Letters To A Young Internet Cousin.
If you follow my Instagram stories, you'll have seen direct messages from people sending me the best descriptions of my outfit posts and ending the description with "looks". I call them "Mom Looks" because I started off by describing what kind of mother my outfit represented. The best descriptions, the ones where you're like "How did she come up with all of this from a forever 21 jumpsuit!?" is written by my internet cousin, Ymani Wince aka @jst_mani. She recently emailed me some writing questions, and even though I should be sending her writing questions (how you know everything?), I answered them below. Get into it!
"Special girl. Real good girl. Rents a Jeep for the weekend to drive to La Jolla. Wants to check out the shops, maybe buy some homemade soaps and alpaca wool socks. Goes alone. Phone on DND for the trip but makes it back in time for her sister's baby shower on Sunday--Looks." - @jst_mani
How do you decide what to write/where do you draw material from?
This depends on what I’m writing. The stories in my books are from finding meaning in almost everything I experience. I believe that everything happens for a reason and that reason is probably hilarious. Some stories start from tiny bits of conversations I’m apart of or overhear. I love black language and women-centered perspectives. So for example, the other day I walked past a car and overheard a black woman start a sentence with “I like how...” I immediately put that down in my notes with what I thought the statement actually meant. Something like, “You don’t really like how, you like that you caught someone being a hypocrite.” e.g. “I LIKE HOW she said she wasn’t going to any more parties this year but when Trey Songz announced he would be at Supper Club, she was there”. My notes and notebooks are full of these observations. That way, when I go to write, I have an idea to start with and I just begin to free write from that topic. I go to some pretty funny and amazing places from just one sentence. Sometimes, by the end of the free write it has nothing to do with the original observation, and that’s okay. I’m still writing. I learned this in school, but the topic would always be provided by the teacher. It’s much more enjoyable when the topic is from standing behind someone in line and listening in on their awkward phone conversation.
I’ve written a couple of children’s books and scripts and though the process is more structured, the ideas come in a similar way. I watch a lot of movies and I hang around people who watch a lot of movies so there is a constant back and forth about what would make a story more interesting, what would happen if everyone were black, and sometimes being inspired with original ideas while watching a movie. I write it all down, immediately.
So I guess my short answer would be that there’s material everywhere. You have to be open to it and write it down. Don’t trust you brain to remember them. Keep a notebook of fresh ideas and you’ll never run out of material.
What does your process look like? (Is it on the computer, writing by hand like Maya Angelou?)
I start with my notes. If I’m writing a short essay or story I will begin to free write. I don’t think very much about the topic because of the length of this particular writing. For a 110 page script though, I usually start with the idea that’s been running through my mind for the past three months. I’ve always written by hand first because there’s so much more energy going through your hands and your body. It’s almost exhilarating feeling like you’re not writing fast enough to make it to the next idea/sentence in your head. I also like this process because when I transfer it over to my computer, I’m now writing a second draft without the dreaded feeling of writing a second draft. I try to leave the house and write because I get distracted at home. Oddly enough, I did a lot of my writing at work this year. I think it’s because I would be at a desk already in work mode.
How do you decide what to edit or what your writing voice is like?
When I edit my own work, I’m usually looking for what to cut out. I have a lot of bad habits like, using the word like and so too much. If there is any part of my story that can be taken out and the story still works, I cut it out. My writing voice is very casual, so when I edit I’m looking for points where I may have gotten too comfortable. There’s a difference between sitting around and telling your best friend a story versus a stranger reading your stories in their mind. I want to remain authentic with my voice, but I don’t want to lose them with a lot of unnecessary information and too much repetition.
I found my writing voice in high school. I would write funny stories in the same way I would tell them to a friend. I noticed how people enjoyed my interpretation of a certain incident more than others. It wasn’t just being funny, it was the way the story was set up. I learned how to not only find humor in everything, but also structure it in a way that guarantees laughter and understanding. My writing voice being so close to my speaking voice is the most important component of MY story telling. Back then, I never thought of it as writing because I thought writing was about being serious and using big words. I know now that writing is just anyway you’re able to make a person feel a thing. You have to decide what’s the best voice possible to get them to feel it. Some people use mythology to get their point across, others use great metaphors.
Overall, your writing voice is the best way to transfer emotions to YOUR audience. You’ll learn that through practice, being honest, and letting people read your work. I watch people read my writing and know if they felt it or not. And I don’t lie to myself about it.
As far as script/screen writing and using voice, I believe you get better by becoming a better listener. Even when people aren’t speaking directly to you.
How do you decide what each of your book of essays is going to be about?
I start with a title. I love great, funny titles. The first book’s title was chosen about 8 years before. I wanted to use “is it going to be boys there?”for something, I just never knew what. I started with the title of the book and brainstormed what it meant to me. What is the theme of this title? After I decided on that I chose stories that fell under that theme. Most of my stories were already written for each book. I did the same with “who all gone be there?”. What is this statement actually saying? What’s the theme? Why do I like it so much? Why does everyone else like it so much? What stories fall under that category or what can I write about that would be on this theme? Through this process I found that I really enjoy connecting and threading ideas.
What do you fear with writing and how do you overcome it?
My biggest fear in writing and in life is that I’m not smart enough. I used to be so focused on how others were able to articulate themselves so eloquently and put semi colons in the correct places, that I wouldn’t call myself a writer out loud. To anyone. Even now, I sometimes get a wave of the impostor syndrome when someone likes my books or congratulates me. I always reply, oh it’s just some stories I put together, it’s not a REAL book. I was trying to expose myself before anyone else could.
I really believe that the purpose of writing these books was to make others relax. The point was not to make money or become a huge success. The point was to show people how easy it can be to do what you’ve always wanted. If someone imperfect in their writing and grammar like me, can hold space, write books and call themselves a writer, you can too. I’m sure that’s the reason you even came to me with questions. Not because I’m the best, but because I’m still doing it in spite of not being the best. My purpose is to help others take the weight off their own shoulders and begin creating. Knowing and believing that this is my purpose, is how I overcome fear. The way to overcome fear is to figure out your purpose and believe it wholeheartedly. Believing is the most important part. Just like no one can tell me I’m not black, no one can tell me I’m not a writer. They are both my truths. They’re facts at this point. I realized that worrying about the imaginary haters and any form of criticism was just holding me back from fulfilling my purpose. So I stopped.