Kanye: “The Creative Process–It’s Like a Relationship”

I’m going to quote Kanye here.

No, not one of his songs. Something he said in that Vogue issue where, for some reason, he and Kim K. were on the cover:

Creativity is hard. The creative process—it’s like a relationship. It can be grueling, it can be extremely fun, it can be extremely fulfilling, it can be extremely daunting.

After he created a video that was a manifestation of my greatest fears, I thought I was done with Kanye. But that quote struck a cord with me. So much so that I’m still thinking about it months later.

As you may have guessed, I had to take a little break from the noveling/blogging thing for a second. Not because of rejection by a million agents, thank goodness— I haven’t put myself out there enough for that yet (pitched about 12, got rejected by about 6 or 7).

Mostly I had to take a break because I changed jobs, moved, and went on vacation. But also because I’m trying to decide what my next step should be. I’m in this weird position where I have reached my goal: wrote, edited, and revised a readable novel in a reasonable amount of time but…in the process, I myself have changed.

I wanted to write a story about the growth you experience from a relationship (among other things). And like a relationship, I’ve grown just from engaging in this creative process. At some points it’s been amazing—getting so much joy and fulfillment from what was essentially work?! Definitely never felt that way at my former job. Working on this project sometimes I was literally like, in love, with my story. Not because it was so great, it was just so fulfilling, as Kanye said.

Other times the process has been rather unsettling. There are some themes of loss, and the aftermath of diving into those things was not easy. It was like something bad had actually happened to me. It was strange, but ultimately worth it.

But most importantly, from this process I evolved as a writer, I think. I learned a lot about creative writing and storytelling. I read a lot about the craft, I read more in general and of course I was practicing techniques all the time while writing. So now it’s like, I just think I can make the thing better. That’s daunting (as Kanye said) because if I go down that road, I have a sh*tload of work ahead of me.

My perspective on the story, the characters, relationships, life, etc. has also changed simply from being 2.5 years older than when I started. There is distance between me and the impetus for writing it. I’ve received some feedback from a number of people. I’ve read more, lived more, etc. And so my goal for it has changed, I think.

Anyway, so that’s where I’m at now. My last set of revisions consisted of me fixing the dialogue and taking out some unnecessary details. I may pitch a few more agents after inputting them (hey, the author of The Help pitched 60 agents, so clearly there is an endless supply lol) or I may make some bigger changes now that I’ve had time to take a step back. I will keep you posted!!

Thoughts on Publishing and Privilege

There has been a lot of talk about “privilege” lately. White privilege, male privilege, etc. I don’t know what that weird guy from Princeton was talking about, but what I mean by the term is the freedom not to worry that your race has put you at a disadvantage.

Wikipedia’s definition of privilege will do as well: “the right to assume the universality of one’s own experiences, marking others as different or exceptional while perceiving oneself as normal.”

I bring this up because this process of pitching my story to agents has made me feel very “unprivileged.”

I like subtlety. I like restraint. I like things that feel like real life. So as I sit here waiting to be judged by (mostly white) strangers, I can’t help but wonder—will they get me? Will they see what I’m trying to do? My manuscript is first and foremost the story of a relationship—about people of color. It’s neither a traditional love story, nor does it constantly make political commentary. A lot of people will get it, but will the people with the power? Will they believe that readers (white and nonwhite, male and female) will get it?

I came across several articles today that discuss this very issue. They linked from an NPR article about a #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign that emerged following a major book convention that had an all-white line up. My faves were one published on BuzzFeed that gets into the institutional problems in the publishing industry and another amazing piece written in The New Yorker by Junot Diaz.  I’d love to share some snippets with you…

The BuzzFeed article on the privilege issue:

“…Many of [the gifts and challenges of writers of color] won’t be seen or recognized within a white cultural context. Nuances of codeswitching, racial microaggressions, the emotional reality of surviving white supremacy, self-translation – these are all layers of the non-white experience that rarely make it into mainstream literature, even when the characters look like us.”

BuzzFeed on why diversity isn’t enough and what we need to do:

“We’re right to push for diversity, we have to, but it is only step one of a long journey. Lack of racial diversity is a symptom. The underlying illness is institutional racism. It walks hand in hand with sexism, cissexism, homophobia, and classism. To go beyond this same conversation we keep having, again and again, beyond tokens and quick fixes, requires us to look the illness in the face and destroy it. This is work for white people and people of color to do, sometimes together, sometimes apart. It’s work for writers, agents, editors, artists, fans, executives, interns, directors, and publicists. It’s work for reviewers, educators, administrators. It means taking courageous, real-world steps, not just changing mission statements or submissions guidelines.”

In The New Yorker, Diaz talks about how he struggled in his MFA program because stories that reflected non-white life were not considered to be literature:

“In my workshop the default subject position of reading and writing—of Literature with a capital L—was white, straight and male. This white straight male default was of course not biased in any way by its white straight maleness—no way! Race was the unfortunate condition of nonwhite people that had nothing to do with white people and as such was not a natural part of the Universal of Literature, and anyone that tried to introduce racial consciousness to the Great (White) Universal of Literature would be seen as politicizing the Pure Art and betraying the (White) Universal (no race) ideal of True Literature.”

Diaz also says his MFA program was simply “too white”:

“Too white as in Cornell had almost no POC—no people of color—in it. Too white as in the MFA had no faculty of color in the fiction program—like none—and neither the faculty nor the administration saw that lack of color as a big problem…Too white as in my workshop reproduced exactly the dominant culture’s blind spots and assumptions around race and racism (and sexism and heteronormativity, etc). In my workshop there was an almost lunatical belief that race was no longer a major social force (it’s class!). In my workshop we never explored our racial identities or how they impacted our writing—at all. Never got any kind of instruction in that area—at all. Shit, in my workshop we never talked about race except on the rare occasion someone wanted to argue that ‘race discussions’ were exactly the discussion a serious writer should not be having.”

I think it’s a good sign that we are having this discussion. Personally, I think the book industry is scared to go outside the norm because it’s so fragile at the moment. Sales are down are what not. But I actually feel like the changing industry presents an opportunity, not a problem.  It’s like, why not publish something different? Expand your audience! Take a risk and bet that people will enjoying consuming stories about a diverse world. I know I do!

 

Maya Angelou: She Taught Us Why The Caged Bird Sings

Most of the time when you hear a celebrity has died, it’s just shocking. But everyone once in a while when a famous person passes away, you feel a genuine sense of loss. Like there’s now this absence in the world—your world—because they are no longer in it.  The first time this happened to me was when Whitney Houston died.

Now, with the news that Maya Angelou is gone, it’s happening again. At a young age I either wrote a paper on her or read her autobiography—I forgot which one, but it left me with the sense that she’s someone I’ve known for most of my life.

Maya Angelou

(Photo by York College ISLGP)

One of the Most Inspiring Writers of Our Lifetime

If I had to use one word to describe Maya Angelou, it would be inspiring.

Inspiring as a Person

She’s inspiring as a person because she had this crazy emotional strength. She’s quoted so often because her philosophy is uplifting. She makes you believe that you too can be victorious, triumphant, conquering, etc. no matter what you’re dealing with. Even her autobiography is entitled “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”

Think about that for a second.  The idea of a bird being trapped yet still finding a reason to sing.

Maya Angelou encouraged you to have compassion and faith in yourself, and to embrace the gift of life even in the most difficult times. And she did so both through her words and her actions.

Inspiring as a Writer

She is also inspiring to me as a writer. Maya Angelou had a gift. It was more like Whitney Houston’s voice–innate talent perfected over time–than simply a mere reflection of discipline, in my opinion (although she obviously worked hard). She had this ability to lyrically turn a phrase, but in a way that was also accessible. She accomplished what most writers aspire to do, I think. She touched people. Through her poems and books she showed readers that she understood them. And we also understood her.

Anyway, it’s a sad day. But I’m glad to say that I lived during the Maya Angelou era.