My Black Writers — Let’s Stop Telling the Same Stories
We have so much more to say.
I’m black! Not sure if you could tell from my photo, but wanted to point that out. I also wanted to make that clear because if you read the overwhelming majority of my posts, they have nothing to do with race.
Now, I was born in Trinidad and raised in Toronto. I also went to school in Western, New York for four years, during which time I travelled all across North America. I bring these things up because I could easily write a shitload of content around my experiences as a young black man in each environment. But I choose not to.
Those aren’t the stories I want to tell, and I don’t think I should be forced to constantly write about race just because people who look like me continue to be oppressed, marginalized, abused, murdered, imprisoned — I can go on. Are these things horrible? Of course. But is this what I want to write about. Nope!
Instead, I choose to write about other experiences that transcend my race. If you read any of my first two books — Thoughts of a Fractured Soul or Beauty Scars — you’ll notice there’s not one mention of race in either. Can you make certain assumptions? Sure. But I leave those inferences to the reader. My goal is to tell stories that speak to my heart.
Don’t Feel Boxed In
I hate to be critical, but in this context, it’s necessary. Living in Toronto is amazing because I can walk or take a short streetcar ride to the theatre or cinema and catch some amazing plays or movies.
But I’ve noticed that many of my black writers, producers, and directors are telling the same story. All of their stories come from a place of struggle, where black people deal with countless obstacles rooted in their race.
I’m not against writers sharing this perspective, but we have so many more experiences to offer. Not all of our stories involve jail or coming from poverty. Every script doesn’t have to involve a drug dealer, stripper, or someone trying to make it in the music industry. And even if yours does, Find an angle, voice, or some unique aspect that will make your story stand out.
I only use black storytellers as an example to all writers. Don’t feel boxed in by anything, including your personal experiences. Our imagination is what makes us unique. Our ability to use our experiences to fuel our creativity and discover new worlds through our words is what’s exciting.
If you’re struggling to find inspiration, try some of these tips:
- Write a paragraph about something way out of your zone — You need to get comfortable trying new things. Start with a paragraph and see what it looks like on the page. Remember the feeling of fear and embarrassment looking at that paragraph. It’s only through fearlessness that truly inspirational writing is accomplished.
- Challenge voice and structure — Thoughts of a Fractured Soul is written literally in thoughts. The structure is sporadic, chaotic, and meant to mimic the way we think. Other books like Room by Emma Donahue and Crank by Ellen Hopkins are both examples of challenging voice.
- Read books you normally wouldn’t read — I just finished reading a book called Pretty Girls. Is it my “thing?” No. But I learned so much about pace, suspense, and setting that I’ve come out of reading that story a better writer.
- Learn from other storytellers — I recently saw Winter’s Tale performed as a stage play. Talk about storytelling at its finest. You learn a lot about how to progress a story from theatre or cinema.
- Listen to music — The best musicians are great storytellers. Sit back on a Sunday morning and really soak up your favourite artist. You’ll be surprised what you learn that can be incorporated into your writing.
Like I’ve mentioned, I went to the theatre to watch Winter’s Tale just this past weekend. I’m always amazed at how precisely a ballet can tell a story with no words at all, only movements and expressions.
So my challenge is for us writers to push ourselves. People are listening. They’re waiting for something refreshing, something exhilarating or a nuance they’ve never considered. Readers want to be challenged, surprised, pissed off, moved in some way. Let’s give it to them. Let’s not settle for telling and retelling the same stories over and over and over and over…you get it.
Be authentic, yes. But let your imagination roam free. I know there’s more in us guys. Let’s show the world.
Read BEAUTY SCARS here.