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Writing Coach Tip #1: Who are you writing for?

September 18, 2017

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I am a writer. I am a writing teacher. I am moving into the world of being a writing coach (though the truth is I’ve been doing this unofficially for years). I think of coaching along the same lines I think of my writing: Who is my audience? Who am I doing this for?

My audience is and always will be people of color. Yes, that means I write about and for people of color. I mean, it’s great when folks who aren’t POC read my work and learn from me, but I have to be honest when I say that they are not who I have in mind when I do this work.

I write for that girl who grew up in the hood after the Fire Wars and at the height of the crack era. Whose neighborhood was a pile of rubble. Who created an imaginative world in the junkyard next door. Who learned what violence was and heartbreak was in the same place she learned about community and resilience.

I write for the scholarship kid who was repeatedly reminded that she didn’t belong.

I write for the ones who were told that the only reason they were admitted to [insert university name here] was because of affirmative action. Like we couldn’t possibly have earned our seat or worked for that seat. Like we were indebted to white people for all that we have and will become.

I write for the single mom who doesn’t know how she got there but is determined to make it, for herself and for her children.

I write for the girls who teased their hair and blasted freestyle songs by TKA and George Lamond, Cynthia and Judy Torres, from the glass front stereo in the living room. The songs she sang, while propped on a pillow on the sill of her best friend’s third floor window. The girls who sang to the boys playing stickball on the street below.

I write for us who grew up in NYC during the birth of hip hop. Who saw the kids stealing away at night with their bags full of spray cans. Who saw them return with paint stained hands and stories about the art they created on train cars and walls, and having to run away from the cops before they could take it all in.

I write for those who waited anxiously while the break dancers slit the cardboard boxes with box cutters so they could lay them out to do their headpins and windmills and hand hops. Some of us even knew how to get power from the lamp posts so we could blast music for the boys and girls in their track suits and kangols to do their thing.

We who danced to Menudo and learned all the steps from the videos. We who excitedly planned to go see the movie Una Aventura Llamada Menudo, and later, Salsa with former Menudo member Robby Rosa.

We who learned about love and heartbreak from the salsa songs and boleros our mothers listened to on Super KQ while they cleaned our apartments with King Pine.

We women who dare to love women, and men who dare to love men. And those of us who don’t fit into the binaries. Who love who we love in darkness because we are terrified of what will happen when and if that comes to light.

And those of us who love under the strobe light for everyone to see, because we can and want to. Because we dare. Because we know we will be ostracized and judged, but we do it anyway because we love that hard and with that much risk.

We who rarely see ourselves in movies and books, and when we do, we are the drug dealers and the nannies and the maids and the prostitutes. We are the criminals.

We who when we learn about where and who we come from, are told in no uncertain terms that it was the white man’s burden to save us, and they’ve been saving us ever since.

I write for and about us, and I do so unapologetically. And when I think about coaching people like us, I know that our stories are unique and necessary and important; and the needs of the writers of those stories are also unique and important, and must be considered.

You need a writing coach who understands these realities, fam.

Today, as I move forward in this new venture, I am thinking specifically about what writers of color need: What support do they need? What do I key in on when it comes to craft and living the “writer life”?

I am thinking today about voice: voice on the page; how we tell our stories and to whom.

Who is in the room with you when you write, metaphorically speaking? Can you be your complete self with these people? Are there people who make you feel uncomfortable, insecure, like you are not enough? Why are they in the room with you? How is there presence affecting your writing? What can you do to remove them?

There is no such thing as writing for everyone or a general audience. That far too often translates to white people since we’ve been told directly and subliminally for our entire lives that we should aim to write like dead white men, and that our people and our cultures and our histories aren’t worthy of being studied or read. We learned this when the books we read and the histories we learned in school were largely white and western.

So, what do we do? Much of the work requires unlearning what we’ve learned. We have to dig into ourselves to find our voices. We have to do that now.

Check out my essay “Writers of Color: Your Voice Matter” for tips on how to find your voice; and how I learned that I was writing for the white gaze and what steps I took to unlearn that.

And stay tuned for my online Finding Your Voice class coming in November.

I’ll also be launching writing coach sessions soon. Until then, read on and write on and stay beautiful. Word.

3 Comments
  1. You have coached me so much in my writing since 2015. But, after your essay challenge and then posing an essay challenge, which I agreed to with a shaky yes. Well… you got this boo! ❤️

  2. I’m reading this to my MFA students today. ❤

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