class, I had students who were parents, adults who worked, folks who returned to college after being gone for awhile. For all of them, English was the subject that they couldn’t pass. They weren’t good at it. I didn’t understand. They grew up speaking this and reading this language, why was it so difficult?

 

Because no one told them that this space was for them and that they’ve already succeeded just by showing up. No one told them that this is how they make a mark in the world and that these words are just building blocks to create the thoughts in their heads.

No one told them that their voices matter.

And my existence tells them the opposite of what they’ve have been lead to believe. If that’s not empowering, I don’t know what is.

In life, as I’m learning, you get a microphone, a chance to do or say things that help impact the world. The size of the microphone depends on popularity, I’m sure. For example, Beyonce’s mic is bigger and has a longer reach than this website. But this is MY microphone, my change to change the world. While Queen B does it with music and concerts, I do it one student at a time, one word at a time, one class at a time.

When you make something that was formerly non-accessible completely approachable and relatable, you’ve just empowered someone. That’s why I teach writing.

So here’s my new motto: Empower to elevate.

Eso mero.

 

Feeling like She-Ra,

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