A Letter from the Writer
Once upon a wash day, I rediscovered the timbre of my voice.
I’ve heard the adage “write what you know” a billion times—what writer hasn’t? But as a younger artist I found myself filtering my experiences through the lives of people so unlike myself. What I knew didn’t feel important enough, grand enough, so I pushed my own experiences aside in the name of telling bigger stories. And that worked for a while (heck, I love my sweeping 1968 tragedy). But I found myself unchallenged as a human being. Distance meant safety. But I couldn’t hide forever.
In the summer of 2018, freshly out of undergrad and on my way to grad school, I knew I needed to keep my momentum going, even during a season of relative rest. So me and my pal Ravynn decided to embark on a #BlackGirlWritingChallenge. (She’s like my intellectual sister. No, literally. I promise God made our brains from the same batch of cookie dough.) We’d write one short script or short story every single day for a week and give each other daily feedback. I was supposed to be finishing a collection of 10-minute plays, but instead started writing this…thing. It was about a college freshman who struggled with understanding the uniqueness of her Black identity. I loved writing it—it was fun, to say the least.
But I knew something was different when I took a set of feedback really personally. A flaw identified in the character rocked me, offended me, scared me. And to be honest, it made me quit writing for a few days. I realized that I’d taken it so hard because this unnamed script that I was writing was about me. I was frightened and captivated by the idea that something I’d written could have that much power over me. I was delighted by the pain and felt like I’d entered a new creative dimension. What began as a challenge, purely for the sake of discipline became the gateway script for what has been my most vulnerable, truthful, and reflective season of writing.
These little stories began to form themselves into what we’re calling a web series. I’d had the idea of writing something for this medium in the back of my mind for a while, but never felt like I had the right narrative. And here it was, my new little gift: I’d finished it. And so the revising began—pursuing excellence with every changed word, every rewrite. It literally kept me up at night. I was discovering new shades of these characters with every dream and every scribbled note to self.
But in the midst of refining the script, I edited the story into something that no longer felt like me. Sure, it was good and interesting. It read the way a web series was “supposed” to read. But was it honest? I’d stifled myself, backed myself into a creative corner. Because I was trying to be somebody else. I wanted to make sure that each cliffhanger was captivating, each character relatable. I wanted to make sure that you’d keep watching. Those things are important. We want characters that we can empathize with and stories that we can invest in. But for me, storytelling is about more than abc happened because xyz. It’s about sharing the feeling of an experience—the visceral, the intangible. It’s about those moments when the only way you can describe what you just experienced is by saying “you know that feeling when…?” How then, in a medium of words do I convey what can’t quite be written? In searching to answer this question, I turned to music and spoken word, mediums that successfully achieve what I as a writer so often question.
Once upon a wash day, I re-watched Lemonade. Feeling tired and uninspired after pounding out one too many pages for class, I needed to remember why I loved writing in the first place. While I have a long list of inspiration sources, Lemonade feels particularly special. It marks a moment in the creation of Black Enough where I decided to divorce myself from convention and love this story in the way that it needed to be loved. That meant remembering that structure is a tool but not my master. The form should serve the story and not always the other way around. Black Enough was shifting itself into what it always wanted to be: a narrative breath, free to move about the digital landscape as it so pleased. I was giving myself permission to do the same as a writer. At the moment when I felt most distant from the script, I was reeled back into the story by the beckoning of the visual album. Again I was challenged and captivated by what I knew Amaya’s story could do, even on the page.
While deep conditioning my hair, I found the timbre of my voice again.
I’m realizing that Black Enough’s script is about the spaces that I create between the words. I find myself asking, what set of images can I type that will evoke an uncanonized, but super specific memory? The first draft of the script had plot beats and spark, but lacked soul—my soul. A lot of folks say that finding that space between the words is a job that belongs to the director. I think they’re wrong. Scriptwriting, whether it be for stage or screen is like poetry for me (and a lot of times, I mean that literally). The typed characters on the page should be evoking, conjuring something spiritual. Something beyond the black and white. Something that we don’t have words for. The way I see it, if that’s my starting point as a writer, then the produced piece itself can only level up from there.
Scripts are blueprints. As a writer, that’s an idea that I’ve had to grapple with and have recently began to see as a gift. If I were a writer who simply wrote a piece and handed it off to another creator with no real stake in its realization then finishing a script might be as mournful as it is victorious. It would be like nurturing a child, giving it a roadmap for life, and watching it grow beyond me as it heads off into adulthood into the hands of new mentors and experiences. Fortunately for me, parenthood doesn’t end at graduation: I’m directing the very set of scripts I’ve written. And if I were a helicopter parent, this would be a burden. But meeting and working with the professors and friends and mentors that will help my kid to flourish continues to be a gift (more on that later). As writer-director, I still get to be friends with my child.
Can’t you guys tell I love an overextended metaphor?
Once upon a wash day, I rediscovered myself on the page. Every time I reread the script, I find myself a little embarrassed, in the very best way. While this story isn’t autobiographical, it reflects pieces of myself that I’ve never quite been able to articulate before. There’s no better moment for me to tell this college story than only a year after my undergraduate graduation. The pains, loves, and testimonies are fresh enough for me to still feel them and distant enough for me to examine them critically. The timing is right.
Black Enough exists both in a world that I know intimately and in an artistic dreamscape that I admire. It feels the most…me. That’s the scary part. Amaya (the protagonist, whom you’ll come to know and love) has a life of her own and has begun to tell me ‘bout myself.
Since writing this web series, I’ve found myself writing more about my home, my faith, my questions, and my heart. And I can’t get enough. Yes, this series is for you all, but praise be to God that it’s also for myself. While writing, I find myself in a space where it’s just me and God. It’s like prayer, like free styling over the perfect beat, like dancing myself blissful in front of the mirror. This script is self care for my soul. I didn’t know I needed it until I wrote it. But after the first draft of episode 1, I knew I had to make this thing…