It’s no easy feat to make a living as a writer, as any aspiring novelist, columnist, or poet will be happy to tell you. When I asked the secret to her success, contemporary love poet Mirtha Michelle Castro Mármol told me that it all comes down to one thing: hard work.
“I simply suggest that people who want to be a writer—or any kind of artist, really—just do the work,” she explained. “You have to go out there and create your own opportunities.”
That’s exactly what Mármol did. After college, she decided to throw caution to the wind and move to Los Angeles so she could pursue her joint loves of writing and acting. There were tough times along the way—when she only had a few hundred dollars to her name—but thanks to her hard work, persistence, and love of her craft, she was able to make a name for herself as a modern-day poet. Her two self-published collections of poems, “Letters, to the Men I Have Loved” and “Elusive Loves,” performed better than she ever expected, but she never did it for the fame or the money. She did it simply because she’s an artist and she wanted to share her experiences with the world.
Read on to learn more about Mirtha Michelle’s creative process, tips for overcoming writer’s block, insights into self-publishing, and more!
Name: Mirtha Michelle Castro Mármol
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Current job/company: Poet and Actress
Education: BA Journalism, Florida International University
When did you start writing poetry?
I started writing poetry when I was a little girl. I wrote my first poem at 6, and that was the first time I learned “Oh, ok this is a poem.” But I’ve always been a writer. I started taking it a lot more seriously when I was around 13. I started a journal dedicated to writing poetry, and ever since then, I just couldn’t stop.
Your family came to the US from the Dominican Republic when you were young. What was that experience like? Has it influenced your work?
My parents decided to move our family to Miami when I was 5. I remember it being difficult because we were very close to my extended family and cousins in the Dominican, so it was hard to leave them. And then, of course, having to learn a new language was hard. But because I was so young I adapted easily enough. Plus, my parents sent us back to the DR every summer to visit our family.
My heritage has influenced my work considerably. For one, I decided to publish my books with my entire given name—all four of them! People think it’s kind of odd, but it’s because I wanted to give that to my family. I’m proud of them, and my name speaks to how proud of my heritage I am. Having Spanish as a first language has also influenced my work, as I often write poems in Spanish and a lot of my favorite poets write in Spanish, as well. My last book, “Elusive Loves,” is actually a bilingual completion. I did this because I wanted non-English speakers to be able to connect with my work.
What was your first job after college? How did you land it?
I went to school in Miami, and I studied journalism—I wanted to be a journalist at first, but then I decided to pursue acting. So I made the move to Los Angeles when I was 21, about to be 22. I just went for it. I had visited before and I liked it, but it was a tremendous growing and learning experience. I wasn’t aware of a lot of things, of what it meant to be an adult. I went through some struggles, and I didn’t want to tell my parents because I didn’t want to look like I was giving up on anything. When I look back, I’m just think, “How did I live off such little money?!” I thought I was so OK, but looking back, I’m just like HOW? I made it work, though—when you’re young and naive, you can have $200 in your bank account and you can be OK with that.
You have to go out there and create your own opportunities.
When I got to LA, I had all kinds of jobs. The only girl I knew in the city let me crash with her. I slept on her couch for a few months. She was an artist, too, and she helped me out a lot. She would bring me with her on little side jobs when she could—I worked for a catering company for months. I worked as an extra. I did a lot of little jobs, and I was honestly just happy to be here and be accomplishing things.
Can you describe your creative process? Do you sit down with the intention of writing a poem or just wait for inspiration to strike?
I never force poetry. Poetry is a special art. It’s like a song—it comes to you and you write it down. Once a poem is coming to me, I stay still and I begin writing it, whether on my phone or in a notebook. Sometimes I do it in the strangest of places—like at a club, huddled in a corner of a booth. People get so upset with me! But I’m taking notes because when a poem, a line or even an emotion comes to me, I have to write it down right away. Even if you think you’ll remember later, you never do! The following day, I’ll start working on the poem—moving around the words and allowing it to flow better.
Do you ever get writer’s block? How do you overcome it?
You have to be patient. It’s normal—we all go through our highs and lows. It’s especially common in the arts because we’re not going to be inspired every day. Inspiration comes in waves. You just have to let the wave pass.
When I’m feeling like I can’t write, I like to travel and to have solitude. I love living in LA, but the problem with it is that I’ve been here for so long and I’m very social. It’s a good and a bad thing. The good is that I will always have a place to go to when I want to get out and be around people. But sometimes I get too caught up in that—I don’t want to say “no” all the time, but as an artist, it’s really important to be alone with yourself and listen to the voice inside of you. It lets you cultivate ideas and think about what you want to do in the future.
I like walking through cities alone and coming up with ideas. It’s about seeing the world through my eyes and no one else’s.
To get away, I like to travel alone. I like walking through cities alone and coming up with ideas. It’s about seeing the world through my eyes and no one else’s. When you travel with people, it’s all about compromise. You try to do the things they want to do. You’re constantly in a conversation when you’re walking. Instead of observing what’s going on around you, you’re talking to your friend who comes from the same place as you and has the same views as you. It’s nice, but when you’re alone, you really get to discover the place. It’s priceless.
What made you decide to put your poems together in a book?
It was always a goal since I started writing at 6 or 7. It’s a funny story—my dad and I were planting a tree outside in our backyard. While we were planting it, he shared a Jewish proverb with me. It said something like, “There are three things that determine your measure of mortality: Planting a tree, having a child, and writing a book.” After you die, those things will continue to live on. I thought that was amazing! And I immediately started planning to write a book.
When I was 22, I started my first attempt at a book, but I stopped. I tried again three years later. Sometimes I reread that draft—and it’s funny because I’m in such a different place now. Finally, I tried again, and “Letters, to the Men I Have Loved” was the first book I finished.
Why did you decide to self-publish? What was the process like?
I decided to self-publish “Letters” simply because I didn’t want to wait around for someone to do it for me. It was a big learning experience and extremely satisfying. I accomplished a goal I’d had since I was 7 years old!
Self-publishing sounded a lot easier than it was. It takes a lot of dedication—you have to do every single job. You have to find an illustrator, a designer, an editor. You have to put it together and find a printer. I learned a lot along the way, and it’s cool knowing you can put out your work doing everything yourself and following your own vision.
Your first book “Letters, to the Men I Have Loved” has good reviews and seems to be quite popular. What steps did you take to promote it when it first came out?
Obviously I didn’t have a big publisher behind me with big marketing dollars, so I had to get creative. I started promoting quotes and poems on social media before I even released the book—mostly Instagram and Tumblr. I was wary of it at first because most people didn’t know I was a poet and I was shy. But one of my girlfriends who’s really into social media encouraged me to let people know I was writing something. So I started mixing in my poems into my personal posts, and I started to grow a fan base before I even released the book. Social media is extremely helpful with anything you want to do—it’s an easy and inexpensive way to build a following and connect with the right people. There are so many different platforms—Instagram, Snapchat, who knows what will be next—but whatever you choose, just get your work out there in front of the right people. My social media family has been an irreplaceable part of my journey.
When it was time to release the book, I did it first through pre-order, and then it was released online. I didn’t put it into stores until three weeks later. Barnes & Noble actually reached out to me because “Letters” was doing well in their online store—it was the No. 1 poetry book, and they wanted to carry the book in stores. And they’ve kept on ordering it!
I did some book signings in major cities, as well—NYC, LA, Chicago—and held events where I could connect with people. I also started speaking at colleges. It’s a really great way to expand your audience, because if one person knows your work and brings a friend, you can grow your audience significantly with one event. Once people started buying the book and liking it, then they would tell their friends and post about it on social media. It created a domino effect, and things took off from there.
Art is expression, regardless of what type of art you make. When you do things with your heart and you do them honestly, it’s going to show and it’s going to touch people.
What are some of the memorable reactions fans have had to your books?
I have so many stories of people who have written to me or just told me how the book has helped or touched them. A lot of people have told me that the poems helped them deal with hurt or pain from past relationships, that they were able to confront it and start healing.
There was one girl who I’ll never forget—she told me that when she read the letter about my father, it made her so emotional because she never had a relationship with her father. She had always disregarded him, but after reading the book she reached out and started mending the relationship with her father. I think that’s really beautiful.
Did you anticipate people reacting that way?
Art is expression, regardless of what type of art you make. When you do things with your heart and you do them honestly, it’s going to show and it’s going to touch people. I didn’t know how many people were going to read that book; I really just did it for the art.
Do you have any advice for aspiring poets or writers who want to see their work in print?
The most important thing is to stop thinking about the outcome. Just do the work. Do it with love. Don’t rush it, either. I’m currently in the midst of writing my third book, and I’m not rushing it. A lot of people expect me to put out a book every year, but I’m not going to rush it. I need to live it a little more so it can come from an honest place—I’m not going to make it up!
In addition to your third book, which is still in the works, do you have any other projects going on?
We’re turning the books into a television series right now, which I’m super excited about. I’m learning about a entirely different side of the entertainment industry—as a producer and creator. I’m learning a lot, and it’s definitely a process where you don’t see results right away. You just have to really believe it’s going to work out.
What advice would you give your 23-year-old self?
The other night, I was waiting for the bathroom in a restaurant, and there were some really young, beautiful girls in line. We started talking, and I told them, “Enjoy your life. Be fearless. Know that whoever you’re dating right now, you probably won’t end up with him. Don’t give all your energy and the best years of your life to a guy who doesn’t deserve you.” I would tell myself the same thing.
Mirtha Michelle is The Everygirl…
Source: Alexander Black
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and why?
Maybe Elizabeth Taylor. She’s one of my top three! Just because she got married so many times, and she loved so much. I can just imagine she has all these fascinating stories.
Favorite way to unwind?
A bath. I love to just lie there. Sometimes I’ll put sea salt in the water and pray.
Favorite place to travel?
I love Paris.
Iced green tea. I’m obsessed. I have one almost every day. But I recently started ordering them without sweetener! I had to wean myself off.