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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The 5 best stories & essays I wrote in 2016

Please subscribe to my newsletter and read more of my writing on my personal blog, The Cookie Dough LifeThank you!

Well, it’s the end of the year… A time that most people take to reflect on what has happened in the past and what you’re looking forward to in the future.

I’ll be doing a few posts along those themes, starting with a classic: A roundup of my best work in 2016! Since I split my writing in between journalism-style pieces and personal essays, I thought I would do the same thing here. Below are my top 5 stories and top 5 essays. Enjoy!

Stories: 

1. The 6 Healthy Food Trends You Should Be Trying Right Now (via Brit.co): The best part of this story is that I got to interview a good chunk of fabulous food writer and blogger friends. There’s TONS of great info here, and it’s still relevant to today. And for 2017, too!

2. 10 Reasons why getting older is actually a GREAT thing (via MamasLatinas): With my Map Your 30s project in full swing this year, I learned a lot about turning 30 and getting older… And some of those fun lessons are all here. And you don’t have to be as old (or young) as I am to enjoy this one.

3. 14 Traditional Cuban Recipes That Will Wow Your Tastebuds (via Brit.co): I’m Cuban, so is there any wonder why this was such a FUN piece to write? It’s a collection of some of my favorite foods, and easy recipes for everyone who’s willing to give this food a try. Empanadas are going to be big in 2017, so go ahead!

4. 14 Spanish-language movies (with subtitles!) to watch on Netflix with your love (via MamasLatinas): This actually took a LOT of research. I ended up basically falling in love with each movie as I slowly went through my list, and added all of them to my own Netflix account too. Still waiting to finish watching these, but working on it…

5. Recipe: Cuban Meaty Potato Stuffing (via The Kitchn): This is probably my proudest piece of the year in terms of finally breaking into a publication that I have admired for years. If you’re not familiar, The Kitchn is one of the best sites out there for home cooks and I was absolutely thrilled to have my Thanksgiving recipe featured.

Essays: 

1. What I Learned Struggling to Get Sober (via Dose): This was probably by far the scariest piece I wrote this year, and it was first born right here when I finally confessed that I have been in recovery for just over a year. It was terrifying to hit the “publish” button, but received tremendous (and positive) response.

2. The Difficulty of Accepting Generosity When We Date (via Dose): This is a piece that I first wrote here too, actually… And came about during a particularly encouraging and inspiring moment in my then-early relationship with Adam (more about that below). My editors loved the piece, so they reposted it.

3. I’m a Bisexual Latina Immigrant. I Can’t Wait to Vote. (via Dose): This is probably the most important piece I wrote this year, in terms of what is going on in the larger world and how it is affecting people like me. I also wrote a response after the election, which wasn’t quite so optimistic at all. But I’m just doing what I can to give voice to marginalized communities.

4. My life turned into a rom-com cliché and I’m okay with it: This is likely the most fun piece I have written all year, and it’s one that I have come back to over and over and happily re-read. It’s a sweet piece about how I moved out of New York City thinking that I would take a yearlong “break” to figure out my next step, and instead met the love of my life.

5. Here is the full story of my 100+ pound weight loss (plus some resources): I’ve written about my weight loss before, but it’s primarily been in bits and pieces. This blog post is a full account of how I lost weight, along with some resources for others. There’s still more to say on this topic, so don’t be surprised if you hear more about it.

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How do you find motivation when your mind is freaking out?

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I am having an extremely hard time doing anything this past week.

It’s not like I am lying in bed sick or depressed or feeling lazy or something like that. Nope. My problem today is my mind, and its utter inability to quiet the F down at the moment.

Here’s the scenario: I came home last week after my third trip in a month and quickly realized just how exhausted I felt. I couldn’t write anything last week, but I did do my regular editing and also spent some time just reading other writers’ works and focusing on my freelancing. Yes, I didn’t produce words, but I still felt like I did *something*.

I did some really good reading over the weekend and have even established a new morning routine that I am pretty proud of (so far). So, basically, this week was going better until last night, when I was reading something about the different ways that writers can make money (short ebooks, podcasting, seminars, consulting, etc) and started to have an absolute mind meltdown.

Here’s what it looked like: Oh! Okay, I can do all of these new other things. But wait, which ones do I want to do? Do I want to do consulting? I do like giving advice… But is this thing what I want to give advice on for the rest of my life? And what about books? I still haven’t been working on my memoir, but maybe I should do an ebook on this other similar but unrelated topic? Or wait, what if I get bored of writing about this thing just like I got bored of writing about that thing? How am I ever going to build a personal brand or author platform if I can’t find focus? OH GOD, what if I am an unfocused mess? How do I find motivation? What’s wrong with me that I have so many ideas and can’t seem to commit to one for more than a day or two? Am I ever going to finish anything? Am I ever going to be a success? Oh nooooooo… What if in 20 years, I am still here and doing the exact same thing that I am doing right now? It’s not like I don’t love what I am doing right now, I really do, but I want my career to *go somewhere*. How do I figure out where it should go? Or how I should help it get there? What do I do? What do I do? How do I get there? WHAT DO I DO?

This went on in silence for about an hour while Adam and I were watching the Cubs vs. Giants game, until I finally spoke up. It was probably another two hours of intermittent word vomit on my poor awesome, incredibly supportive boyfriend who listened but admitted at the end of the night that he was a bit overstimulated with all of my crap. (He didn’t say “crap”, that’s my word for what was going on.)

I also took some time to re-read my favorite career-ish book, StrengthsFinder2.0. I took the assessment four years ago and it’s still something I go back to constantly because I find it such an inspiring reminder of what I am naturally good at: futuristic (meaning that I am constantly looking to improve and grow or help others or the world do the same), communication (I’m a writer, duh!), competition (guilty, but in a good way?), input (because I love to collect things and information, and this section even recommends an “output” which to me means writing about the things I learn about) and woo (which stands for “winning others over” because, as they say, there are no strangers in the world, only friends I haven’t met yet).

Reading through all of that last night was not as comforting as usual, however, and I went to sleep with the same confusing thoughts running around in my head. What do I do? What do I do? WHAT DO I DO?

I am still having that mind meltdown and trying to figure out where I want my career to go and how I want to get there.

I know the truth: That you can’t know the right path. That there actually is NO right path, especially not for a writer. There’s no guarantee that I’ll ever be famous (I wish!) or that I’ll even be regarded as someone halfway decent in my field. Sure, nobody can ever know that about anything that they do, but I am currently filled with this need to feel as if I am putting my best foot forward and doing everything that I can be to ensure my success.

And I’m okay with failing (I think). I know that I have failed in the past, and I can pick myself up and keep going. And I know that success may take much longer than I wish, and that it may not look like what I think it will look like. I also know that I may change my mind and want to go after something else later on, or that I can change my strategy at any point if I find that what I am doing isn’t quite working.

But currently, I am paralyzed in my writing efforts because I want some sort of direction, and I don’t know in which direction to go.

The funny thing is that I have no problem committing to a single person for the rest of my life. Cause, well, that was a pretty easy choice since he’s the best person I’ve ever met. But why is that SO MUCH HARDER in my career? Why can’t I commit to a writing project or idea or some sort of direction?

Instead, I’m sitting here and word vomiting some more and just at a loss of where to go. And I know that I’m not the only writer to suffer from this. I know that I’ll get over it, feel better and move on. I know that tomorrow or maybe the next day things will be back to normal and I’ll be feeling hopeful or accomplished or maybe even have some sort of idea about where I want to go and how I want to get there.

Then maybe in a week or a month or seven months, I might be back here again… With my brain feeling like it’s melting and freaking out and just no idea of what My Path is, even though I honestly don’t even believe that there is a single path for anyone. But I still want one, damnit!

Where’s my path? How do I find it? And in the meantime, how do I tell my brain to calm the F down because I need to actually do some work now?

Want more? Subscribe to my newsletter to get writing news and updates on my memoir (Moscow Chica). Then check out my personal blog and find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest!

The scary part of turning 30… That I’ve sort of held back on

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Turning 30 hasn’t really gone exactly the way I thought it would.

The big Three-Oh, as they call it, has been both much better and much worse than I ever could have imagined.

I remember, years ago, when I realized that this age was on the horizon, thinking that it was a scary time. But that’s okay, because that scary time was very far ahead of me. Then as the years got closer and closer, I came to this realization that turning 30 was Supposed To Be Scary.

It was! There is not a single person that I’ve heard from who was actually excited to hit this mile marker. And I think I know why.

As teenagers, we seriously can’t wait to grow up. I couldn’t wait to finish high school, go off to college, get out of my parents house and start my new life. Then as a young adult, I was living the life I had always dreamed of as a teen.

I was successful in my career. I was living in the city that I loved. I had wonderful friends and I was constantly making new ones. I even had some sort of a love life most of the time. It was great.

My 20s were wonderful, really.

They were exactly what I had always hoped for and imagined, and then some. It was a time of discovery and appreciation. A time when I grew into my personality, lost weight and gained the self confidence I always knew was deep down inside of me.

The reason why turning 30 is seen as a scary thing is because, as teens, that’s when the fun seems to stop.

There isn’t necessarily a concrete age where everyone wakes up and decides “Holy F, I guess it’s time to be an adult now!” but 30 always seemed like just about the right number for that.

When we turn 30, we’re no longer the young people that everyone talks about. We’re not allowed to just be silly and have fun, to need time to find ourselves, to admit that we still haven’t figured it all out, to need a seriously drastic change in our careers or our homes or our relationships (like I did).

This is the age when we supposedly Have It All Figured Out. And despite the fact that I intellectually know that this is all BS, that there isn’t a perfect age to know everything about yourself or the world or your place in it, that feeling is still somehow there, in the back of my mind, taunting me with its anxiety about why I haven’t done those things yet and fully become The Person I Was Meant To Be.

In our 20s, it’s easy to say that we still have time. When I was 23, I was just out of college. At 25, I was having a quarter life crisis and adjusting what I truly wanted in my career. At 28, although I was well aware that 30 was just a couple years away, it still felt like I had the world ahead of me.

And then I turned 30 and somehow… I don’t know, there just wasn’t something extra there.

I don’t know exactly what this piece is that I was missing. I’ve been told that turning 30 is scary. I’ve read articles about all the things I should know or do or read or have by the time I reach this age. I’ve also been reminded that it’s not a big deal. That turning 30 doesn’t really change anything and that plenty of people, both friends and those of the famous variety, have lots of growing up to do even after this age.

But yet still it somehow affected me.

And I still haven’t even figured out how, to be honest. Turning 30 was simultaneously not at all a big deal to me and also the biggest deal on the planet. I know that it’s fine that I’m not quite There Yet, but I also know that plenty of people are.

So what if I have friends who are only now starting to pair up? So what if I have friends who are just barely starting grad school? So what if I have friends who just decided to quit their jobs to travel the world? Their choices are amazing and wonderful and I admire them – and at the same time it all still scares the F out of me.

This evening I lay in bed and read the first chapter of what I am coming to appreciate as a very important book in my career, Writing Is My Drink. Although there are lots of awesome tidbits and nuggets I’ve already obsessively underlined in the book (yes, I’m one of THOSE people), there is a particular sentence that stood out to me: “Why don’t you try writing about what scares you the most?”

It’s something that is suggested to the author, Theo Pauline Nestor, and prompts her to write a story about her abortion. As I sat there marinating on what that sentence meant, I realized that she was right.

Writing about what scares me the most is the key to good writing, and in particular the key to good memoir writing. As I begin this new life as a full-time freelance writer and seriously start working on my memoir, Moscow Chica, there are lots of things that scare me… But one in particular that I am honestly just not ready to write about.

Yet as I lay there, I realized that’s not really the biggest thing that scares me. The thing that scares me is that turning 30 is going much better than I thought it would a couple months ago, and somehow much worse than I thought it would a couple months before that.

I’ve spent many days over the past several months (and, to be honest, the past year) telling myself that it was all going to be okay. Turning 30 didn’t mean the end of anything and it certainly doesn’t mean that I have to grow up, be an adult and know what the heck I want in life.

And although I know that’s true, it still doesn’t scare me any less that I am not where I thought I should be at this age.

In many ways, turning 30 has allowed me to take a step back and reevaluate my life. It’s why I started the Map Your 30s blog in the first place. But I realize now that I haven’t really been very honest here, and I haven’t really been writing as much as I know I should be.

Before you take a step back and warn me about using the word “should” in the past two paragraphs, I KNOW.

Nobody is quite as good as I am at giving myself way-too-high expectations that I am sure to fail. I’m only now, at this age, learning where that feeling comes from and what damage it has done in my life.

For right now though, I have to admit that this isn’t really going the way I thought it would. I think it’s going very well, actually… Maybe. But at the same time, there is a fear in me still that I can’t seem to calm. I don’t even know if I can put a name on it yet, but it’s there.

This whole “turning 30” business has really messed me up somehow. And I don’t know if it’s because of the ever present societal expectations or just my own, but what I do know is that I have a need to write about these things.

I promise to try to write about them more often. And a little bit more honestly. Because it’s really easy for me to talk about the awesome parts, like meeting the love of my life or moving out of the city I called home or how I’m eating healthier these days. But it’s harder for me to talk about the painful or confusing or scary parts, like what to do when tragedy strikes or why I have issues accepting generosity.

I know I need to, though. I wouldn’t be up right now, sitting in my very dark apartment while Adam sleeps in the other room, typing away at my computer about The Thing That Scares Me The Most. And I’m not even sure what that thing is yet, but I’m here writing about it anyway. Maybe if I keep hitting the keys long enough, I’ll figure it out.

For now, though… I’m just going to say that being 30 is weird. There are a million amazing things about it, yes, but it’s also really, really weird. It’s not an age I ever had a plan for, despite absolutely being the type of person who’s always planning my next step in life, and so now I am a bit aimless and confused.

And I guess that’s okay. I know that I’m not the only one feeling this way. Perhaps when I wake up tomorrow, this will serve as a catharsis and that whole number will seem a little less scary to me.

But for the moment, I’m just going to crawl back into bed and try to fall asleep… Scary oh-my-god-am-I-actually-thirty-now thoughts and all.

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I’m about to turn 30…

Please subscribe to my newsletter and read more of my writing on my personal blog, The Cookie Dough LifeThank you!

In the past few months, and I couldn’t tell you if this is coincidence or some weird algorithm or simply because I am more aware of it, my Facebook feed has been full of “hey you’re turning 30!” articles.

And it’s true. I am turning 30. In exactly a month, to be precise.

To be honest, I am not yet sure how I feel about the whole thing. At times I feel like the it is kind of silly. All of the pressure that we face, as women and as human beings in general, to have checked off certain life milestones by this age. A great career, a nice home, a semblance of independence and some vague definition of being a real adult now that our twenties are behind us.

Oh yeah, and can’t forget the whole life partner thing.

Whether married, engaged or simply paired off with the person that you’re thinking you probably *will* marry, the pressure to “Have It All” seems to really start at this age when we have graduated from those years of growing and finding ourselves to these years of settling into our lives.

But what if you’re not actually quite settled or ready to be settled yet? Is the pressure to have it all figured out by 30 real, or is it something that’s just in our heads?

Irina25thBdayAs I read through what seems like the 27th list of things I should have done/read/watched/experienced/learned by the time I hit the big 3-0 next month, I’m left wondering: isn’t there more to figure out after this? After all, life doesn’t begin at 30 and it definitely doesn’t end there either.

So that’s where I find myself now, thinking that turning 30 is both a really big deal and absolutely no big deal at all.

Sure, I have some things figured out, like that really awesome career that I love. But some things are still in the To Be Determined folder, like that life partner-type figure that’s looming somewhere on the horizon. Maybe.

In the end, though, I know I still have some work to do on myself. I don’t really think that work will ever end, because what’s the point of life if you just stop improving yourself? But since I’m turning 30 and all the hoopla that supposedly comes with it, I am taking this year to especially focus on some of the things that are important to me.

I’m calling it the Map Your 30s blog. It’s basically a vehicle for me to focus on the things that are important to me and the parts of my life that I want to work on, strengthen or improve in some way. That means my career, relationships, finances, home environment, health and confidence/spirituality.

I doubt it’ll only last a year. That’s quite a big undertaking that I am planning to tackle. But the truth is that it’s really not about a year-long project or because I’m turning 30 and all of a sudden some sort of alarm is going off in my head (it’s not), but simply because I want to do it. And I want to do it now.

Being 30 (and maybe having learned a thing or two in the last decade) is just a perk.

Want more? Subscribe to my newsletter to get writing news and updates on my memoir (Moscow Chica). Then check out my personal blog and find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest!

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