I still remember the day I decided I wanted to be a writer. My 5th-grade class was on a field trip to the Museum of Contemporary Art, and I loved everything about these paintings. For our Language exercise, our teacher, Ms. H, asked us to pick any art piece in that gallery and write down the first things that came to mind: a poem, a paragraph, a sentence, anything. So naturally, as a sad 10-year-old, I gravitated to this dark blue, melancholy painting with a single boat braving a storm. It reminded me that life can feel that way; sometimes, we can barely hang on. When Ms. H came over to read the poem I wrote, she teared up. “Wow, you’re a natural writer,” she praised. That’s when I knew I wanted to be a writer.
Well, here we are two decades later, and I feel like I never showed up to my own coming-out party as a writer. I wrote secret poetry for a whole decade because I thought it was lame, and then I wrote crappy public poetry for the last decade. I never took any classes to get better or read books to learn the craft. I wrote decent essays covering deep spiritual and emotional topics in school, but I always just scratched the surface. I never really pushed myself to experiment with a different language and sentence structures. I was a basic ass biscuit because I never owned the craft; I never saw myself as a worthy writer.
What would a coming-out party for a writer look like anyway? I’d probably invite some friends over for chilled red wine, set out some hard and soft cheeses with deli meat and multi-grain crackers. I’d set the mood with a playlist featuring my favorite writers: Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, Jhené Aiko, and Kali Uchis. Light some candles, burn some incense, smudge a little sage, and blaze it up. Yep, I’d go all out. Sometime during our soiree, I’d turn the music down, thank everyone for coming, and talk about my new self-published zine, titled Brain Chemistry. Then I’d recite a poem titled Brain Chemistry that coincidentally did not make the cut for the zine. My friends would applaud, and I would see not one family member in my tiny apartment living room because they wouldn’t be invited. I keep my writing hidden from the family unless they get really cool about revealing our family’s history of mental illness, physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. So, I guess the real question is, should I just stay in the closet?
Even as I write this, doubt pours down into each fingertip. Am I choosing the right words? Do I sound like I know where I’m going with this? Does this read well? Do people even care to read this? All I should be thinking about is writing these thoughts into words. Writing is giving craft, and it will take all of you if you really want to be in it. People will ask what you’ve written, published or not, and god-willing, you must share it. That’s how other people get to know you as a writer. I struggle with being a writer because I fear people will read my work and hate it.
This is where that old-age saying about taking risks comes into play. I can’t be a known writer, or an established writer, without having something to show for it, like published essays in popular writing outlets or listicles on popular websites. Whenever I told myself to make that deadline, pitch that idea, post something on http://www.lolalapoeta.com, I’d conveniently forget or hate my first draft and quit. I don’t ever jump, so how will I ever know if I can fly?
After writing my first poem, I put the idea away of writing for quite some time. It was a passing thought, for I had bigger dreams than that. I wanted to be a teacher, marine biologist, or something more remarkable than a broke-ass writer. But I still wrote poems; in fact, I kept a journal to process my feelings and document my little life.
When the internet started booming in 2003, I came across a social media site whose name always slips my mind. I think because I would instead not remember what I posted there. Something with an X or Z. Users could create an account, upload, and share whatever they wanted-images, music, videos, writing. I posted my preteen poems on that website, under the username darlingnikki.
I never told anyone I had an account. I never told anyone I wrote poems. I never wanted anyone I knew to read the poems I wrote.
But I grew as a writer, thanks to Honors and AP English Lit. I wrote essays that inspired people, opened their minds, and even changed perspectives. When asked to write about a prominent historical figure, I chose Bob Marley. When asked to write a persuasive essay about changing a law, I essayed on the legalization of marijuana. Not only was I clearly a stoner in high school, but I was also passionate about my sharing my viewpoints. I was in my element when writing about things I loved.
I decided to turn inward and start writing essays about myself. When I was 15 years old, I was already having sex, drinking alcohol, smoking weed, and trying amphetamines. I wanted to write my stories. I wanted to write about my tragic first relationship, the story about how my parents wouldn’t let me be with the love of my life. I wanted to write about my controlling mother, how all she did was make me miserable by not allowing me to make my own decisions. I wanted to write about how everything would be great one day. I wished everything I was writing about to be a distant memory and not anything close to reality.
I decided I would write a romance story without reading anything more than a heartbreak piece in my high-school Literature textbook. I chose to rewrite my story and started writing the story of Mark and Lisa, star-crossed lovers who couldn’t be together because he was a Taurus, a bad sign for Lisa’s mother. Sappy, right? It was half-true. My mom mentioned once that all Taurus men were terrible, so when she found out my boyfriend was a Taurus, she got upset. I wrote that into my little fiction love story, teetering between fact and fiction. That was fine, right?
No, it was, in fact, not OK with my mom. So, naturally, I was an idiot. I was 15 years old, and I let my mother read an essay on how she did my relationship wrong. No, my friends. She was not happy with what the story suggested, even less impressed with my writing style. She called it “mediocre.” If that wasn’t a blow to my self-esteem, she tried to make up for it by saying it doesn’t read like Fitzgerald, Hemingway, or Dickinson. It felt like she wanted my work to be more American, more white-American. I refused to let her read anything else after that.
That is until 2019.
I wrote an excellent piece for raisingmothers.com, where I shared my experience of having an abortion at 16 years old. It was even reviewed and edited by Elisabet Velasquez, one of my favorite writers. She really elevated my work on this platform. I was incredibly proud to have gotten this far in my writing without proper writing training and education in Literature. I wove in my mother’s coming-of-age story with my own and turned it into a beautiful and touching essay, so I thought.
I shared the essay with my mother, and she replied, “It’s good, but most of that is fiction, right?”
And so, the question still begs, do I continue to share my work publicly when the people I’m writing it about don’t care for it?
I guess I can answer my own question now. And the answer is yes. Yes, you should share your work publicly even if your mom, your sisters, or your significant other isn’t reading it. But, remember, you’re writing it for yourself and no one else.
My generation of folks is a beautiful one. We’ve realized that we don’t need to share our work to be validated or successful. Publishing our art is a privilege for others to read, see, hear. And we don’t need to profit from it to be worthy of that craft. So we can keep our work to ourselves and still call ourselves artists/writers, or we can self-publish and still call ourselves artists/writers.
However, that doesn’t change the messages we grew up hearing: find something you like to do, go to college for it, and then find a job in that field. So when it was time to choose a major for college, I chose Journalism because I wanted to write my own love advice column. But I quickly realized you had to change your writing style to meet the expectations of the publication, and well, that didn’t bode well with 16-year-old Lola. So instead I found something I naturally excelled at, reading people, also known as Psychology.
My mom is 10 credits shy of a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature. My very Mexican mother is well-versed in white-people stories and loves them. However, I have rarely been a fan of said stories. I can barely get through a white-male-centered story without gagging on the white male privilege littered in every description. She and I have different opinions on what it means to be a writer or be published. But because I’m not educated in Literature, didn’t receive a degree in English, and haven’t published many essays, I don’t feel like a writer. If anything, that’s my mother.
I never wanted to write canon. I never wanted to sound like an old white man. I never wanted to express anything close to what I was reading in school. I yearned for a new sound. To write the way I talk to myself in my head: sassy, funny, charming, clever. I want to write the heart-work, telling gut-wrenching stories about my past, present, and plans for the future. I want to dig out the rotten stories in my family history. I want to shame everyone out of hiding through my work. It sounds harsh, but that’s what good writing does. It reflects the truth, the parts of you that ask to be seen and paid attention to. White canon never reflected my reality.
I think back to the day I felt like a writer for the first time, the validation from a white teacher telling her Mexican student that she is worthy and talented. And I think back to the times my Mexican mom kept it real with me. And I look at all these unpublished essays and stories living on my hard drive, in several different notebooks, and scattered across the digital world. And I know I’m a persistent writer because I’ve been journaling, writing poems, and editing my own essays for the last 20 years. But am I a bad writer?
Sometimes, yes. I write awful first drafts. They remind me of newborn babies, funky-looking and misshapen. But it has potential, right? With a bit of tending to, the work eventually becomes a piece of art. And this is where I am at. I’m a newborn baby writer whose work is a little fugly at the moment but still has great bones.
I guess you can call My Weekly Confessional my official coming-out party. My Weekly Confessional is the space where I’ll come to be an awful writer. Where I’ll confess how much I actually hate this craft while also blowing your mind with the way I sling words together. A word-slinger. I like that. Here is where I’ll be everything but white canon and revel in the beauty of not writing for a specific purpose, to write just because I can.
So, yes, I’m a natural writer, baby. And sometimes I’m a lousy writer, and sometimes I write some pretty fucking cool things. It all comes with the territory, and I’m totally here for it.