There are still days when the music stops. No matter how much you did, have done, or are about to do, there are still days when your well runs dry. You worry what’s next. You claw at the corners and beg them to bring you inspiration. You swing your feet at the edge of the cliff and shake your fists to the sky. It matters not how hard you’ve worked, how many hurdles you’ve jumped, or how many brick walls you’ve broken with your bare hands. There are still days when the music stops.
It seems as though those days never quite go away. Or, maybe they do and I simply have not taken enough breaths in this life to know it just yet. But, for me, those days do not end. Maybe they subside. Maybe they hibernate. Maybe they shrink from a roar to a whisper. But, there are still days that leave me feeling small and inconsequential, sunken and incomplete. There are still days when I cry for some sort of sign that I am on the right path, only to be met with a deafening whir of white noise.
I used to hate those days. And, perhaps I shouldn’t write that in past tense because I still do. I still hate those days. They leave me feeling dazed and confused, empty and inadequate. Those days leave me rolling my eyes at hashtags and sucking my teeth at Twitter chats. Those are the days that send me a shiny invitation for a coffee date with my stunning self critic. She sits cockily on the other side of the table. She tells me I am foolish and takes a sip of her drink. She tells me I should suck it up and settle for the life I have. She tells me I want too much. I expect too much. She narrows her eyes and asks me, “Who are you to have the audacity to want such an extraordinary life?” She sips. I sip. We drink until there’s nothing left.
Last week I had one of those days when the music stopped. 6:06 p.m. One of my last hourlong bus rides before moving for an easier commute. A dreary sky for the greater balance of the day. A day when nostalgia made a home in my heart and nested there for the afternoon. A hollow pit where bursts of creativity lived only a few weeks prior. A clear inbox. No one asking me what size paintings they should bring to the showcase or how long their set could be. A buzz of elevator music humming inside my little effervescent heart, the same place where a soundtrack of inspiration played days before. Yes, last week I had one of those days when the music stopped. Last week I had one of those days when I wondered what on God’s green and gritty earth I’m doing with my life.
But, I still had these words. I still had all these things and all these thoughts–spilling ferociously from my heart and pleading for a page to call home. Because, somehow, even when the music stops, my love for the craft keeps dancing to its unbreakable two step. When the music stops, I learn to savor the quiet and soak up the rest. When the music stops, I’m reminded that the passion does not. The fervor does not. The rush from conceiving new ideas and bearing witness as they come to life does not ever leave my veins.
On the days when I wonder what I’m doing with my life, that life tells me to turn on Norah Jones’ “Sunrise.” That life tells me to pour a glass of wine. That life tells me to keep walking down this jagged and narrow sidewalk with my heart open and my head to the sky. On the days when I wonder what I’m doing with my life, that life has already offered the answer by way of the fire that flows through my fingertips.
So, when the music stops, I rise to the challenge of writing a new song.
It’s happened a lot as of late. I’ll read the title of someone’s latest blog post and my eyebrow will raise. This little part of me will suggest that I do not click the link knowing that what I’m about to read is only going to confirm my suspicion. But, I always click. I’m a byproduct of my millennial generation, so I am greedy for click bait and insatiable in the worst ways. Then I begin reading the post and the paragraphs sound oddly familiar. The rhythm of the sentences seems oddly familiar. How the words dance and play with one another seems oddly familiar. The tone. The alliteration. The style. The voice. All far too oddly familiar.
Maybe this is an open letter of sorts. Or maybe it’s a rant. Maybe it’s part plea and part petty. But if there’s anything I’m sure of, it’s that this sentiment is real and it’s begging to get off of my chest. It’s been gnawing away at me and filling my insides with nothing but nastiness. These are feelings I’ve voiced to friends who have convinced me I should not email to the suspected offenders. They’ve told me I should steer clear of calling people out or breathing fire. So instead I’m turning to my own blog, a place both personal and wildly public. A platform I trust. A space where I can express freely. A place I know people visit. And a post I know people will read and wonder about.
“What has been will be again. What has been done will be done again. There is nothing new under the sun.” That’s Ecclesiastes 1:9, and though I hardly ever quote Bible verses here, it’s fitting. It’s the perfect counter argument to my scrunched up face and my raised brows when it comes to reading work that I feel is a direct imitation of my own. Perhaps it’s self-righteous and off base to believe I’m creating anything new or original or fresh. But, for all intents and purposes, and for all of the unrest stirred up inside of me when it comes to this topic, I will own being self-righteous and off base.
The writer in me understands that very thin line between inspiration and imitation. I love reading work that’s inspired. Inspired work is beautiful. Colorful. Full. Inspired work is derived from all sorts of experiences. The smallest details. The tiny things. Inspired work pulls from a plethora of sources, and every source informs what the writer creates. Inspired work collects all of the minutiae and turns it into something grand. I’m moved even more when I read work that feels inspired by my own journey. It tugs at my heartstrings to know something I shared ignited something else within another writer.
I am not moved, however, when I read work that feels like an apparent knock off of my own. Imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery. Imitation is flat. Obvious. Cheap. It’s taking entire paragraphs and changing a few words without bothering to infuse a new voice. It’s forgetting that writing is not just words, but it is rhythm. It is beat. It is flow. It is style and it is flair. Writing is about one person taking all of their mess and idiosyncrasies and spilling them madly onto a page. However, imitation is like putting on your mother’s shoes as a little girl, when they are six times too big, but walking around like you own the place anyway.
And maybe the kicker is the insult to my intelligence. To my craft. To the unbridled amount of energy I put into spending time with myself and my work to create meaningful art. There are seven times each month when I hold myself accountable for crafting something original for public consumption. One blog post each week. Two newsletter notes every other week. A snail mail letter once a month. Seven times a month when I open myself up to whatever inspires me, let it marinate, digest it, make sense of it, quiet the noise, prove writers block wrong, sit down to write, reread, revise, and publish. Seven times. Seven times when I put something new and personal and vulnerable out into the cosmos. Seven times when I challenge myself to stay authentic, but somehow remain universal. Seven times when I distribute something that I hope speaks to someone else’s plight or happiness or hell or sheer wonder.
Seven times a month. That means 84 times this year.
So, it’s strange and downright sad to me that anyone would think I do not know the sound of my writing voice like the back of my own hand. Its rhythm. Its beat. Its evolution. The words that have been cemented forever in my book. It’s hurtful that anyone would assume I’m not acute, aware, or observant enough to recognize a knock off. And it’s completely foolish to think I wouldn’t get fed up enough to at least write about it.
I’ve always said I am a writer first and a blogger second. Blogging is the science, but writing is the art. And it took hell and high water to get here, to this point, where I believe in the resounding power of my writing and have worked for hours to refine it. So, maybe that’s my plea. Maybe that’s my ask. That we all take the hell and the high water. That we each spend the time to hear the sounds of our own voices instead of singing the tunes we studied so gingerly from others. Maybe we should each put in the work and do the heavy lifting to figure out what we want to sound like. Who we want to be. How we want to write. Maybe we should save up for the real thing instead of shamelessly buying the knock off.
I keep waiting for the spark to strike. For the first time since I started producing “See. Speak. Feel.” two years ago, my energy for the show has flatlined. I’m going through the motions. Proofing content for the program. Emailing people with reminders and details. Thanking sponsors. But, it’s as though the fire has faded. I keep squinting my eyes and peering intently to find my “why” in all of this.
These words do not just feel like facts or statements; they feel like a confession. They feel like this thing I should only say in hushed tones or to close friends. Because “See. Speak. Feel.” is my offspring. It’s this very public thing that I’m tied to. And, I’m not simply responsible for pulling it off. I’m supposed to light the fire for everyone else in the show to feel. True to my purpose, I am supposed to embody the spark. It seems foolish, selfish, and short-sighted to confess that right now I just can’t find my flame. But, for the first time, I’ve wondered what the future of this show will look like. How will I truly grow it and elevate the vision? What am I doing that is so different from the next woman with only a few dollars and way too many dreams?
See, that’s what happens. The stakes get higher. The standards raise. And, the pat on the back you once gave yourself for simply pushing something over the goal line is no longer enough. Sweet as it is, success is also maddening and insatiable.
So, yes, I keep waiting for the spark to strike. I know it’s there. I know that my “why” is buried somewhere underneath the calories I’ve burned pushing this boulder uphill. I also know that it’s counterproductive to lug around ten bricks of guilt simply because I do not feel inspired or charged or awakened yet by this show. And I am learning that part of being creative means making peace with the uninspired place. Part of being creative means giving yourself license and freedom sometimes not to create. Not to inspire. Not to ignite. Part of being creative means freeing up enough mental and emotional space for the inspiration to reach you. Inspiration struggles to strike a cluttered mind or a chaotic heart.
These are the things we do not always tell you. And, by we, I mean this anonymous glob of writers and entrepreneurs and artists. As much as we craft narratives from our mistakes and humanity, we shy away from bringing you into our doubtful and dim places live and direct. We tell stories in past tense and own up to our blunders in retrospect. And, there is something special to be said for those stories. But, we aren’t supposed to tell you about the mental mud and mess behind the things you see us building in real-time. Someone somewhere would tell me that’s bad branding.
However, here I am. Mud and mess. Less than a month to the biggest and most important event I produce every year without my spark and waiting pretty impatiently for it to show up. But, I am going to make peace with this uninspired place. I am dropping off my ten bricks of guilt on the side of the road. Because if the spark doesn’t appear, I know where to find sticks and where to buy matches. I know that the most important part of being creative is learning how to start your own fire.
The Internet is hungry for a home-cooked meal. In an online world of bite-sized snacks and Buzzfeed listicles, true storytelling and authenticity are becoming extinct. After originally drafting a list of 50 blogs, similar to what I did this past year, I decided to take a minute and focus on women who are writing their hearts out. I wanted to give it up to 22 women who still believe in writing that comes from the bottom of the heart and stories that sucker punch your soul. When you’re looking for inspiration, introspection and downright conviction in the year ahead, here are my go-to girls.
It’s no secret that Erica and I have been joined at the pen since we met in late 2013. Since then, we have both grown as writers and women in ways I don’t think we ever expected. Every time I think about Erica, I don’t know how she does it all, and does it all so well. A mother. A partner. A writer. An editor. And an incredible friend. Her gift is rare and her writing is raw. It leaves you shaking your hands and stomping your feet.
An Erica favorite:“I had to do it. Write it. Speak it. But there is inconspicuous bruising. I noticed sometimes spilling the authenticity of your reality leaves stains that take time to go away, if ever. You’ll always be remembered for this.” –I Remember You Was Conflicted: On Six Years of Blogging
There is a revolution brewing inside Roconia Price. On Jan. 1, 2015, I had no idea who she was. Today she is a woman whose voice, both written and verbal, is a source I turn to anytime I crave wisdom, wit, and an unsweetened dose of reality. From her blog posts to our Friday lunches, Roconia’s presence has changed my life and sparked my (r)evolution.
Visiting All The Many Layers always feels like coming home. GG has a way with words for women. Her work affirms us and reminds us that we are absolutely not in this jungle of a world alone. After meeting GG at my first “See. Speak. Feel.” showcase, she became someone I never hesitated to spill and share with. I love her gentle yet unbaked take on what it means to live life on your own creative terms.
A GG favorite: “Don’t think about the writing. Write. This is also true for life. Don’t overthink it. Live. Learn as you go. Shape as you go. Create as you go. Do it naturally. Do it without fear.” –Remembering Who You Are And What You Want
Unapologetic. Bold. Making her way through the wilderness. Yetti’s blog is a one-stop shop for all things related to the many facets of growing up as a young woman. This year Yetti hosted the Back 2 Basics series focused on increasing mental health awareness and providing women with useful techniques to create and sustain positive energy in their lives. She closed the year with the 2015 Black Weblog Award win for Best Personal Blog. Both the series and the win, combined with Yetti’s indomitable strength, will all serve as engines for her success in 2016.
A Yetti favorite:“That piece of me, is mine. I own it. I’m so very selfish with it. And I’m sorry, well no, I’m not really, but that story is simply just not for sale.” –That Story Is Not For Sale
There’s something about Kiah that I want to get to know. Any woman who uses the phrase “Journal” instead of “Blog” as a tab on her website knows a thing or two about this world of writing. I can’t quite remember when I started reading Kiah’s work, but she got on my radar heavily this year after joining the xoNecole team as the managing director. From interviews with yogis to lyrical blog posts, her writing is versatile and resonant. I can’t wait to watch her journey unfold.
Shefon has the kind of gentleness and mystery I venture to guess brings men to their knees. But, it also keeps women like me gravitating toward her work and her words. She is unafraid to evolve. She doesn’t shy away from the many dimensions of her life. I had the pleasure of meeting her earlier this year as one of my co-panelists at Blogger Week, and we later reunited in November at When Pens Collide. Her voice and her vulnerability will have you hooked, moth to a flame.
Ashley is a woman on a mission. It never ceases to amaze me how much she juggles and the many ways in which she continues to expand WriteLaughDream. From her Dear Love brunches to The Writer’s Muse workshops, there is something for everyone in the spaces, both on and offline, that Ashley creates. Beyond that, she is a beautiful spirit dedicated to connecting women and helping them reach their next level.
An Ashley favorite: “Believe me. I am simply working to eventually have a life that’s not dictated by the needs of my boss.” –You Deserve It
Alida Nugent has always been high on my list of writer crushes. Just a few years ago, she seemed like this far away Internet entity whose work made me laugh and cry, all in one sitting. Now her number is saved in my phone, all while I still admire her journey from afar. With the release of her second book, “You Don’t Have to Like Me: Essays on Growing Up, Speaking Out and Finding Feminism“, Alida once again reminded me why a girl who likes her whiskey, words and wit is a woman after my own heart.
An Alida favorite:“Things will go wrong. Things will not turn out the way I want them to. I will fail. I will have to rewrite. I will run out of resources. I will run out of spirit. Sometimes, people will just not love you, or believe in you, or like you, or need you. Sometimes they will and you won’t. It feels like a wave and I cannot swim well.” –The Harder Things I’ve Learned
There are bloggers you respect and bloggers you look up to. Hannah Brencher is definitely both for me. Rooted in faith, love, and the never-ending lessons that accompany growing up and letting go, Hannah’s work is that chicken soup for the soul. She reminds us that it is more than possible to develop a career through sharing your authentic self with the world.
A Hannah favorite: “A blog will show you who you are and who you are not. Who you hope to be and who you hope to bury in the next 5 years.” –When A Blog Turns 5
Tassika, more affectionately known as Tass, is a woman unflinchingly honest about her journey. When you visit tassika.com, you immediately get this sense of where Tass has been, where she is, and where she is going. As the mastermind behind When Pens Collide, a first-of-its kind event that connected writers in an intimate and unplugged setting, I know Tass has so much more to offer the world in the year ahead.
A Tassika favorite:“You don’t predict an evolution, you witness it.” www.Tassika.com homepage
What can’t Jamé Jackson do? That’s the million dollar question. She is a writer, artist, photographer, actress, and the list goes on. But, on The Blonde Misfit, Jamé captures what it means to sometimes be an outlier in a world that too often rewards conformity. I look forward to watching this blossoming HU grad continue to hone her craft and share her voice.
A Jamé favorite: “College will not teach you how to get over your first big-girl heartbreak. No honey, nothing but time and wine do that.” That Love That Got Away
Simone understands the number one rule of writing: the best writing is like really good foreplay. Reading posts on Tea With Sally gives you just enough to get you going, pique your interest and leave you wanting more. I was first introduced to the blog earlier this year when I reached out to a few ladies in my blogging tribe and asked for recommendations for this year-end list. I haven’t stopped reading since.
A Simone favorite:
i wrote you letters that spelled out the DNA of each tear i shed for love, unrequited.
the way you held my waist at 2:53am
how you turned over and placed your nose behind my ear
In the same way a tapestry displays two sets of interlaced threads, Tamika’s blog is an intersection of her many dimensions. The Californian surviving life in NYC. The proud Afro-Latina. The woman sure of her journey, and yet still finding her way. Tamika is hands down one of the most loyal members of my NYC tribe—I can’t think of one NY event I’ve ever attended or hosted where she hasn’t been present. Can’t wait to see more of her and her work in 2016.
A Tamika favorite: “I just have to get the words out of my head and if people are drawn to them, can relate to them, or learn something from them, it’s a bonus.” –Standing On My Own
Writer. Photographer. Visual artist. Stacy not only takes on these identities, but she is a prodigy when it comes to each of them. When you visit her eponymous portfolio site featuring written and visual work, be prepared to get lost in the magic for hours. Fresh off the heels of her Beige, Brown, Black, Blacker art showcase, I know that Stacy will continue to wow the world in the year ahead.
A Stacy favorite: I hate that I can’t remember. That I’m a novice. Inexperienced, to say the least. I’ve been patient–I have no choice–but sooner rather than later, I want to truly experience that four letter word and all the stuff that comes with it. –It Took 25 Days to Discover a #QuarterPieceofMe
I knew I liked Tea the minute she stood up at the She Who Believes vision board party back in September and fired off a comment about some guy who catcalled at her before the event. On Tea & Whiskey, she chronicles her coming-of-age story. From overcoming stage fright to letting go of toxic friendships, Tea has just scratched the surface of what her voice will mean to the Internet at large.
A Tea favorite: But the important message here is that I did it. I took the first step, got on stage, and did it. It can’t get better if you never try. –Overcoming My Stage Fright
Wise beyond her years and powerful beyond measure. Those are the first two phrases that come to mind when I think of Sheryl. We have had a creative bond for awhile now, and my love of Sheryl’s writing received a new jolt after she penned her Dreamer essay for the Dimensions of Black Womanhood series. Sheryl’s writing, both on her blog and in her spoken word performances, convicts you in a beautiful and lasting way.
A Sheryl favorite: I have been trying to get down to the heart of the matter, the only things that will actually matter to you. And all I’m really coming up with is God, love, and words. –Letter to My 80 Year Old Self
You have to meet her. To understand the full extent of the magic and madness that is Noëlle, you have to spend an afternoon with her, talking about men while sipping way too much wine. That’s what I did a few weeks ago, and it’s why I fell back in love with Twenty Something N Counting. In her writing, Noëlle fuses fact with fiction and sarcasm with storytelling, all while remaining in command of her wit and sensuality.
A Noëlle favorite:Along with my reality check, where my student loan debt served as the gratuity that nobody ordered, came a doggy bag filled with post grad style depression. –New Career, Who Dis?
Long before I ever thought about blogging or even knew what a personal blog was, a woman named Robyn was leaving her unique stamp of wry wit and burgeoning womanhood on the Internet. Not many people can write about men or dating in a way that truly resonates with me, but Robyn is absolutely the exception to that. There is a natural bravado and sense of self that underscores her work, while never overpowering her vulnerability.
A Robyn favorite: “I am not driven to men by a desire for companionship. I am driven by a desire for interesting experiences, which can manifest in sexual relationships, friendships or on the rare occasion–partnerships.” –The Virgin Chronicles
Show, don’t tell. It’s one of the 10 Commandments of Writing, and La has mastered it. The second you start reading one of her posts, you are right there in the room. Smack dab in the center of the sheets. Wherever she is, you’re there too. I’ve been in love with Liquor, Loans and Love for quite some time, and I reunited with it this year after coming up for air from some projects. Long story short, girl can write.
A La favorite: “His mouth feels like fire and his hands feel like home.” –Hunger
Confession: at first, I couldn’t make sense of Sheriden. Instead, I clutched my invisible pearls and shut the Macbook. But, I returned to her work a few months later because the more you write, the more you realize that good writing is topic-agnostic. Sheriden writes the kind of things I’m afraid to even scribe in my journal. But, beyond that, there is a softness and vulnerability to her work. I can’t wait to read more from this dynamo.
Her last name changed this year, but her writing remained as gut-punching as ever. Liz wrote me a two-page handwritten letter back in the spring, and she has held a special place in my heart ever since. From Ravishly to Elite Daily, and everywhere in between, Liz’s voice has become a table stake in the online world of gritty and unvarnished millennial writing. She never hesitates to take on any topic and write about it eloquently.
A Liz favorite: “I’ve learned my limits, with drinking and sex, and I know too well that showing off your body will bring out the worst in some men.” –Was It Rape?
Cleveland. A new cat. A boyfriend with super cool specs. And stories for days. Kate spins the details of her life so that anything from a break up with a POPSUGAR Must Have Box to a selfie with the secret service becomes hilarious and heartwarming. Sometimes personal bloggers can suffer from an overdose of self-importance and share too much. But Kate’s blog is so well-written that she reminds us any experience is fodder for a good story.
Author’s Note: Today is my last post until Wednesday, Sept. 9. After an amazing and intense summer of publishing and promoting my first book, I’m taking a breather to regroup for autumn and move into a new place that will be complete with a HOME OFFICE. Yassss. Plus, you know when I go away, I always come back with surprises and announcements. Get ready for another amazing season together. Until then, xoxo and enjoy the last unofficial days of your summer.
I write for the woman whose heart is inked by lovers past and whose lips are stained from red wine. The woman who feels every emotion in some deep burgundy. Or blinding sapphire. Or neon pink. I write for the woman who does not ever teeter in the middle, but gallops across the bridge with gusto and gall.
I write for the woman who ran out of fucks to give because she traded them in for one shot at the chance to let her true self blast from that bubble at the bottom of her soul.
I write for the woman who knows he still has one fragment of her heart, that jagged and distorted fragment of her heart. I write for the woman who sometimes stares into a pit of nostalgia and wonders what happened or what’s next. I write for the woman whose longing for love swallows her whole, but whose hope keeps her alive. I write for the woman who is not easy to love because she is a burst of fractured and blinding light. I write for the woman whose embers burn the kind of men only accustomed to fighting someone’s fire and saving someone’s day.
I write for the woman who is a web of complexities and a pile of contradictions.
I write for the woman who lives out loud, but works in silence. The woman whose dreams have the power to shake the ground, move mountains and split the Earth at its seams. I write for the woman who revolts, rebels and rages against the machine.
I write for the woman who chooses a Barnes and Noble gift card over a Mac one. The woman whose feet have gone without a pedicure all summer. The woman with a pile of clothes that still need to go to the dry cleaner. I write for the woman who gets lost in the stationery aisle and spends too much money on notebooks and pens. I write for the woman who is madly, deeply and drunkenly in love with creativity.
I write for the woman who owns her shit. I write for the woman who faces her demons head on and peels back the scabs so she can see the true scars. I write for the woman who came undone and knew she would never walk away unscathed. I write for the woman who cried at 1:45 a.m. in the middle of the floor and shouted to a God she didn’t know she could believe in. I write for the woman who built a shrine from her broken bits and made that place her home.
I write for the woman whose greatest currency is her mind. Her spirit. That fractured light. I write for the woman who doesn’t care if her eyebrows are on fleek or her face is beat. I write for the woman who doesn’t want to be seen, but begs to be heard.
I write for the woman who is a force to be reckoned with. I write for the woman who has let the story inside of her escape so that it can set the world ablaze. I write for the woman who sometimes dreams so immensely and intensely that it scares her. The woman who draws people in with that certain je ne sais quoi. I write for the woman whose energy sends rays through a room without her ever saying a word.
I write for the woman strapped with words and armed with metaphors. I write for the woman who knows anything she says could build people up or blow them away.
See, I don’t care if the woman is a single mother in south Bronx or a starving artist in South Carolina. I don’t care if her mother is white and her daddy is black. So, when you ask me who my target audience is, I will tell you I write for the woman who challenges convention and builds the world with her own two hands. The woman who loved, lost and tried again. The woman who is a warrior on behalf of her dreams. The woman who laughs that loud laugh and cries that ugly cry. The woman who craves authenticity in a world that eats facades. The woman who is finishing this read with a heart inked by lovers past and lips stained from red wine.