Category Archives: writing

Week 6: Meeting Nell Scovell and the Power of Words

This past week, author of Just the Funny Parts: …And a Few Hard Truths About Sneaking into Hollywood’s Boy’s Club, and creator of one of my favorite shows, Sabrina the Teenage Witch Nell Scovell, visited William & Mary, spending an hour chatting with a group of students, faculty and community members, answering questions, giving advice, and leaving me with much to think about. In that hour, I learned that Scovell’s favorite thing she has ever written was a script that was never produced; which answered the question: What if people were judged by who they were and not what they looked like? I learned that people like Sheryl Sandberg, Anita Hill and other people who display courage in the face of pushback inspire her. And I learned that common threads in her work are her curiosity and the thrill of the challenge of writing something new.

While all of that was great, and I enjoyed her candor and humor in answering those questions, I was most moved by the conversations we had around her writing: her process, her motivations, and her advice. “If you’re a writer,” she said, “you can move into different worlds.” Scovell got her start writing sports articles for the Harvard Crimson. She spent time writing first person columns for Cosmopolitan, and even articles about leasing cars. I was so entranced by the allure of her writing for shows like Sabrina and The Simpsons, that it never occurred to me that she had a writing career before she “made it” in television.

Her adventures in writing were so diverse. They were expansive. Though she never said it explicitly, all she wanted to do was write, and she’d write about anything; just as long as she had an opportunity to put pen to paper or fingers on a keyboard. She was hungry for challenges. Nothing was impossible, there were only obstacles to conquer. Her stories were like a new age Odyssey but with a female lead. Writing, it became clear, can take you places. It can take you anywhere.

Scovell gave some great advice on writing. She told us that when you’re just starting out, just say yes, you never know where it will lead. She told us that you can’t just write, you have got to write a lot. And she told us that you must put yourself into the world to be judged. As someone who is still feeling the sting of her latest rejections, I had to ask her, “If you’re putting yourself out into the world to get judged and getting rejected, how do you deal?” She smiled and told me to keep those who support me close, and ultimately, take the feedback you want and screw the rest.

During the talk, she said one thing that really stood out to me, “I don’t understand people who are scared to try something new. If you do it well, it’s great, but if you fail, you have the best excuse in the world: ‘I’d never done this before!’” Instantly, I thought about the time Micah encouraged me to write a script. I gave her all the excuses: I’d never written one so I didn’t know how, I didn’t have an idea, I didn’t have software, and so on and so forth. Then I thought about the time I sat in a dimly lit room on the second floor of Clemons Library with a group of other Black UVA students and wrote monologues. I’d never written a monologue before. I’d also never written something that would be used for performance before, but I had a story that I needed someone, anyone, to hear and so I wrote.

I still have that hunger. I still have stories I need to tell. I still need to write.

I don’t know if there will ever come a day when I won’t need to put words on paper.

So I met Nell Scovell, and after Professor Losh generously plugged my blog during the talk, Scovell asked me to write down my site for her. I’m always still amazed when anyone wants to read my words. I wrote the link on the back of one of my new business cards and chatted with her for a while after the formal talk was over. She asked me if I wanted to write for TV and “yes” flew out of my mouth before my brain had a chance to catch up. Looking back, even if I’d had a second to think before I spoke, I still would have said yes. Anyone that knows me knows that I would love a crack at writing for a superhero TV show, particularly a spin off about a certain superhero girlfriend with the initials LL.

Nell Scovell cracked my world wide open with one simple question. One day, if I keep writing, writing a lot, and getting feedback, my writing is going to exist in a lot more places than this site and amongst the piles of other essays on my professors’ desks. My words do not have to know bounds. They can exist in academic journals, literary reviews, blogs, magazines, newspapers, TV, film, novels, screenplays. So long as I continue to believe in my words and put them out into the world, they can take me anywhere. I just have to believe it.

And I do. I really, really do.

(Oh, and Nell? If you’re reading this, thanks.)

Fade to Black: A Black Girl’s Guide to Walking on Water

by Micah Watson

In my Best-Man-esq group text, I’m definitely the most likely to be Harper. Of us classmates-turned-lifelong-friends, I’m the dark skinned writer with glasses and a swagger that transcends decades (okay, maybe that last part is Taye-specific). The important and illusive part in that is “writer” (even if I don’t plan on writing a tell-all novel). It’s an identity that I’m learning to claim but has always marked my journey as an artist. My dear friend posed a question to the group, “What do you think you’ll be doing at 35?” Some responded with jokes. Almost all responded with plans of children, jobs, and places they would call home. But for me, in the first days of attending the grad school of my prayers, my attempt to hold back guttural tears while watching this conversation was almost comical.

You see, all I know is that I’m supposed to be a writer. I have desires of being married with kids, repping a city that lets me flourish with my people, and rocking an afro the size of Wakanda. And I know that if I actively love the Lord, he wants to give me the desires of my heart. But the only promise that I’m certain of is that I’m going to tell stories. So far, being an artist is the only thing my heart wants that also seems to align with God’s will. All I want to do is let His promise be enough.

But sometimes I’m really bad at it.

Now that I’m here at NYU, the task of actually writing feels daunting. The pass/fail structure of this magically rigorous course load means that I don’t get praised for being the smartest or the Blackest; my work will have to stand on its own. That’s like learning to love your naked body. Now that I’m here in Manhattan, the task of walking home from my favorite soy chai spot before sunset is frustrating. Singleness is an annoying gift, particularly when I haven’t found a new community to walk and laugh with me through it all. Now that I’m becoming a real adult, I don’t have the external surety that my friends have.

Suffice it to say, I did not succeed in holding back the water works. But somewhere on the floor of my studio, God met me once again in the form of a Kings Kaleidoscope track and a recollection of Truth and reminded me that He’s all the surety I need.

With wavy faith, peppered with facetiousness, I responded that at 35 “I will be somewhere writing and making things, holding on to God’s promise and a dream. Probably somewhere in the US. Learning to walk at Christ’s pace and better at it than I was 12 years ago.”

And yet, I still walk on water like fat-legged toddler.

With my new mantra, courtesy of Transformation Church’s Michael Todd, I’m learning how to “stride” instead of “strive,” meaning that I’ve got to walk at the steady pace that Christ has planned out for my life, instead of strenuously running to make my own moves. The thing about striding, though, is that I have to walk. Like actually keep moving. For someone whose default settings are hyperactive-creative-energizer-bunny and in-my-feelings-debilitated-procrastinator, walking at a steady pace is easier said than done. It takes a particular trust that just because I’m not exerting concerning amounts of energy, doesn’t mean that God ever stopped working on my behalf, stopped loving me, or stopped being the noun good himself. I’m learning how to move within His grace with diligence and even more trust. I spend my days plotting and perfecting scripts—stories of people’s lives and actions towards a greater goal—so sometimes it’s hard not to look at God sideways when he tells me that I don’t get to plot my own. While I’d like to know every turn of my life, the only direction He’s given is “follow me.” He says, “come.” That’s my cue to respond, “yes.” I’m not really an actor anymore, but before these two years are over, I’ll be off book.

And I’m on my way.

Years, maybe even months ago, a text like that, this blow of uncertainty and lie of inadequacy would have kept me down for a few days, if not in my room, at least in my head. The blessing here is that I got up, started my homework (which may or may not have included watching Insecure), woke up the next day, analyzed another TV show, caught up with a college friend (who’s been the blessing that I didn’t know I even needed), wrote a couple of movie pitches, and took a meeting. And not once did I feel like I was out of breath. I didn’t drown.

I finished the day in Sabbath, by taking some time to read from my first Intellectual Lover, Ta-Nehisi Coates. Even in the midst of very real uncertainty, God not only gifted me with a moment of restful floating, but also with cerebral rejuvenation. What I learned from Coates is that writers write, and they read and they stumble. And being the writer that honors my ancestors is going to take curiosity, discipline, and a daily commitment to facing the fears that cause me to question my purpose. I will have to work at articulating my inspiration; that is the joy of the craft. I’m learning that this piece of my journey is about learning how to listen to God, and I mean really listen.

So many times I’ve made fun of Hillsong’s “Oceans” as a white nondenominational cliché. But when they sang “spirit lead me where my trust is without borders, let me walk upon the waters, wherever you may call me” at the church around the corner, I felt that thang. As a young Black woman, the fear of new waters is as real as it was for my ancestors who were crushed by them. Being “twice as good” is and will be a part of my new challenge, but it can’t be the heart of it. Somewhere in the lies of systemic racism, we were told that our value is contingent upon our external success and that our worth comes from proving that we’re not the women that stereotypes say that we are. The weight of that makes it feel like constantly running to shore is the only way that we’ll keep from drowning in a world that doesn’t see us for the complicated gems that we really are. But running is tiring and sea salt was never good for our edges. Walking on water is much more efficient, and peaceful, and scary, and Instagram-worthy, and new. The core of who I am becoming—as a writer, as an artist, as a Black Girl—must be about working towards something that I cannot quantify and cannot see. Walking (not running, sometimes grinding) towards Freedom is mad abstract, but it rests in my soul like an unsettling spiritual. And if it’s true that I wade the same waters as generations of ancestors, then enduring those waters is just as vital. I am committing to letting the Lord shape me into something new, something smelted, something faithful, something fearless, something whole, something ready, through this Atlantic I’m calling New York City.

I’m out of the boat now. Assignments aren’t always easy, because I’m doing things that I’ve never done (literally the whole point), but I know, I mean really know, that I’m meant to do it. In just four weeks, I see my work growing and I feel like I’m closer to hitting my stride. I’m working on a project that feels like a promise and praying for continued sparks of inspiration. I’m approaching my calling as “artist” with specificity, learning how to don my purpose as “writer” with the same internal fierceness as my braided bob.

Now this being a writer thing isn’t just a Dream. It’s the promise that I hold onto as I workshop scripts and eat takeout curry alone. Besides my necessary commitment to paying off these student loans I’m accruing, the real commitment is going to be staying out here in these waters, knowing God wouldn’t put me here without purpose and provision. I’m looking upward and forward, not inward—for His strength is made perfect in my weakness (flex one time God!) I don’t know where the heck I’ll be at 35, but I know that I will have an MFA from NYU and be inside of God’s will and the dreams of my ancestors.

So, how do you walk on water? Girl, I don’t even know. But I’m learning how to trust the One who does.

Week 13, or Finals (Prep) Season

Normally during breaks, I write reflection pieces for BGDGS. This time around, I essentially worked straight through Thanksgiving Break, and while that’s not the healthiest thing I’ve ever done, it did give me some time to reflect on how I prep for final projects and seminar papers.

STEP ONE: Work up some ideas

My first step involves a lot of brain dumping. During November classes, I spend a lot of time turning ideas over in my head, trying to catch on to the ends of ideas brought up in class that peak my interest. As the semester progresses, you can find me jotting ideas for papers down in the margins of my journals or on post it notes.

STEP TWO: Follow an idea down the rabbit hole.

After I’ve collected enough of these half thoughts, I choose the idea that has the most substance to it. This process generally is dictated by how many questions I can ask related to the topic. Once a topic is selected, I do bigger brain dumps.

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Mind map and outline
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Up close mind map
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Outline

Above, you can see examples of two of my brain dumps. In the left most picture, the pink paper on top is a mind map– something I honestly haven’t done since I was in middle school but considering I’m working on a Scalar project for my Media class instead of a linear paper, I decided I needed to work through my ideas in a more associative way. The paper on the right in that picture is a traditional outline for my Reflections of the African Diaspora class. Linear papers get linear planning.

 

Then, you can see a closer view of my mind map and finally on the bottom all I’ve done is consolidate my ideas into a outline, broken into workable chunks.

STEP THREE: Secure, Read, and Annotate Some Books

My heavily annotated World of Wakanda Volume 1

 

Now is also about the time when I start gathering books for my final projects. I spend a lot of time in the Library database, requesting ILLs, pulling books from the library and my own personal stock of monographs and comics. Once the haul is over, I grab a pile of sticky notes, highlighters and pencils, and go to town with annotating those bad boys.

I typically color code everything– in my World of Wakanda volume, green indicates spatial references, orange identity formation, and blue technology. In books that will be used for more than one paper, I assign each class a color.

 

 

 

 

STEP FOUR: Start writing!

A blank scalar page

This blank Scalar page is about as far as I’ve gotten on actually writing anything. I have a blank word document for my Reflections paper, and just a few meager ideas for my Feminism essay. But fortunately, this is a light semester in terms of finals. Both my Reflections and Feminism papers are 15 pages, and my Scalar project should be about 2,500 words, which is about 10-12 pages. Compared to my first semester when I was writing between 60-70 pages total, this is going to be so manageable.

The Scalar project is just going to take time. I need to work on it a little every day to get used to working in the form so I’m not panicking and trying to do everything at last minute. My current plan is to write out all of my sections in a document first, then copy and paste the sections into Scalar, then work from there. I also want to try annotating videos and images in the site itself, so that’s going to take time as well. I’m going to work hard on this one because my friend and I are considering submitting these to a comics conference happening in August, if all goes well.

STEP 5: Think ahead!

As I’ve gotten further along in grad school, I’ve learned to think of final papers, not really as final papers, but as drafts, as playgrounds for ideas you can come back to, expand on, or turn into something different, like a conference paper or a dissertation chapter. Thinking about papers as intellectual exercises rather than scary, huge monstrosities helps take the edge off of finals season and puts you back in control.

I don’t have much written yet, but I do have a lot of prep work done. The more prep you do, the easier finals season becomes. Hopefully next time, I’ll have more to reflect on, but in the meantime, good luck to everyone out there who, like me, is struggling through Finals Season.

Happy Writing!