I first found WriteGirl as a junior in high school, though I like to say that WriteGirl found me. My guidance counselor Mr. West knew that I was interested in writing and hoping to pursue it seriously in college and beyond, so he sent me and my parents information about the organization, and how it fostered the creativity of teen girls living in Los Angeles like myself through monthly writing workshops. Under their tutelage, I would have the chance to explore different types of writing besides the poetry I so favored at the time, including songwriting, nonfiction, and fiction, and to be featured in their bi-yearly anthologies. In 2016, poet Amanda Gorman (and by default, WriteGirl) had yet to become known in the larger public consciousness but already the nationwide conversations around writing and the power it holds were beginning to change.
My Introduction to WriteGirlI applied, received the invitation for my first workshop, and headed over to the venue with my mom in the driver’s seat. From the moment I arrived at the workshop (which if I remember correctly, focused on fiction and took place at Universal Studios), I was hooked. Not only was I greeted so warmly by attending volunteers, but I was also offered my choice of a free journal. That moment was extraordinary because up until then, the journals I did have had been given to me (assuming a lot about my personal preferences) or too expensive to purchase for myself. To be allowed so much freedom to choose the vessel for my words is a moment I’ve never forgotten. And, to be then informed that this happened at every workshop? I was beside myself with excitement.
Since then, I have kept every free journal I chose at workshops, all of which have been unique in their shape, style, and color. At home, I have a whole shelf with spiral-bound notebooks, softcover, hardback, some with inspirational quotes or art on the cover, pocket-size, the kind I had seen reporters use in the movies—all because of WriteGirl. More recently, WriteGirl gifted me a gorgeous Epica leather journal and pen set that I couldn’t wait to dig into with my most savory thoughts when I first received it.
I still remember receiving the package in the mail, opening the box to find a soft, branded cloth bag with a leather-bound journal inside - wraparound tie and everything! From the sweet- smelling buttery, lined pages to the word CREATE stamped on the front to the swirly embossed flower pattern, I knew this was the kind of journal meant for history, the kind you would find in a deceased writer’s possessions and display in a museum in the far future. It even had a note from Keren Taylor, WriteGirl’s Executive Director, with a few words of inspiration!
The interesting thing about journals such as this is that they are incredibly intimidating to begin writing in, at least at first. Suddenly, all I could think about was what words could possibly be worthy of a journal this beautiful. While I have published pieces out in the world, they always begin as messy first drafts on the page, hastily written in pencil, sounding nonsensical even to me sometimes, and I couldn’t bear the idea of someone finding this piece of me and not being able to tell the last page from the first, the top from the bottom. Yet the hardest part, as with anything, is the beginning. I had to overcome that feeling of inadequacy and fear of what future generations would think of me, unfiltered, spilled out onto the page, and recalibrate the journal into my present moment. What do I think of myself? What do I have to say? How can I make this journal completely my own?
In response, I married it into my journal collection. I wrote my name on the inside flap, sat it beside my other notebooks, and treated it as if it were any other physical place for my thoughts (even if it appeared too gorgeous to be!). As mentioned previously, I love physically writing on paper or in my journal longhand as the starting place for my work, whether it be a germ of a poem or a scene between two characters I’m only beginning to be comfortable with naming. It forces my brain to stop the inner editor that comes out when I’m working on a laptop, which, as much as it’s brought ease to my life, can make words disappear just like that, never to return unless I remember what they said. I especially love using them as vessels for my responses to WriteGirl writing experiments and activities during workshops because I will write down the first thing that comes to mind, without judgment or inclination to go back and improve it. The page is an extraordinary place to let words simply shine, from unsent letters to ideas to barely-there first drafts.
Nearly every creative work of mine that has since been published began in the pages of my journal. If I’m happy with a particular passage I’ve written, I’ll type it out on my computer, editing, re-shaping, and recalibrating as I go along, which is extremely helpful for initial and subsequent revisions. To see a piece physically go from just another page in my journal to the digital screen to a polished work that I can then share with friends, family, and supporters is in and of itself a wonderful and powerful thing that I couldn’t imagine myself living without.
How Journaling has helped meIt is important to note, of course, that journaling is not just about writing pieces for potential publication. I have experienced radical moments of healing while writing in my journal, understanding moments in my life I have never spoken about aloud, revealed new and surprising truths about myself through writing down whatever my psyche wanted to say. Many pages in my journal will never see the light of day or another pair of eyes because not every thought is a gem or one that needs to be shared. And rather than sounding discouraging of myself, understanding this has provided me a lot of freedom and has stripped away the pressure to be perfect every time I set my pen to paper.
At 22 now, and as an alum of the WriteGirl program, I am ever grateful for the simple yet powerful act of journaling, and the gift that WriteGirl gave me in allowing me such freedom in both the journals I choose and how I decide to fill it inside. Words matter. Stories matter. The journals that hold them matter, and receiving all three throughout my life has made all the difference.
Untitled Poem — by Sofía Aguilar
watch how the river runs without feet or throat,
mushrooms springing from the earth without legs,
the tree bark, returning to earth,
peeling its skin into paper
not knowing spoken language —
what are we if not beginning
and being at the same time?
Here at Epica, we are proud of our collaboration with WriteGirl and we’re grateful for all the good this program, its mentors and mentees bring to our communities. Please, follow the links above to learn more about WriteGirl, their mission, mentors, and mentees.
Our thanks go to Sofía for sharing her story in this informative and inspirational guest post for Epica. How did you get interested in Journaling? What motivates you to Journal? Share your story with us – email to email@example.com
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