The image featured is that of Raphael Warnock’s letter to his daughter, Chloe, after the Senate’s vote to confirm Kentaji Brown Jackson as the first Black woman Supreme Court Justice. See the full note.
“Where do you start when you sit down to write?” A daughter of a friend asked me this while I was hanging out at their family’s house. She started to dabble in a few new projects, taking on poetry and personal narrative essays. She’s a teenager, and is equal parts intrigued and stymied by her creative writing class.
After a long pause, I took a deep breath. I had no good answer for her. I’m the person who generally clearly shares exactly what is on her mind, and I was speechless.
“That’s a great question. Right now, I don’t know. Where do you start?”
I often get asked where ideas come from when I’m writing. Does it come from something that happened during your day? Is it something you heard on a podcast? How can you weave a story from a conversation you had?
No matter if it’s writing, art, crafts, workouts, crafting talking points, producing videos, we all want a checklist. We want a structure, a to-do list, something that can tell us step-by-step how to also accomplish what it is we set out to achieve. I blame that on clickbait headlines like “Three best ways to energize your day,” but that’s another topic for another time.
What I’ve learned over the past few years of really focusing on my memoir is that there is no start and end. Writing is all about being curious, asking questions, and seeing where the answers lead for a snapshot of my life. A series of moments that were both profound and ordinary.
For the last few months, I’ve been stuck. Like, knee deep in thick mud, kind of stuck. I finished up an incredible 6-month writing class with women that I know I’ll hold their books in my hands someday, and a million holes in my own draft. It’s not uncommon to rethink your book structure as you write it, but this book has already taken three significant shifts. I’ve been confused about what to share and what to keep to myself.
I’ve been diligent with setting aside time to work on the manuscript, but often find myself staring at a blank page.
What tends to get me started is asking myself one simple question: what is the story you’re most scared to share, but the one that you feel is most true? The story that, when you close your eyes and think about telling it to your best friend, makes you feel like you’re exploding off of a high-dive, muscles rippling, arms stretching wide to go head first.
As I write, the first 100 words or so are predictably shit, so I know they’ll get deleted. Those are sacrifices to prime the pump and work out the kinks. You have to clear the silt for anything to grow.
If that question or mind trick doesn’t work, then I look to what has inspired me, often coming into view through handwritten notes. I have boxes of letters and postcards that my dad sent me since I was a teenager. Plastic containers line our storage unit of notes that my great-grandmother sent to people who are long gone, and newspaper clippings with Post-it notes that my grandmother sent to me in college. Letters and poems from my favorite writers. The latest addition, Sen. Raphael Warnock’s sweet words, written to his daughter, Chloe, on the U.S. Vice President’s letterhead, telling her that the first Black person to ever serve as a US Supreme Court Justice looks exactly like her. If that doesn’t spark inspiration, I don’t know what does.
So, young one, there’s no secret in writing. It’s just the simple act of observing, listening, and sitting down to share your thoughts. I hope we can all do that a little bit each day – the world needs our stories.