Category Archives: reader questions

Reader Question: There Aren’t Any Definitive Starting Points

September 30, 2014

“…Like yourself and all other people who possess a natural talent and gift, the fear of how other people will receive that gift holds me back, unfortunately. Erykah said it best- ‘keep in mind that I’m an artist and I’m sensitive about my shit. I have never shared my writing with anyone aside from my best friends (and you) and even they have only read one or two things that I produced…maybe you could provide me with some sort of insight or advice on where I should start since you’ve been in this writing game for a while.” –Tamara

I would love to tell you that there is a definitive starting point. I would love to tell you do not pass go, do not collect $200 dollars and start at some neatly carved-out square with your name beautifully written on it. I wish it were that easy. But, there are not any definitive starting points. There is not anything clear or clean cut about entering the writing world. There is not a rule book. There is not a manual. It’s you in the middle of a desolate field, shouting into the void and only hearing your own echoes. It’s you in the center of bumblefuck, without any guide or compass. Bumblefuck is where you start.

Sure, you can ask others, the same way you asked me. You can ask them how they got started. In fact, you should ask them how they got started. I’ve found that people who want to dive into the writing world ask questions. They’re voracious for knowledge and stories and dos and donts. I’m still the same way. I always want to ask before I make a move. Always want to look left, right, forward and backward before I leap. I always want someone to affirm that I’m not about to screw everything up. But, I have found the only person who can ever truly affirm that is me. My gut. My intuition. The voice in my head left humming after everyone else has said their piece.

The voice in your head that’s humming–that is where you start.

I could tell you to start a blog because that’s how I started. But, I would also have to tell you that blogs are very public beasts and every day I struggle with whether or not the term “personal blog” is an oxymoron. That public element is the only reason anyone outside of my mom cares about what I write. But, that public element is also why total strangers think they know everything about me. Blogs are you putting your shit on full display. Blogs are your dirty laundry hanging on a clothesline for the entire neighborhood to see.

But, as an artist who is sensitive about your shit, blogs are also a way to connect with other artists…who are sensitive about their shit. Blogs are you saying the things that others think and may be afraid to say aloud. Blogs are you being brave, audacious, forthright, candid, honest, authentic. Blogs are you committing to your art and having an audience hold you accountable to that commitment.

That commitment is where you start.

Bumblefuck, the voice in your head and a sense of commitment. Those are your not-so-definitive starting points. You don’t get a neat starting point. Just start. A starting point is something you only understand in retrospect, a light beam of a moment you remember as you’re speeding down the highway of your career and reminiscing about who you were before you zoomed away.

And, to address the first part of your question in the last part of my response…

I’m currently working on a poem I’m set to perform in two weeks called “World Under Fire.” It’s a political and personal piece. It’s autobiographical. It’s dense and intense. Last night I was reciting it and afterward I said aloud, “Man, I really hope people get this poem.” That fear about the reception of our art doesn’t go away. But, how people will receive your gift does not eliminate the fact that you, indeed, have the gift. If you want me to get all biblical on you, I would say to whom much is given, much is required. Artists bear the responsibility of sharing the work the world needs to see, hear and feel in order to survive. We keep the pulse of the world going when it’s dying, when it’s flat-lining, when there is not anything but seeping piles of shit every time we turn on CNN. We are not the brains of the operation; we are the heart.

Some people won’t get your art. Some people won’t like it. Some people are idiots and some people are cynics. But, gifts are not for all people to “get” or like. The recipe for your art is not for everyone’s palate. The fear is natural; the choice to let it hold you back, however, is limiting. You have it. Share it. Distribute it. Display it. Believe in it. Reveal it. Unveil it. Showcase it. Fight for it. Live loudly. Live boldly. Live unapologetically. Live with brass balls and a bursting heart. That is why you have the gift. Use it.

Xoxo,
Tyece

Reader Question: Writing While Uninspired

August 15, 2014

Question: What I’d like to know from you, Tyece, is how you stay inspired while staying consistent. Of late I’ve had to take a personal break from writing for an extended period of time just so I could go out, to live, to actually have something to say. It was either that or just continue in my habit in shutting off the real, physical world to sit at my computer after work each day and try to squeeze out whatever trivial idea that might be sexy enough for a few clicks. I’ve always seen your writing as very different from mine, as yours lies in personal essays and responding to readers, while mine is more based in academic citation of black feminist texts and journalistic writing. So perhaps your habits of time management and work/life balance don’t fully apply to my situation. But I’d love to hear more about how you find the balance between living a fulfilling (and spontaneous) life while still making the time to build your content. How do you tackle the catch 22 of needing to carve out a huge amount of time to create content for your blog while still carving out enough time for other aspects for your life so that you’re still gaining wisdom and happiness? As hard as one may try to avoid it, bullshit can come across in one’s writing if they’re not going about living the life they want to live. (That last line was a critique of my own work, not yours) –Monique

Monique,

As I write this response to you, I am completely, utterly and unquestionably uninspired. Like every other Black American right now, I am having one of “those weeks.” My heart is heavy, my soul is depleted and my mind is drained. I vowed to myself that because I have a weeklong feature series debuting next week, I would not write anything else original for my blog until August 25. But, I am going to write this anyway. Because the very act of my writing this in spite of the aforementioned circumstances will answer your question.

I do not believe consistency and inspiration go hand-in-hand. It’s great when they do, but you arrest yourself as a writer to think you have to be inspired to remain consistent. I am now fortunate enough to incorporate other voices into the blog so that I do not always have to produce work four times a week (although I typically still do). The infusion of those other voices gives me time to break away from the writing while maintaining a blog with fresh content.

I would disagree with you that because our content is different, our time management/work-life balance approach would be different. It’s all writing. Perhaps that’s a reductive way to look at things, but it’s really all writing. It is all producing words that will exist in a public domain. The type of content doesn’t change the fact that it all needs to be relevant, recent and resonant. And, in order for it to be all of those things, consistency has to be at the helm of what we do.

You asked how I maintain a fulfilling and spontaneous life. I will tell you that spontaneous is not a word I would use to describe my life; I’m a routine-driven, schedule-abiding kind of girl. Spontaneity for me means maybe I texted someone that morning to ask if we could hang out that night. It typically doesn’t get more spontaneous than that. For some people, that would drive them nuts. For me, it works and provides me with the space and schedule to create.   A friend of mine once joked that I’ll know when I’ve met “the one” because I will write a blog post early just to go out with that person later. In my life, that would be COMMITMENT. But, I’m still going to write that blog post though.

Whether or not my life is “balanced” right now is questionable. I am intentionally devoting a sizable chunk of my energy to my career. I am well-aware that my social and romantic lives are taking a hit; but those are hits I’m willing to let pieces of my life take right now so that I can get to where the hell I want to be. I have not physically seen my best friend in a month because our weekends just haven’t aligned. I haven’t seen my core group of friends since around that same time. However, I have faith that the dust will settle, the frenetic pace of building a brand will slow and I will have space and energy to focus on other areas.

Nonetheless, Monday through Thursday is about my day job and my night writing hustle. Weekends are for myself, friends and family. I usually see my parents every two weeks. My Sundays are entirely for me unless it’s a special occasion. If you want me at a brunch, it will have to happen on a Saturday. I have declined Sundays plans for no other reason than that I planned to spend the entire day alone. Because I find now that I give more and more of myself to others based on my writing. People want to pick my brain, ask me questions, have me edit their work or just contribute my general thoughts to situations. All of that is motherfucking awesome. And, it’s also motherfucking exhausting. So Sundays are a day where my only obligation, for most of the day, is to rest and revel in laziness.

If you are the kind of person who needs inspiration to write, I’d suggest you look at every possible thing as inspiration. Remain open. Observe. Absorb. Consider anything from a tweet to a two-week European vacation as potential inspiration. You also have to decide what words like “balance” and “fulfilling” mean to you.  As I said, balance for me means hopping on the writing machine four days a week and then devoting the weekend to my people and myself. If you want to be social on weeknights, maybe my definition of balance does not translate well in your life and that’s completely fine. These ideas of fulfillment and work/life balance are subjective and fluid; define them for you, not according to what you think they should look like.

Finally, I would say that you do not need to have a grand life to have grand writing. What I mean by that is that your experiences don’t have to be vacations in Bali for them to qualify as experiences. I do believe you have to live some life if you are going to be a damn good writer. But, living some life could mean having a moving conversation with a co-worker at lunch. Living some life could mean lying poolside one afternoon. Living some life could mean getting entrenched in the pages of a book. You do not need to go out to live nor do you need to do so to have something to say. Look at your comment; you have something to say. You penned an entire paragraph and you didn’t need to be out and about to do that. Living some life does not have to be a grand experience. You are alive. In this moment. Right now. To be alive is to be inspired.

As I write this response to you, I am completely, utterly and unquestionably uninspired.

But, I can write it because creating has become a part of my DNA. I don’t know how not to do it. Even my state of being uninspired is somehow inspiration. Let it be in your DNA. Let it be in your blood and your veins and your fingertips. Let creating be such a knee-jerk reaction for you that even when you think you are empty, the page is somehow full.

Xoxo,

Tyece

Reader Question: Authenticity, Audience And Other Things

August 12, 2014

Question: I want to know how you gained your following. How did you promote your blog? I understand it is important to promote on your own blog, but what sort methods did you use to draw in people? How did you make sure you were reaching out to your target audience? How did you deal with not so constructive criticism? In starting, did you find that it was difficult to publish posts on a consistent basis? How did you make your posts visually appealing without worrying about legal issues? What I mean by that last question is how did you find visual aids via Internet or wherever without worrying about getting in trouble for using those images on your site. –Sadi

(Very long) Answer: More and more when I’m asked about the early roots of my blog, I think about the quote from Madame C.J. Walker: “I got my start by giving myself a start.” I find that sometimes people expect a lofty and purpose-driven answer when asking about how I started my blog, but in the interest of full disclosure, my start is something I did not think about until it was in retrospect. I did not set out hoping to set the Internet world on fire. But, now, you can bet your ass I’m trying to set the Internet world on fire.

You’ve asked quite a few questions and I am going to do my best to answer them all in a cohesive and honest way. I’ve divided out my answers based on the top three things you asked about–audience/promotion, branding and consistency.

Audience and Promotion

The short answer to how I gained an audience and following was by being completely and utterly myself. People can smell bullshit on the Internet from 100 miles away. If you are a fraud or a try-hard, those flaws will reveal themselves early and often. I don’t bullshit my readers because my readers are my people; if I am not real with them, there is zero point in doing what I do. There is nothing gimmicky about drawing people in. If the content is well-written and resonates with them, they will read it. And, it has to be both of those things–well-written and affecting. Say something that has not been said or say something that has been said in a completely different way. And, after you say it, go proofread to make sure you said it flawlessly. I say that I am a writer first and a blogger second because the words matter. Of course, I make mistakes, but there is nothing that destroys a blogger’s credibility more than egregious and avoidable errors.

The long answer to how I promoted and gained an audience was Twitter. (I know, that’s such a long answer, right?) When it comes to social media promotion, Twitter is where I devote at least 85% of my time because it is immediate, dynamic and easy. Twitter makes it simple to share people’s work and I am grateful to my Twitter tribe for doing such a wonderful job of sharing mine. For my type of blog (heavy on the writing) and my audience (twenty-somethings), Instagram is too visual and Facebook is a bit too obsolete.

There is not any foolproof way to know you are reaching your target audience. Perhaps I would say when it comes to a target audience, measure success based on quality and not quantity. Of course I am not blind to my numbers, but I am more focused on the women I am lucky enough to engage with every day. I am constantly wowed and humbled by how intelligent, driven, engaged, well-rounded and authentic my readers are. No one does it quite like the Twenties Unscripted tribe.

Branding

I’m going to skip around your question a bit and respond to the piece about images. My blog is not a visual blog. It is not supposed to be a visual blog. I side step all of the legalities surrounding image usage by making sure my blog is about the words first and the visuals second. Many of my posts do not include visuals and when they do, they are usually shots I’ve taken on my iPhone or quotes I’ve highlighted using a free app.

I do not care how wide open the Internet is. If you use images that you do not explicitly own, you run the risk of getting sued and I am way too broke for that shit. If visuals are important to you, invest in a paid stock photo account. Otherwise, shoot your own stuff.

Plus, I just don’t buy the absurdity that people don’t read anymore. I do not buy this whole “an-article-must-be-a-Buzzfeed-listicle-for-people-to-read-it” nonsense. I write entire paragraphs because I still believe that people read entire fucking paragraphs. My blog is not for people who do not want to read in long-form. The end.

Consistency 

I preach about consistency a lot when it comes to blogging. I wrote a whole blog post about it here. When I started, I did not have a hard time publishing on a consistent basis because no one really cared. People weren’t tripping over themselves to read my blog. But, once it picked up a bit and I more or less started writing four times a week, I stuck to that schedule. Decide what consistency means for you and stick to it. Take advantage of the time early on when you have the space and freedom to figure things out, experiment and change your posting schedule. I find people are often anxious to have the whole world watching them; they forget how beautiful it is to have absolutely no one paying attention. That is the time when you will most find your voice and establish your brand.

(And a final note about the hate that you so eloquently referred to as “not so constructive criticism”)

I’ve been fortunate to have an amazing support system, both in my readers and also in my friends and fellow bloggers. Through these people, I have received a lot of constructive criticism–write less about dating/relationships, get a mobile-compatible version of your site, quit writing with a tone of gross self-deprecation. I call each of those examples constructive criticism because of what was said, how it was said and who said it. Always consider the source. What you referred to as not so constructive criticism comes from people who do not want the best for you but instead want to tear down what you are trying to build.

I am learning the best way to deal with not so constructive criticism is to just completely disengage. Do not feed the trolls. Do not throw energy to the haters. Do not even think you need to kill them with kindness. Just disengage. Never, ever give them what they want. Because every bit of energy you give to those things is one less second, minute, hour, day, week or month you get to devote to building your brand and celebrating your success.

Xoxo,

Tyece