Last night’s class confirmed my revelations from last week about needing to slow down. It was the first time I felt like the conduit my characters were speaking through that my teacher always refers to.
This week taught me to trust what I am learning even when I doubt my ability to do it. I decided to submit the short story I wrote for class. Not only because it was well-received but because I was proud of the work. Proud of the work I put in and proud I finally listened to characters that were asking for a voice.
Yesterday, I had pages critiqued I sent to my classmates on Sunday evening. I chose to rework what I had written in response to the prompt “I lied when I said.” The critiques opened me up to a multitude of ways to address how I want to proceed with my novel. One of which was to try to turn it into a short story about 25 pages in length.
Even though I recognized it before, when I write I want to rush. Racing to get to the end I was envisioning as I begin to write is the culprit. The result is leaving my readers wanting more, more setting, more background information, what was he/she wearing?
I don’t know why I have been in a rush to materialize an ending.
So that is what I will be working on using this week’s prompt. Slowing down to craft a more complete piece. To leave readers needing less when it’s all said and done.
It has been said that we all have angels assigned to us or all around us.
If that is true, mine sent me to the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa last weekend.
I was chosen, along with 14 other women across the country to participate in a three-day workshop called The Storyteller Project: Digital Storytelling for Women of Color facilitated by Dr. Robin Boylorn and Veralyn Williams with a special lunch and learn with Dr. Rachel Raimist.
When I was selected, I remember feeling so much excitement that I paced the room. I didn’t even think about what it would be or who I would be in that space until I got the additional information we needed to prepare before coming–“Bring an excerpt written by/about a woman of color that inspires or resonates with you (one paragraph or less). Personal story ideas or topics (Consider what part of your story do you want to tell, and why?)”
That part of the preparation made it real. I was going to come and fellowship, yes. But I was going to have to do the work. Ask myself serious questions. It demanded that one of my truths be spoken.
As time passed and the workshop was rescheduled from August to October, I had time to let a few doubts seep in about whether or not my story would be compelling or impactful enough but I never let it take up residence in my mind, the only place that matters.
Within seconds of arriving in The Hub at the University of Alabama, any fears I had were allayed. I was met with such warmth by the other women, Dr. Robin Boylorn and her graduate assistant, Lola I was instantly at ease. I no longer doubted the validity or the strength of my story. There was no reason to wonder why I had been chosen.
There was no time for my “stuff.”
I was there not only to be a participant and a storyteller but to bear witness.
I witnessed Black women being daughters, Black women being mothers and Black women being sisters.
Black women giving ourselves permission to fall apart recognizing there was someone there to provide a soft place, lap and heart.
I witnessed women give birth to their stories.
It was painstaking at times but it was healing.
There were women aching to release their screams, aching for the women who raised them, aching to claim their sexuality, aching for healing, aching to tell stories of other silenced and forgotten Black men and women, aching to be seen and aching for a way to grieve.
There were moments where my heart was so full “overflow” will never be the word, is not enough of a word.
On Day 1, we were asked to work in groups to talk about Black women, our stories and address the themes of the passages we brought.
By Day 3, it was evident they weren’t just words in marker on paper taped to a wall. We gave those words life. We breathed life into those words. We embodied those themes and stories in our work.
I was in a room full of survivors.
Me and Lakeesha Harris, a woman who isn’t afraid to speak her truth and honor her ancestors.
Jilisa Milton (future civil rights lawyer) and Jameka Hartley (passionate storyteller and force of nature) chopping it up before we got going on Day 3.
Getting ready for Day 1!
Producer extraordinaire and my birthday twin Veralyn Williams!
Bernadette Merikle wowed us with her spirit and artistry!
Allison Upshaw–love the spirit and gorgeous operatic voice on this diva!
Me and masterful storyteller Salaam Green, also one of my See Jane Write sisters!
Veralyn showing us the ropes on Day 2.
Education advocate Cassandra Jones. She was sweet and when she spoke of wanting to tell her family stories reminded me of how much I want to tell more of my grandmother’s.
Me with my adventurous hometown sister Delilah Gilliam and our amazing workshop assistant, Lola!
No More Martyrs founder Nadia Richardson and Allison Upshaw. I loved connecting with these ladies!
Professor and podcast host, Tiffany Pogue is a dynamic sister who honors her ancestors.
None other than our awe-inspiring leader, Dr. Robin Boylorn and fiery lawyer-to-be Andrea Dobynes!
On Day 2, Dr. Rachel Raimist joined the party via Zoom in Los Angeles. She imparted valuable advice on how to break down our audio to prepare them for Day 3. During the session, she used a photo of her own grandmother and mother to propose a story. I loved how she used something as simple as the frame (or lack thereof) to give us ideas on the many ways to approach a narrative.
Veralyn Williams (NPR producer with the patience of an angel) came from New York to start co-facilitating with Robin and help us produce our audio/audio-visual stories. In addition to sharing her digital storytelling expertise, she challenged me. I had never used the IMovie application before and I was frustrated trying to navigate it. After helping me with some of the more difficult parts of the editing process, she let me know in no uncertain terms she was not going to complete it for me.
Even though I didn’t ask her to, she knew if I sat back and let her continue to work on the visuals, I would have. It became glaringly obvious how uncomfortable I am with people recognizing my fear of not being able to do something well.
I psyched myself up to finish, remembering we were all in this together and as Robin lovingly pointed out, this was technically a first draft.
After dinner and pictures we all sat together (including Robin’s beautiful mother) to screen our stories and enjoy cake.
I know I can only speak for myself but what I experienced during and especially after the screening was no less than supernatural.
When a group of Black women who don’t hold shame and celebrate the skin they’re in congregate and create with love, there is a sense of power, a collective power in the room.
The other day I was accepted to participate in The Storyteller Project: Digital Storytelling for Women of Color at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa created by Dr. Rachel Raimist and Dr. Robin Boylorn. I paced the room after reading the email. I could barely contain my excitement!
I applied for the project after seeing a post on the See Jane Write Facebook group so special thanks to her for sharing it with us! Even though I don’t know exactly what’s in store yet, I do know I will be surrounded by 9 other women who also have a story to tell. Stories that may look radically different than mine. It’s the thing I look most forward to. Collaborating and learning and growing and developing with complete strangers united in one mission.
One question I’ve been asking myself since my acceptance: Who will I be on the other side of this experience? I have reasons to be both exhililarated and fearful of the answer and I think that’s more than enough reason to go and find out.
Every time I have taken a chance related to my writing or speaking, I have not had an ounce of regret. It has always brought me to a new level of self-awareness whether the outcome was what I pictured or not.
So next month I will spend a few days in Alabama, uncovering more of who I am and how I want to share her with the world.
I recently read “We’re Going to Need More Wine” by Gabrielle Union and I am well on my way to finishing Chrissy Metz’s new autobiography “This is Me: Loving the Person You Are Today.” I enjoyed reading both books and one of the most powerful reasons for my enjoyment is the following: Relatability.
I know our society talks a lot about “authenticity” and “keeping it real” or “keeping it 100” but a lot of that conversation gets confused with oversharing or saying so much we end up not saying nothing at all.
Both of these books struck a chord with me. Yes, there were personal stories and moments where I felt like I was in the room with them as they were recounting their stories but I also felt like there was other stories that the reader will never be privy to and that is more than OK with me.
When Gabrielle spoke about the PTSD she still has regarding her rape or when Chrissy spoke about forgiving her stepfather for his physical and verbal abuse, I saw women who had done the work to push past the fear of sharing their stories because they knew the healing that could come from its release.
I found myself nodding as I read along. I could relate to some version of their lives: the rejection, things not always going according to plan (whether it turned out to be for the best or not), the insecurities, not fitting in, past relationship woes, standing up and standing out.
I believe readers can see themselves in the triumph and the perceived failures of Chrissy and Gabrielle. I know I did.
There were many takeaways intended for the reader but as a writer I took away a few key things:
Your story is not over. As a writer/blogger, I have found that while I keep posting, submitting work, networking and taking classes, it’s easy to get impatient. When will I catch a break? Both Chrissy and Gabrielle weren’t born into show business. Both of them had to put in consistent work with no guarantee that their star would ever rise. As writers, I believe that is something we should never forget. Stay consistent. It’s not over until you say it is. And you say it is or it isn’t by your actions. You’re writing or you’re not. It may not be easy but it is simple.
2. Believe in yourself. Even when it feels like no one is reading, no one is watching or no one else even cares. If you don’t, who else will? People are attracted to confidence even if you have to fake it a little through the struggle. Sometimes, I am clinging so hard to this it feels is as my knuckles will burst through my skin. If God planted this affinity, this love, this all-consuming need to write within me, there has to be a reason, even if I don’t know what it is yet.
3. Do not be afraid to share yourself with the world. After I read both works, I applauded the gutsy nature of both of these powerhouse ladies. I admired their humor and willingness to quiet the chatter of what other people say and let their voices be heard. As writers, as hard as it can be, there is undeniable value in telling the truth. It may manifest as ugly, scarred and heartbreaking but it deserves to be read in our novels, blogs, essays, poetry and short stories. We only have one voice.
One of my writing goals for 2018 was to take writing classes again, whether it be a one-day workshop or a 6-week course. I almost didn’t start the year with a class but decided at the last minute that it should be a priority right at the beginning of the year. What makes it even more special is that it is Life in 10 Minutes again. I took a couple of sessions last year. It was my first writing class outside of school. I remember feeling so shy and unsure of myself. At the time, I was also in the throes of deciding whether or not I wanted to continue with graduate school (currently thanking God I made the right choice not to do so). This class did two things for me: It made me take a hard look at what I really wanted for my future AND it confused me.
Why the confusion one may ask?
After cracking my shell open and reading words aloud I wouldn’t have dared just a few months before, I thought it was time to decide what kind of writer I wanted to be. It seems silly now. But I thought I was this woman trying to finish a novel and anything else was superfluous. I had to confront all of the many colors, shades and textures of who I am as a writer.
I have just come back from the first session tonight. Even with all of the new faces and voices, the feeling is the same. We read our confessions, our musings, our wishes, our regrets, our stories, our characters out loud in communion with one another. We share our art. We share our lives.
I was listening to a podcast earlier today and they were discussing why people don’t try to change or at least don’t stay consistent in their efforts to change. The interviewee pointed out how easy it is to stay the same and do nothing. The interviewer agreed, acknowledging the comfort of being static. Forgive me for not remembering names, I listened to many today while working so I don’t want to attribute the interview to the wrong people.
It got me thinking that of course it’s easy (and convenient) to continue down a path you’ve always gone or to tell yourself the exact same story about your life. “I always do this…I never remember that or I never follow-through on….
It reminded me of a a quote I first heard from Jim Kwik: “Your mind is always eavesdropping on your self-talk.” What if I’ve been telling myself a story about myself, convinced that I already know the ending? And is my mind being programmed by my negative self-talk?
When I engage in negative self-talk, I believe I am giving myself permission to give up. I’ve done it with some of my writing and wellness goals in the past. It makes the bad medicine go down, nice and smooth.
Except that it’s not so smooth, is it? While you’re swallowing, the taste gets a little sour–even rancid, doesn’t it?
When our self-awareness grows, the harder it is to feel the comfort, to convince ourselves we are at ease when we quit. Now that I am writing on a regular basis, I am not choking down anything.
I spent the weekend at the 15th Annual James River Writers Conference 2017 which started with Master Classes held on Friday, October 13th. I did not attend the master classes but I was there on Saturday and Sunday. The conference offered one-on-one meetings with an agent or an editor, panels on writing (both the business and the craft), Library of Virginia Literary Luncheon featuring an interview with honoree and Richmond native David Baldacci, an opportunity to play the Agent Dating Game and First Pages panel.
Day 1, ready to connect with my fellow writers!
James RIver Writers Conference celebrating 15 years!
There were several sessions running concurrently so I could only go to three each day. The first session was a panel of agents answering questions about paths to publication. One agent, Cherise Fisher, made a striking point that as writers, that we should understand our dreams. The consistent message was that we should be self-aware. We should know our genre, be able to name realistic but comparable titles and take time to research the agents-their Twitter, other authors they represent and books they have sold. Ms. Fisher from Wendy Sherman Associates, Inc. also reminded us not to forget about the smaller publishing houses. I particularly enjoyed the tip that we should write such a dynamic query letter that they should have to do little else before sending it to a publishing house/editor.
The social media panel gave insight into how authors Sadeqa Johnson, Sonia Yoerg and Panio Gianopoulos manage their social media. They covered topics such as when to post, scheduling apps used, blogging and the major importance of a newsletter in reaching your audience. I admired how they didn’t pretend to have it all figured out and advised if you don’t, then seek counsel! A solid piece of advice given by Sadeqa was to know your lane and build from there when posting on your media sites. For example, if you like gardening, post pictures and video of yourself doing things related to that along with content about your writing. They all acknowledged that readers like to feel as if they know you, not just your work.
The Literary Luncheon was fun and the food was tasty. I was grateful they had a real vegetarian option (a flavorful Portobello mushroom and peppers dish). It gave us the opportunity to reflect on the first half of the day with friends (my awesome writing tribe!) and meet new ones. David Baldacci’s interview was engaging and although emerging authors like myself can’t relate to his meteoric rise, I believe it gave us all a dream to aspire to.
The third panel was moderated by a local writer friend of mine, David Streever. It featured Library of Virginia Nonfiction Award Finalists Belle Boggs, Patrick O’ Donnell and Annette Gordon-Reed. Belle Boggs recited a quote I liked: “Writing won’t make you a living but it will make you a life.” They shed light on what it is like to devote copious amounts of time to research, interviewing and unearthing untold stories that were long overdue for its place in the sun.
The end of Day 1 was fascinating: an interview with “Hidden Figures” author Margot Lee Shetterly. Getting to hear how she grew up in a neighborhood full of engineers, professors and mathematicians in Hampton and had no idea the greatness she was in the presence of astounded me. I loved hearing about her professional background which included founding an expatriate magazine in Mexico with her husband and working on Wall Street. I believe we all gasped about how quickly the book and the movie deal came together after the book proposal was accepted. Listening to this woman was a sonic delight I will not soon forget.
The second day was introduced by highlighting Richmond Young Writers’ books. I was inspired by the literary talent of Richmond’s youth led by Bird Cox. After the opening ceremonies, the First Pages panel began. I commend all of these people who submitted their first pages and were willing to be judged. I submitted my first page last year. Although it did not get selected for reading, I remember the anxiety I felt waiting to hear my words read in front of a crowd of strangers.
There was a Lunch and Learn session. I attended the one about content marketing. Phaedra Hise of Legacy Navigator explained in detail what it takes to succeed in that field. She was blunt in what we should expect and be asking for with content marketing. The session was a welcome departure from the long form writing heavily discussed throughout the conference. It opened my eyes to revenue streams with writing that do not get enough attention at events like these.
One of the more notable panels was Sexy Narratives moderated by co-chair Robin Farmer with authors Sadeqa Johnson, Tia Williams and Marguerite Bennett. The way writers describe flirtation, sex and the buildup between two people is more than titillating conversation. Tia Williams referred to it as a “careful, slow manipulation.” I love this advice! We all had a good laugh at their blanket condemnation of clichéd scenes with heaving bosoms and throbbing body parts.
My last panel before the Agent Dating Game was Family Stories: For Your Family or the World? My book draws so much from both mine and my grandmother’s life that I knew I needed to hear whatever the panel had to say about this subject matter. I did come to a realization that since there are many details about my grandmother’s life in Haiti that I cannot corroborate, it is best to keep my work as fiction.
The final event was the Agent Dating Game. It was a rendition of the throwback TV show. This time an agent asks his/her bachelors (or writers in this case) the same three questions about themselves, story lines or characters and based on their answers, determines which author they want to learn more about. The segment even had a corny but hilarious host.
I need to say a few words about this year compared to last year. Outside of the crowd being bigger (they sold out this year!), it was much more diverse. The authors were more of a representation of what I like to see, which is a healthy sprinkling of what this world already has to offer. I hope they continue this inclusion for years to come. No one likes to feel like they are the only, or one of a few.
All in all, I am excited about returning next year. I will definitely be ready to pitch my novel and get to know more of the smiling, nervous, pensive, curious faces I see roaming the Greater Richmond Convention Center in 2018.
It’s here!!! The final day of my Water-Workout-Write Challenge is completed. I am preparing to leave for Columbus, Ohio tomorrow morning so I have been on my feet all day. I am happy to report I barely had a coughing fit today and may only have to use my inhaler once this evening. I have fallen behind on my water intake so I will have to get on that. I know the challenge is basically over but the focus on increasing my water intake is something I want to continue.
Speaking of habits I want to continue, I’ve decided what my goals are for the foreseeable future. I will work out five days a week, publish a blog post twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays, drink 100 oz. of water every day, submit to a publication or blog once a week and complete at least 2 essays a week.
The essays will be a new undertaking for me. I could never “get there” with my novel. I felt like there was a truth I was trying to tell but I was poorly disguising it as fiction. I grew up believing that one day I would use my imagination to weave a poignant and magical work of fiction. Except I haven’t been able to do it. With each writing class I’ve taken since the beginning of the year, I’ve drawn closer to the conclusion that my novel should be a book of essays. It made sense that the agent that read my work said that although she didn’t have a problem with my crafting, she didn’t “connect” with my writing. Even though she is just one person, I do believe she had a point. I will always love fiction. I have been surrounded by a lot of personal development books lately which I appreciate and have grown fond of as well. But the magic for me is in the stories. And my essays can be those stories. I am not sure what took me so long to admit it. But there it is.
These past 21 days has taught me what I should be writing right now. It has taught me that I have the discipline to issue a challenge to myself and complete it. It taught that if I make myself accountable, that I will choose not to fail. It has taught me that I need accountability. It has taught me that I want to be a disciplined person. I never placed importance on that notion before. I knew being undisciplined wasn’t taking me where I wanted to go but it never mattered enough until the lack of results wasn’t only staring me in the face, it was slapping me in the face. And the sting hurt like hell.
Outside of the lessons learned, there was a win. The piece I submitted last weekend will be published next Tuesday! I will post all the details next week. There is nothing like seeing the fruit of your labor. I am chasing that high. Even when I may feel uninspired, I am going to remember this challenge—not only the lessons that came from it but the pride I feel swelling up in me as I write these final words to close it.
There is one last thing. This blog is fairly new but I did have a few followers who read it and supported me throughout these 21 days. You know who you are.