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Writing When Nobody’s Listening

Look, I know it’s from 2003. Just play the damned song, listen, then read me. 😉 Cause it’s time to be angry for a moment.

It’s NaNoWriMo, ya’ll…

So, we’re about halfway through November, the month where a lot of would-be writers buckle down, ignore their friends and try, every night, and even every weekend, to try finishing their novels. The novel writing may actually turn into blogging, and then a stream of consciousness that, hopefully, helps someone else out there who struggles the way I do…

Once upon a time, I had a writer friend who was pretty successful at NaNoWriMo-ing… each year, it was another novel.

I, very realistically, did not sit down November 2015 and say ‘this is the month!’

Why? because, over the years, I’ve learned that it’s not about one particular month, or getting into a particular MFA creative writing program, and no, it’s not about getting more damned organized. It’s not about getting more time during the day, or quitting your first job out of college in order to write (check, did that). Pure wanting it was never enough—I’ve wanted it so very badly, like a bad ex-boyfriend, for ten-long-years.

That’s right, I’m coming out—I’ve been writing this novel for ten years, now!

Heheh… the funny thing is, that’s the least embarrassing thing I’ve ever said or done online. *dusts shoulders off*

And If you know why I’m using asterisks at that reference, more power to you. (You can totally nerd-fangirl self-reference your role-playing past as if it was an old episode of the Simpsons. Trust me.)

“So I suppose that it gets to a point where feelings gotta get hurt,
And get dirty with the people spreading the dirt”

So, what’s your problem? Why can’t you finish? Why aren’t the characters working? Why is nobody reading? 

Shut up and get it done.

But, it’s not that… it’s just so sad. Every time I sit down and try to do it…

Shut up. Do it. Write your character a different way.

But, then, that thing she says… it’s so stupid. No one says, “I feel sad.” I didn’t really feel that line, you know? Ugh, I’m so awful at this…

What part of writing it a different way didn’t you understand?

But it never works when I do it. And look at J.K. Rowling, look at that guy who wrote Game of Thrones, I get so jealous, it hurts so much when it feels like nobody understands and nobody’s listening… I can’t even read that, I can’t even watch this…

Focus on yourself. Keep writing, keep asking for help, keep studying, keep writing it.

Now I have writer’s block… And you know, none of those really famous authors are Black fantasy fiction writers like me. Sure there are other Black fantasy writers, but still… Nobody writes like me. Obsessed with nature and religion and talking animals and all that, determined to make protagonistas who speak Spanish in this fantasy world, have women of color leading the charge, the plot, have bisexual and lesbian characters dominating the scene, right there beside the straight girls, the mad girls, the horny girls, the and the powerful brujas, the ferocious old women… And pushing your brain, going to museums, researching and sketching, anything to imagine, accurately what your special fantasy world must be like, and what animals would really have to be like, if they ever spoke… What’s the point? Who would even care?

Damn. That is a pretty high writer’s block wall. How do you get over that?

Sometimes, I don’t. I’m terrified that one day, I’ll say that I can’t. Or worse, that at the end of my life, I’ll admit that I never could.

I’m sorry, sweetheart. Is someone slinging dirt at you? Is it the ones who say you have to write exactly, precisely like J.K. Rowling to be any good? Could it be the pressure Disney is putting on you to make your Black protagonist be a frog for the entire movie so no one can see her brown face? Or that she can’t be homosexual, speak Spanish, Vietnamese or be pissed the hell-off, or talk like she grew up on the streets of DC? Is it all the foolishness going on today, the suffocating discrimination, the violence, the horrific oppression that women, that people of color are still facing today? Is it the long road ahead of us all that is making you give up?

Sling that mother-fucking dirt back. Finish your goddamned novel. As angry as you are, I’d keep at it even if it took me ten times ten times ten times ten years.

Turn that Linkin Park up.

“Tried to give you warning but everyone ignores me,
Told you everything loud and clear,
But nobody’s listening.”

No, you’re NOT done. Don’t close the station. You need more music. More, louder.

“Called to you so clearly but you don’t want to hear me,
Told you everything loud and clear,
But nobody’s listening.”

I understand them. A lot of people like rock, like rap music because it speaks to something deep inside that is ostracized, that is frustrated.

Yes, Lord knows I have a heart full of pain. I have a head full of stress…

“Handful of anger, held in my chest,
And everything left’s a waste of time,
I hate my rhymes, but hate everyone else’s more.”

You hate what you’re writing. Okay, so, over the years I have learned something about what it does take in order to finish a novel. This is all like running track or playing any other sport. Your body needs to feel safe and strong. Your head needs to be able to quit the exhaustion and the pressure coming from outside of you. And every time you sit down to write, you need to hone in, pace yourself and give it your best with each phrase. But how do you give it your best in each sentence? Okay, so… do you play the violin? Have you ever played the piano at a recital? Each note should hit, but first you have to practice hitting all your notes, right? Then, you just polish off your performance… Finally, of course, you need to keep going until it’s done. Some days it’s as much running as it is the pain in your legs when you take every step. So, it will be as much writing as it is frustration and hesitation. But you do it anyway until you cross the finish line. Then, most of all, most importantly of all—

Your ass. Needs to. Write.

“I’m riding on the back of this pressure,
Guessing that it’s better I can’t keep myself together,
Because all of this stress gave me something to write on,
The pain gave me something I could set my sights on.”

You write at eleven o’clock at night in the middle of the week when you’re tired after working.

You write first thing in the morning, before the sun gets up and you’re supposed to be dreaming.

You re-write that chapter, you re-work that character. When you get scared you’ve gone too far telling it like it is from a completely other cultural lens, read “Habibi” by Craig Thompson when you get stuck on it. And if you have to stop again, because you’re suddenly freaked out there is no White male lead character in your first novel, you read Sherman Alexie’s “Indian Killer” when you get stuck on it. When you want to be honest about your kick-ass lesbian Amazon society that takes up half the book, watch as many episodes of (yes, it was hinted at) Xena: Warrior Princess and re-read as much of Russel Whitfield’s “Gladiatrix,” “Roma Victrix” and “Imperatrix” for however long it takes. You might even breathe with relief that some of these authors are White men, so there is definitely already some room and support for you and what you want to do. Be grateful times have changed at least that much…

Then you find your old fanfiction, still online somewhere, and you read that. Or, you read the parts of your novel that you did share, that people did like, any of the sentences you loved. You read yourself.

“Never forget the blood sweat and tears
The uphill struggle over years the fear and
Trash talking and the people it was to
And the people that started it just like you.”

Now if you had no talent… if you’d tried it and everyone said you might want to just, like chill out, find some other calling… if you never got that first Mary Sue character off the ground, didn’t have fans who asked you if they could write a fanfiction of your fanfiction, or confessed that they got suspended for reading your stories during class… compared their love for your stories to being a coke-fiend who couldn’t stop reading and begged you to keep writing, if you hadn’t got a marriage proposal mid-series… then maybe it would make sense for you to back off.

But you are good. You need to not put yourself down about the one bad line you wrote, the handful of characters that need restructuring. That’s just technical shit. You can learn, improve, do this…

All of you know that you are damned good to care this much that you’d give it an entire month. Maybe you’re lost under the weight of how much it takes to keep going now that this is your first novel, or a novel now and not just a fanfiction online for everyone to read and love; instant-gratification. So, you will not back off. Don’t you ever stop. I don’t care how many bad ex-boyfriends you rack up, or if it never makes you any money, or if you never get to make friends with a real elephant, tiger or horse in your life, or if you, confident and satisfied, decide to self-publish your paperback novel so you can put it on your bookshelf, at least… and let just giving it to yourself, to the world, be the best decision you ever made.

Don’t you dare stop.

Because this is bigger than Disney. You are doing this for a better reason than some of those new movies, novels, and television shows out there that still fail to have not one well-written Black or woman character in a fantasy universe, or are sexist, or worse, are afraid to let the poor girl go all the way and be a feminist, and make you feel like you are locked out of the very entertainment industry that is trying get your money.

Paint a hot pink heart on your palm like Jem did (in the good movie that it was), press that on your laptop screen if you have to, so that you never forget.

There’s a lot more to life than what they’re giving you.

Because it is about what you let grow inside, even when nobody’s listening.

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About the Author

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I've always wanted a place to share my weird, wild, nature-loving, talking animal, multicultural and multilingual fantasy fiction stories online. I also have a fashion blog!

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