I’ve spent almost ten years writing the same novel. Sometimes I ask myself why that’s the case, even though I know full well the reason why. For starters, I had this grandiose vision of what I wanted Love Changes to be, even before I put the first word on paper. I wanted all the sass of a book by Terry McMillan, to be as sexy and risqué as anything by E. Lynn Harris, with all the personality of Sistah Souljah’s The Coldest Winter Ever. I loved, loved, loved fiction by these black authors, and so many others: Marsha Hunt, Gloria Naylor, Omar Tyree, Connie Brisco, Valerie Wilson Wesley. In my head this vision of a story was vivid, seasoned with the essence of every writer I’d ever loved.
I’m an avid book reader. Never a speed reader, I take my time and pore over every syllable. I had a short attention span if the novel wasn’t fast paced, I’d get lost. So I wanted my novel to be a “really good book.” Looking for an example of a “really good book,” I picked up Toni Morrison’s Tar Baby and saw words I didn’t even understand. After attempting to get past the first 50 pages for the umpteenth time, I swore I wasn’t smart enough.
I may have continued to believe that had my Aunty Gail not given me Iyanla Vanzant’sYesterday I Cried. After that something clicked. More than just thinking I could, I believed I could. That one book helped me realize I didn’t need Toni Morrison’s voice, E. Lynn Harris’s, Terry McMillan’s, or Sister Souljah’s, the voice God gave me was good enough. So I got started. And from then on, I only read my bible, books on the craft of writing, business books, and nonfiction for research. I stopped reading fiction until I finished my first draft to make sure the writing was my own.
Almost ten years later the question remains, why so long? But measuring my efforts against the work of a Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, it would’ve taken me forever. As a creative writer, I had to learn to respect my individuality, to find the courage to make mistakes, to not just have a vision of my own, but also set it free. That’s what creativity is all about.
Eartha Watts-Hicks is a freelance writer and editor. Visit www.earthatone.com.
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