Not everyone is lucky enough to have a fun, witty, talented college roommate who can rattle off the titles, actors, and songs from classic movies of the 1940's and 50's like nobody's business, but I was. That person is my friend and fellow writer Daisy Abreu, who has gone on to pursue writing with dogged determination and great passion, becoming published along the way. Below she doles out some solid wisdom about the act of putting pen to paper, and tells us how she's been exploring her Cuban-American roots in the process. How do you define creativity? I struggled with this one. For me, creativity is having a vision and figuring out how to make it work. I love to brainstorm because it pushes me to focus and everything else is out of my mind but the subject at hand.
When do you feel at your creative peak (whether it's times of day, seasons of the year, or otherwise)? Having time and space to work while I was at the Vermont Studio Center in October allowed me to look at my writing time as a full 24-hour period. I didn’t have outside obligations to use as excuses for not writing. During those four weeks, I found I was most productive in the late morning and early afternoon. That said, my favorite time to work is late at night. I feel more focused when everything outside my window is quiet.
Last we spoke you were writing about your Cuban heritage. I've heard some people say all storytelling is a search for identity. Does that ring true to you or not? Absolutely true. When I started working on my essay collection, I was working solely from my memories. I wrote what I remembered from my childhood, stories about being around my family and community. The deeper I went into those stories, the more I discovered about my family and myself. Even though I grew up in a community largely made up of families similar to my own, I uncovered so much working on the collection. Not just from research and reading and looking at old photos, but from talking to my peers about how we grew up. I did a series of interviews with former classmates for my third semester project (part of the requirement for graduation from the MFA program) and was surprised to learn how similar and dissimilar our experiences had been. The men and women I interviewed were all my age, and I assumed they had the same experience I did. I assumed they had all been born in the United States, all had siblings that were much older than they were, and that their parents had all fled Cuba in the same way. Only one person out of the four had an experience that was remotely similar to mine. I also believed I was the only one whose parents had been reluctant to share the stories of their journeys, but every person I spoke to said they had not been able to get their parents to talk until they were much older.
The essays also gave me an opportunity to go deeper in conversation with my siblings and my mother about their personal histories. My siblings helped me get my mom to talk about her life in Cuba. My sister sent me copies of documents I didn’t know existed: a telegram my father sent to an aunt who was already living in America, paperwork from their stay in Florida, all of this ephemera that made their story—my story—so much more real.
You received a master's degree in writing a few years ago. What were the pros and cons of that experience? Pros: spending time with other writers and being full-on word nerds for ten days at a time, learning how to talk about the work, learning how to give and accept constructive criticism, professors who pushed as much as they praised, being introduced to writers whose work I might not have discovered on my own, developing the discipline to come home and read and write after a full day at work.
Cons (challenges): trying to balance a full-time job with full-time schoolwork, pushing through the writing of difficult scenes (lots of writing and crying), getting past feeling like an imposter “Why am I doing this? What makes me think I can?”
What do you find to be the most exhilarating part of writing? Two things. First, reading a great sentence. The kind of sentence that makes you reach for a pen and a notecard so you can copy it down. There is a sense of possibility in that for me. It inspires me. Well, it makes me want to give up. But then it makes me want to work even harder.
I write in longhand when I am trying to sort out an idea or a scene. When I’m typing things up later, I sometimes come across a sentence I don’t remember writing, and I think it’s a good sentence. Not a great one necessarily, but a good one. That is exhilarating.
What do you find to be the most challenging part of writing? Not knowing where or how to start a piece, and allowing the not knowing to keep me from starting to work.
What are your goals this year with your creative work? To say “I’m a writer,” when people ask me what I do. To get back to writing every day for more than one hour at a stretch. To send my work out and collect an awesome stack of rejections (and hopefully a few acceptances).
I’m also leaving my full-time job in two months to pursue freelance and contract work. Ultimately, I want to create a space for writers in New Haven that provides studios, opportunities for collaborations with other writers, workshops and classes, readings, and tutoring for students. That’s the big dream.
Any daily habits or routines? I carry index cards and a pen to write down questions I can use as prompts or passages from things I’m reading that I think are beautiful. I am not writing every day (yet), but I am reading every day, usually before bed, which is something I’ve done since I was very young.
Advice for aspiring writers? Share your work with other writers and be open to giving and receiving constructive criticism. Read your work in public every chance you get. Keep reading. Keep writing.
Daisy Christina Abreu is a first generation Cuban-American born and raised in West New York, New Jersey. She received a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Hartford, and an MFA in Creative Writing at Fairfield University where she served as co-editor of creative non-fiction for the online literary journal, Mason's Road. Her work has been published in the online journal Label Me Latina and The Arts Council of Greater New Haven’s Arts Paper. Daisy lives in New Haven, Connecticut. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via her blog here. Top photo by Matthew J. Feiner. Bio pic by Chris Randall.