I’m learning that part of being a writer and author is connecting to other writers and authors. When I started the process last year, I immediately found a few Facebook groups for writers because I knew I’d need some support, ideas and general wisdom to help me make decisions throughout the process. I needed to know what I didn’t know. Being relatively new to the process, I have enjoyed peeling the onion, learning something new with each layer, and hoping I can remember what I’ve learned to apply to my future efforts.
Recently, I had the pleasure of connecting with two people who have inspired me and who I hope I have inspired in return. One is a new connection; a newly published author who I see big things happening for in the future. The other has been in my circle for years and someone who I hope will be published someday, once she reconnects with her spark for penning a story.
Finding inspiration through your friends
One of my colleagues, Marc, and I have known each other for most of my teaching career, and I am proud to call him a dear friend. Over the years, we have traded stories about our girls, shared our parental joys and concerns, and enjoyed observing their development from the outside. This year, I finally met his eldest daughter, Nastasha, “in person.” As I was releasing What Ronnie Sue Knew, she was releasing her children’s book called Puffy. It’s a gorgeous hardcover that’s about Kayla, a little Black girl, and her relationship with her hair. I ordered my copy, wanting to support my friend’s kid, and was mesmerized by the beautiful illustrations. Puffy is a simple story honoring what makes Black hair beautiful. Nastasha’s goal is to ignite young girls’ love for their own natural hair.
As Marc and I talked about our respective author paths, I suggested that maybe Nastasha and I should have a powwow. I needed to trade ideas, stories, and meet this person who I have heard so much about from her adoring and proud father. After playing a little “text tag,” we finally scheduled a zoom to meet. When the video went live, I was instantly washed over by awe, adoration, and a kinship that stemmed from my friendship with her dad. A grown woman, a Certified Nurse Anesthetist at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, and an emerging children’s book author – I was quite impressed by the company I kept and was looking forward to a lovely connection.
We each talked about our individual writing journeys, where our inspiration came from and how we trudged through the self-publishing process. Our experiences were quite different, not only because our genres were so different (hers is full of color illustrations, mine is all text with a few black and white photos) but we chose different printing and distribution methods as well. It was good to get a new perspective, for both of us, in case there was ever a new future project to think about. She also had a co-author and publishing partner the whole way.
I asked Nastasha about the illustrations, which were done by Ros Webb, an artist from Ireland. She told me that the image of Kayla on the front of the book is exactly how her dad did her hair when she was young. Of course, this made me appreciate her dad that much more, because I remember how my husband had lovingly learned how to care for our own daughters’ hair, and my eldest had a curly mop that was a force to be reckoned with! On Puffy‘s cover, an angelic visage with huge brown eyes, cheeks of a cherub, over which a huge, curly puff sits, donning a big smiley face. It is the most adorable image and draws the reader in to a story that so many little girls experience. On Nastasha’s Instagram @thepuffystory, videos of little girls unwrapping the book, sitting at story time, beaming with joy over a character that looks like her – it’s enough to make you melt into a puddle on the floor.
Look at that beautiful little girl. Such an angel. You can order this masterpiece at thepuffystory.com. I hope Kayla and her puff have all sorts of future adventures together.
I think of my students, many of whom are black, and for years I have been paying close attention to how they care for their hair. I am often awestruck by the dynamic nature of their hair care routines, and how much an integral part of their lives it is. What I like about this book is that it shows us what is “normal” in the life of a Black girl’s hair. It depicts a “bad hair day” for Kayla, from Puffy’s grumpy perspective, and how Kayla knew exactly what to do to make her puff feel better. We all have “bad hair days,” but the definition of what that means to a person is a matter of individual perspective. A bad hair day for me looks very different than Kayla’s; the needs of our hair are very different.
In 2021, somehow, that difference in perspective still foments cultural sensitivities, creating underlying pressures and perceptions; in the news, you hear of Black women facing discrimination in schools and the workplace because of their hair. The societal strain to be something or someone else persists. Nastasha’s holy grail is to teach young girls to celebrate who they are and what they were born with, so they can focus on thinking about who they want to become and what they want to do when they get bigger. I am proud to know a creative artist who has taken that part of her life and laid it out there, so simply and beautifully. I think someday, I will be able to call her, like her dad, my dear friend.
Couldn’t resist a selfie with my new friend!
Finding inspiration upside down
Tammy is another dear friend, this time from the gym. We have been flipping together for many years and have gotten much closer more recently since we have been coaching together. She was one of the first people to buy my book and demand I sign it in person. Tammy is an extraordinary woman. A “practical yogi,” an intellect, and being in her early 50’s she can perform aerials on the balance beam, complicated combinations on the bars, and do ridiculous things on the trampoline that I can only dream of doing. She does press handstands like it’s a “natural” thing to do. She is quite unlike anyone I have ever known, and I am so thankful for knowing her; I have always looked to her for inspiration, guidance and good counsel over the years.
We recently talked about her on-again-off-again, complicated relationship with writing. She had written a story years ago and wound up shelving it because she hated just about everything about it. I tried to share some of my own pearls of wisdom, to encourage her to think about picking it up again, embrace an extended edit process, and maybe come out with something she liked.
Later that day, she shared with me a blog that she started and abandoned years ago. It is called Searching for Mula Bandha here on WordPress, and her entries talk about random things in her experience and the things she is most passionate about: her personal relationships with veganism, adult gymnastics (we call ourselves “geriatric gymnasts” now) and yoga. She just found a beautiful story she had written about a dog she (well, her husband) once owned and posted it to the blog. Reading through her stories, (especially the one about the dog Gaston and “the Exalted One”) I was captivated – I heard her voice as I read the text and thought how others might enjoy reading her perspective about life. I couldn’t believe she didn’t already have tons of followers, but she had kept her writing quiet and close to the vest.
Now, I am using whatever influence I have to convince her to get back to writing; to rekindle that inspired voice and share it with the world. Baby steps, I think, just like learning new skills on the trampoline. When you’ve convinced yourself that your writing is awful (which it’s not), I imagine it’s hard to regenerate the spark. How does one do that? One word at a time.
As I always put on my gymnastics Facebook posts, #progressisntlinear. Looking at her in the pictures below, you can tell that when she is inspired, she accomplishes greatness. I think with her writing, it’s only a matter of time. Yes, the other person next to her is me, trying desperately to hold a handstand as regally as she can.
Writers are everywhere
I find that as I go about my business, talking to friends and acquaintances about life stuff, I often find myself hearing people tell me about their latent writing projects. Sometimes they tell me how they have a story to tell and just don’t know what to do about it. Every time, I pass along the advice that I have seen and heard so often: just start writing, and keep doing it every day. I tell them to open a Google doc or a fresh pad of paper or whatever their medium of choice is and start performing a brain dump. Whatever occurs to you, no matter how disorganized or “bad” it may seem, just get the ideas out of your head. As long as they are trapped in the neurons of your brain, they will never make a best-seller happen.
The thing is, the main part of the writing process is in the edit. Or should I say, edits. Massive amounts of edits. Some people take years to write a book, and I’ve heard it said that this is not out of the ordinary. Heck, I have a book in my computer that I started in 2016 that I’m still adding to, and it probably won’t come out for many years to come. I have another book in my computer that I can’t publish for years, because well, emotional reasons. Timing is everything. But they are there, ready to be looked at, added to, changed at any time. They are the fodder for what I hope will be a long publishing career – a “second act,” so to speak.
Writers need to write. Maybe they become published authors, maybe they don’t, but everyone has a story to tell. Whatever it is, I say, start getting it out of your head and onto the page. At worst, you’ll have a bunch of creative expressions that came from you that you can go back to whenever you want. Who knows? Maybe that story is a best seller is just dying to emerge. Stories are meant to be shared. The best we can do is honor the deep thinks we have, validate that part of us that is most meaningful, and celebrate the commemoration of the stories we have to tell. We don’t know what will resonate with others, and the least we can do is to write them down before our busy neurons pack them away for good.
What story do you want to tell? Start writing – you might surprise yourself.