Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Write Like a Cultural Warrior: An essay by Dr. Irene Blea

Irene Isabel Blea, sociologist and writer, is a native of New Mexico. Blea attended college in Colorado, and become active in the Chicano Movement. She earned several degrees including an A.A. from the University of Southern Colorado in the field of mental health, and a B.A. in Sociology. Her studies carried her to the University of Colorado, Boulder, were she earned her Ph.D. She has held many positions including Director of Chicano Studies at Metropolitan State College and the University of New Mexico, as well as Director of the Mexican Institute in Oaxaca and Vera Cruz, Mexico. Her most recent academic appointment was at California State University in Los Angeles.

Irene Blea is also a renowned author and poet. Through her writings and poetry, she has advocated for minority rights, feminist ideas, and equality. Her poetry and writings strive to give hope to the oppressed and a voice to the powerless. As an advocate for minority rights, Blea works through professional organizations such as the National Association for Chicano Studies and the Western Social Science Association. Additionally, she is a consultant on issues of multiculturalism, education, and discrimination based on race and gender.

Irene Blea currently lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico in her "dream adobe, "Santa Fe" style house with great plants, lizards, road runners, a few coyotes and air conditioning."

I am thrilled to share this essay on writing and advice to writers which Dr. Blea first shared at the Gathering of Nations, the largest Pow Wow in the world. 


Write Like a Cultural Warrior by Irene Blea

Indigenous people, Chicanos, and other “minority” people have had their story told by others in ways that have resulted in misrepresentation and misinterpretation. Therefore, it is important that we write our own story. The problem is that not enough people value their experience enough to write and publish their story. The few that do; have done a fine job; yet, there is more to be done for the sake of generations to come. Believe it: your story has value and is important. What is happening right now, good or bad, is tomorrow’s history, and your experience may help someone else.

There is no need to suffer as a writer. Authors are cultural warriors. It takes courage to share one’s world and one’s work. It takes courage to write about the truth; but there should be no fear, or guilt, or feelings of illegitimacy. Especially when writing skills are being developed; no one is born a writer. It is something we learn.

One thing some of my sisters and brothers suffer from is having been down-graded in school for lack of writing skills. This has traumatized and stalemated our communities; robbed it of its creative human capital. If down-grading has been your experience and you have been based in shame that has not been resolved, turn your story into a fictional piece of work; but know that telling it as non-fiction, true, can be therapeutic.

No one is born a good writer. This takes practice. The trick is to get it down as quickly as you can. Know that there is a time to talk about your writing and this is encouraged, but write first. Join writing circles by finding other writers in critique groups, or gather up a few writers, make copies of your work for the group, read one another’s work, and discuss how to make it better.

After talking it is a time to rewrite and write more. Keep it simple. Make time to write. There is no good time, only your time. I write for four to seven hours at a time: 6:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Some writers write in bits and pieces. It is best to set aside a time to write. Do not believe you are to busy or you can begin next week. Begin now for only five, ten, or fifteen minutes.

Some authors need outlines; others just write. Write what you want. When beginning, never mind the spelling or finding the best words. Get the idea down and clean it up later. You may find that what you thought you wanted to write changes. If it takes you too far from your idea and you like what has happened, save what you need to take out and use it in some other story.

Here are some things to consider. Concentrate on developing your craft by simply following these suggestions.

1.  Say out loud, “I am a writer.” “There is something I want or need to express.” No one needs to know you have whispered these words to yourself, by yourself.

2.  After claiming the title of writer, claim it to others. Introduce yourself as a writer, “I am a writer,” or “I am an author.” The first time may be awkward, because what one writes may not be clearly defined. Answer the question, “Have I read some of your work?” by saying I am working on a story about…”

3. When asked, “What have you published?” Keep it simple, “I am writing a story about …”

4. Outside your writing circle, do not tell about your struggle with writing, your entire writing history, or too much about what you are writing if you are not clear about where you are in the process.

5. Do not be embarrassed and do not stumble or stammer. This places doubt about your ability to write in your own mind. Practice your answers. You need not doubt yourself for more than two seconds.

6. Practice some quick answers. “Try this, I have a work in progress,” and “Excuse me, I need to get to the other side of the room.”

There are many exhausting dilemmas for a writer. The worst emotional trap takes place within the writer. Defending your right to write should not be one of them. Spending time with those who do not care, or cannot help promote your intentions, takes time away from writing.

When you are accused of being selfish, taking too much time at the computer, when your loved one thinks your writing is a hobby, and therefore not a serious endeavor, claim your right to write. Married women and those with children especially have difficulty giving themselves permission to write. Significant others do not like to do their own housekeeping, making their own dinner, washing and folding and storing their own clothes. They may try to sabotage your writing, but write about it and try to get it published. I’ll tell you more about publishing some other time; for now write.

Being a writer may lead to frustration. Frustration can lead to anger and one day you may explode. Do it on paper, or on the computer. Write a frustration poem. Simply claim your right to write. Here is mine:

                        I have a right to write.
                        I want to write.
                        I have something to write about.
                        I claim my time to write.
                        I have a physical space where I write;
                        no one else can use it.

                        I am announcing that I am a writer.
                        I do not feel guilty.
                        I do not feel illegitimate, 
                        nor do I apologize;
                                    and if you keep bothering me,
                                    I will write about you.
A warm thanks to Dr. Irene Blea for sharing this essay and words of advice with Musings' readers.  You can find Irene Blea on facebook and myspace.

Take some time out to draft up your own frustration poem, or print out Irene's fabulous poem from above and display it prominently it at your writing space for added encouragement!

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