TW: Brief mention of rape
I was once so insecure about my own writing that I convinced myself I needed to be in the perfect place in order to find inspiration.
When I started writing my book Once I Was You, my family and I were taking a trip to our house in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. My husband had just built a deck for me there where my writer’s desk could look out into the forest, and I could be in complete solitude. It was my perfect place.
But then our flight was delayed for three days due to a snowstorm.
My husband is a man always looking to hone his inner creativity at any given moment, whether it’s at his studio back home or stuck in an airport in the middle of a snowstorm. It took him only a few moments before he turned to me and asked, “So you’re just going to sit here for three days and not write because you don’t think it's the ‘perfect place’? ” To me, that was a challenge. Me estaba retando.
My dear friend, Sandra Cisneros, once told me to approach writing as if you are sitting in your kitchen wearing your pajamas. That's the mental picture that I now apply to my writing. It should feel like an intimate moment, between myself and my reader.
In the end, I was lucky enough to spend the majority of my time writing Once I Was You in the Dominican Republic, on that deck, surrounded by trees, colorful hummingbirds, chickadees and Caribbean hawks. Every morning I would set up my laptop on a rickety desk, sip on my decaf coffee, and eat my bowl of oatmeal...other times I would have a big bowl of popcorn topped with nutritional yeast that would keep me going for hours.
Some people may wonder how writers “find their inspiration” or “get it all to click”, I know I did. But the reality is this: the writing process is very methodical. To me, I have to work like a steam roller. I force myself to write. I push myself to get into a place of deep connectivity and creativity, but I keep a structured outline nearby so that my goals are always clear.
Claro, there are a couple of factors that help make this happen: I listen to particular music (like the lo-fi music my daughter turned me onto when I was writing my book), I try to prevent all interruptions, I do my best to find a physically quiet space, and, of course, I smoke pot. 😉🌿
My friend and actor, Raul Castillo, was my very first reader of the entire book. When he finished, he said he felt like he was armed with the information he needed to understand this country’s history and our role in it. When Raul gave me those words, I felt like maybe this book would have the chance to help other readers feel visible.
In the earlier months of the pandemic, I kept on thinking, hoping, that maybe I would be able to go on a “normal” book tour in the fall of 2020. But we all knew that was an illusion. Instead, I embarked on a virtual book tour that took place inside the four walls of my bedroom. I traveled to countless cities across the country and spoke to thousands of people. The biggest downside for me was not getting the chance to hug any of you.
The more intimate aspects of the book have to do with a series of epiphanies that came to me as I was writing. Some of them had to do with my own marriage, imposter syndrome, or death. Many of you connected specifically with my revelations surounding my rape at sixteen years old. I have felt constantly humbled by the intimacy and connection to the book that readers have expressed.
Once I Was You has remained in the national conversation, and now, we are getting ready to launch the paperback version, thanks to my fantastic team and thanks to all of YOU.
We changed up the cover and I absolutely love it. After sorting through hundreds of pictures, we chose one of myself as a trepidatious twelve-year-old, taken in one of those 25 cent photo booths at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Everybody liked how tenuous my face looks in the picture, I think it simply speaks volumes about the uncertainty I felt throughout my life.
Something beautiful was born the day I started writing this book, and it's not just about me or my story. Many of you have told me that these stories are your stories...tú eres mi otro yo, “you are my other self” as we say in Mexican spanish. And we need to hear and see these stories in our media.
I can’t wait to see some of you soon and for new readers to get a chance to read the book! The paperback version of Once I was You drops this upcoming Tuesday, August 31st and will be available wherever books are sold.