Introducing Moscow Chica – now a blog, book and newsletter [#yearofwriting]

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As you’ve probably noticed right above this sentence, there is something new in my life – and that is that my in-the-works memoir, Moscow Chica: How Growing Up Russian and Cuban Made Me an American, is now also being joined by a brand-new Medium blog (or publication, as they call it) and a newsletter… all basically in service of my writing about multiculturalism, Russia, Cuba, being American today, immigrant issues and rights, and more.

Here’s the thing I realized recently: Writing a memoir takes TIME. So very much time! One of the commitments I made to myself during this #yearofwriting is that I was going to be doing #52essays2017, all of which are in service of my memoir and writing about how my immigrant and multicultural upbringing has affected my American life.

And it’s really exciting to write about all of that but, to be honest, with everything going on in the world right now with President Cheeto (I’m sorry, I just can’t say his name) and the Muslim travel ban in the first few days of his being in office… and everything that has happened since with immigrant issues and rights (including the recent raids which our so-called leader is calling “a military operation”), I feel the need to do more.

And so I started the Medium publication, Moscow Chica: Half-Russian, Half-Cuban, All-American. In fact, my very first post was about the “A Day Without Immigrants” protest and how I personally am choosing to honor it (hint: it has to do with the new blog!).

What’s coming up on the Medium publication/blog will be primarily topics and issues surrounding immigrant rights today and multiculturalism in general. I will also be sharing things I have published in the past and some of my writing that is being published elsewhere (all related to immigration, being Russian/Cuban/American and growing up or being multicultural).

And, of course, I will be continuing the #52essays2017 challenge (which is, as you already know, about the memoir and my past) and how all of that relates to my upbringing as an immigrant in a multicultural household. These posts will also now live on Medium, since I want to talk about all of the things that relate to being “Half-Russian, Half-Cuban, All-American”.

Meanwhile, the newsletter is primarily a vehicle for me to be able to easily share updates with those that are interested in the things I am writing about. So if you’re curious about memoir writing as a topic, multiculturalism and/or immigration rights (or if you’re just a big fan of me, haha), then you should definitely subscribe.

At the end of the day, though, this isn’t just about me or my work (though I hope you like what I have to say) but about what’s going on in the U.S. today.

It’s no understatement to say that we’re in a bit of a dumpster fire at the moment. Just this week alone, things haven’t been good for immigrants (duh), Native peoples or trans kids. And that really hurts me deep down because I love America. Or at least I used to.

These days, to be honest, I struggle with my (former?) pride in the country my family decided to make our home and my disgust at what is happening today. But I firmly believe that it’s in the power of the people to create change. And as a writer and journalist, my power lies in my words.

As I look to create more dialogue surrounding multiculturalism and immigrant rights, I will also be seeking out and sharing the stories of others. After all, the only way to fully form a resistance is to use our voices (while we can) and continue to speak out against injustices.

At least, that’s my plan for the next four years… and 40 years, too.

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January 2017 Writer’s Life: Published pieces, money talk, pitches & more [#yearofwriting]

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At the start of the year, I wrote about the 7 fearless things I am doing for my career in 2017 and exactly why I am signing up for the #52essays2017 challenge. I also committed to making 2017 my #yearofwriting… my theme for the year, if you will.

I’ve had a few small successes here and there: Mainly that I am now officially a contributor at Mom.me (yay!) and am getting serious about working on my memoir, Moscow Chica: How Growing Up Cuban and Russian Made Me an American.

But I also wanted to talk about what a writer’s life is really like… Mainly, I wanted to talk about the solid numbers.

So here’s the deal: Starting this month, I am going to get real and tell the truth about how my freelancing has gone this month. I’ll talk about what went well, what didn’t and what it all meant. So here goes!

What was published: 

Some of these pieces were written before this month, and some were written more recently. Obviously, all of my Mom.me work is news stories and the repeal of “wet foot, dry foot” was recent too. But all in all, I also wanted to show what freelancing I did. Other than my part-time food editor job at Brit.co, here are the solid numbers:

How much I wrote: 16,475 words

How much I made: $1725*

*I am including two pieces that were accepted on spec (meaning that the editor wanted to see a full draft before they could finally say “yes”) that have been submitted but I haven’t officially heard back on. Also: This ONLY includes my freelance writing income.

Besides that, there’s also pitching… It’s what us writer have to do in order to write, yes? This month has been by FAR my most successful month of pitching and reaching out to new editors. To be honest, in 2016 I was feeling pretty cushy with my PT food editor gig and my contributing writer roles, and never looked to expand my resume.

Well, one of the things that I am doing for my writing career in 2017 is that I hired a writing coach. Her name is Mridu Khullar Relph and she runs TheInternationalFreelancer.com, and is basically FANTASTIC. The truth is that I needed a big kick to get my career to the next level, which is precisely why I hired her. It’s gone incredibly well so far! Here’s all of the numbers:

Pitches sent out in January: 27
Pitch rejections: 9
Pitch non-replies: 12
Pitch acceptances: 4
Pitch acceptances on spec: 2

Follow-ups with previous pitches: 5
Pitch rejections: 1
Pitch non-replies: 1
Pitch acceptances: 1
Pitch acceptances on spec: 2

I admit: The 27 pitches isn’t an exact number, primarily because one pitch went out on 6 simultaneous submissions and a couple of editors received more than one pitch from me in one email. But that’s basically it.

To be honest, considering that this is the FIRST month of my #yearofwriting and also the first year that I have been seriously going out there and pitching editors, I am feeling pretty good.

The one lesson I learned, for sure, is that there comes a time when you just have to get out there and do it. And I’m happy that I’m finally doing that!

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7 Fearless things I’m doing for my writing career in 2017 [#yearofwriting]

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It’s the start of a new year and, as always, that has me (and everyone else in the world I suppose) thinking about what this year will bring.

It’s no stretch to say that 2016 wasn’t everyone’s favorite year. Despite some personal successes, I know that I still have a long ways to go. And despite what will be happening in this country and around the world when President-Elect Cheeto Dumpster Fire (#sorrynotsorry for calling him that for the next four years) takes office, I’m fairly optimistic.

In fact, as I look a head to the coming year… I am feeling optimistic for the first time since the morning of November 8th. With so much going on, I’m particularly feeling good about where my freelance writing career is going. Right now, I am looking to strike a better balance between some of my regular work as the food editor at Brit+Co as well as my regular contributor gigs at Mom.me, Dose and other personal projects.

And other than a big post-it note that says “YOU BETTER SAVE FOR TAXES ACCURATELY THIS YEAR!” above my fancy new desk, there are a few major things that I am going to be doing in 2017 in order to advance my career. If you’re a writer or otherwise creative, read ahead for a few useful tips on how you can do it too.

1. Creating a business plan: This is probably the scariest thing I can imagine because, well, I’m not exactly very business-minded. What writer truly is? We write because we have thoughts and ideas fluttering in our brains, not because we want to deal with numbers and taxes and complicated terms that I don’t care to learn. But that shouldn’t be an excuse anymore. Inspired by a four-part business plan writing series on Virginia Sole-Smith’s blog on freelance life, I actually think I have a pretty good handle of this one now. And, GULP, I might even know what I’m doing now? If you’re interested, check out part 1, part 2, a handy chart and the finale here.

2. Hiring a writing coach: This one was even more difficult than the above, because it required me admitting that I need help. I am not someone who enjoys admitting it, because I fancy myself Wonder Woman (clearly). But I’m not. Nobody is, right? Toward the end of the year, I was feeling so frustrated by some of the issues I was having with writing (primarily the fact that I wasn’t doing more than the bare minimum) that I finally broke down and decided I could use some guidance. By PURE coincidence, the day after I had this tough conversation with my boyfriend, Mridu Khullar Relph’s newsletter revealed that she would be taking on clients on January 2, 2017. And the rest, as they say, is history…

3. Committing to a #yearofwriting: I just posted about this on Instagram, but this year I got Gretchen Rubin’s A Happier 2017 daily calendar. I’ve been a huge fan of daily calendars for the past few years, but this is my first time getting one that wasn’t just filled with my own Instagram photos (which I still think is a cool idea, if you’re interested). Today, her suggestion is to pick a word to focus on. I’ve seen friends do this in the past but last year I focused on three words (which have subsequently become really important to me): creative + passionate + fearless. Well, taking those two ideas and combining them, I decided that this is the #yearofwriting and I want to do more of that kind of writing. Writing that ignites my creativity, that helps me pursue my passions and that’s ultimately fearless.

4. Launching a newsletter: Speaking of those three words that made my 2016 pretty special, I’ve decided that I want to launch a newsletter that focuses on living a creative + passionate + fearless life. I don’t yet know what it will look like or exactly what I hope to accomplish with it, but this is something I really want to do. I’m going to give myself a couple months to fully research what’s already out there and how I want to do it, but I want to focus on how I am accomplishing those goals myself and also feature interviews with other people who embody those ideals. I’ll write more on what those words mean to me, but let’s just say… You’ll be hearing about them more in the future.

5. Writing 52 essays in 2017: Yes, this one’s a little crazier. In fact, I’m still not fully sure that I will be able to do this whole #52essays2017 thing because I admittedly suck at challenges… but I want to try. In terms of being more creative and writing more, it’s important to me to have something to push myself. I’m not great at pushing myself on my own, though, so I am hoping that having a community of other writers behind me doing the same thing will help. Plus, I figure, what’s the worst that will happen? I’ll have an hour or two a week where I just write about whatever I want. It’s not about earning money, it’s about just letting my creative juices flow. Cliche as that may be, sometimes my best writing comes out when I don’t plan anything. So let’s see what happens if I do that for a whole year!

6. Finding an accountability buddy: Since I am not good at finishing my own challenges and Linda Gonzalez, a writing coach I met back in October during BinderCon in NYC, even mentioned that an “accountability buddy” may be a good strategy for me, I think it’s time that I do it. I have plenty of other writer friends and people that I can talk to about my career. In fact, my (poor) boyfriend Adam often hears more than he probably cares to and he’s always there to listen and be supportive. But finding someone who can be supportive and also hold me accountable to some of my goals (you know, those outlined in my business plan) will be truly wonderful too. And so I am on the lookout for someone who has a similar career trajectory to mine and wants to work together to help each other out. It’s sort of like with the writing coach: Hard to admit that I need some help in this area, but really glad that I’m doing it anyway.

7. Better organizing my clips: This is kind of less complicated than the ones above, but I want to make this website better. Not necessarily because I expect a whole lot of people to come and read my thoughts or writings (though, you know, if you’re here, WELCOME!) but because I want to be better organized in my writing in general. And so there will be some updates throughout the year and the biggest of that will be how I publish and talk about my clips. Right now you’ll see that I just do monthly roundups by publication, but I am going to be switching this up. It’ll likely be a monthly roundup still, but this time I’ll do one post with all of my writing. I’ll probably also divide it either by publication or by category. This might be much smaller than the things above, but I’m hoping that getting super organized with my work will encourage me to do more of it. That’s reasonable, isn’t it?

Anyway, that’s it for now. Happy 2017, everyone! And I hope your year will be as productive, successful and awesome as I am hoping mine will be.

As my good friend (and fellow writer) Amanda Farah said to me in a text this morning, “Make this the year you kick all the ass.”

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Here is exactly why I’m signing up for the #52essays2017 challenge

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I love a good challenge.

I think that’s been sufficiently demonstrated this year alone when I decided to start writing for my Map Your 30s project and even signed up to write every single day during the month of July. The only problem? I suck at keeping up with them.

I am really good at coming up with new ideas and challenging myself and getting really SUPER excited about something… for about a week. Or a month. Or maybe somewhere in between. But I’m not good at actually finishing any of the challenges I set forth for myself.

Hell, this past year I started and quit Whole30 early (for good reason, though!), wrote that I am happy to have quit my July writing challenge early too and finally promised to write more about why turning 30 is scary, but haven’t actually had the time to do so lately.

Okay, so I’ve had some wins: My freelance career is taking off. I’m continuing my favorite kind of work as the freelance food editor at Brit+Co, plus finding time to do writing on the side (primarily at Dose & OMGFactsMamasLatinas and now also Mom.me). Plus I got to write about some truly scary things this year, and that’s been great. I even wrote about how I wrote about things that scare me!

But I’ve had some frustrating moments, too. Besides having issues finishing any of my so-called challenges this year, I’ve also had some motivation problems in my personal writing and the election didn’t actually help with any of that.

But now I’m here… at the end of 2016, with some career highs and still some frustration to show for it. So what’s a girl to do?

Apparently, the only thing I can think of to do is to sign up for yet another challenge.

I know, I know. I must be crazy! But hear me out: Though a writer’s group I am a part of on Facebook, I found one brave woman (Vanessa Mártir) who wrote 52 personal essays this past year and is now inviting other writers to join her in what is being called the #52essays2017 challenge.

To be honest, I was really inspired by it because of the first rule: “This isn’t about producing a polished essay. This is about surrendering to process. This is for you, no one else.”

Some of my favorite things that I wrote this year actually started off on this very blog. Sometimes, just sometimes, I take the time to write down my thoughts and let them flow… and I love those times.

When I read another writer’s post about why she’s signing up for this challenge, I knew I had to also: “And I always learn the same thing from each challenge: when I push myself to write more and to write regularly, my writing improves. In each case, I feel as if my brain became more attuned to writing. Ideas flowed more easily because my brain settled into its “writer” space — and I didn’t give it time to slip out.”

I love that sentiment. And I think I need that sentiment, that feeling, in my life too. I felt wonderful and free when I was writing every day this past July, so will writing an essay once a week just for me really be all that different?

Yes, it will be difficult. Not only am I shit when it comes to keeping up with challenges I sign up for, but I also have other work to do and other projects to focus on. But there’s another line that I keep thinking of over and over lately: “Why do you write like you’re running out of time?”

It’s a line from the musical Hamilton, which I was lucky enough to see last week while visiting my boyfriend’s family in Chicago. It was, to say the least, even more spectacular than I could have ever imagined (and yes, I imagined it being THE EFFING BEST). And, well, I was inspired.

Inspired by the story of founding father Alexander Hamilton and inspired by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s amazing writing. The man is likely going to win an Oscar for his songs in Disney’s Moana, too, which will effectively make him an EGOT at age 37.

Well, I’m 30 now. Where do I want to be at 37?

I don’t think I’ll be eligible for an EGOT (hah!) but I can do something to take steps and improve my writing. This year, those steps are going to include writing 52 personal essays that are messy and fun and challenging and, most importantly, just for me.

Maybe this will be yet another challenge where I say “oh well, didn’t finish that either!” but it’ll also be a challenge that teaches me something. I don’t know what yet… but, to be honest, I’m getting excited.

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