Cutting well-done steak with a dull knife. Swimming in glue. Running on sand. These are the metaphors that come to mind when I try to describe the act of writing recently. There is no question that it’s an enormous privilege to have the time and space to do creative work at home right now, but it’s also a uniquely challenging moment in which to try and “take advantage” of that. Nearly six months into the pandemic, I’ve been eager to hear from writers about how they’ve been navigating the pressures and obstacles that result from such a dichotomy, and how current circumstances have impacted their writing process.
Today, I interviewed Shenequa A. Golding, who’s currently crafting the sample chapter for an in-progress book proposal and weighing the benefits of maple syrup entrepreneurship against the vicissitudes of the writer’s life.
How has your writing process changed since the pandemic?
Ever since Big Rona pulled up everything is different, but fortunately for me, it’s different in a good way. I underestimated how much mental space simply commuting to work actually took up. Now, I can wake up 30 minutes before a Zoom meeting, make my bed, brush my teeth, throw my locs in a bun, and “be on time” for work without being sleep deprived. I write more now than before, but that’s because I’ve got more side projects going on (all of which I’m thankful for). And due to quarantine I can focus on them.
This is going to sound crazy, but I’m a homebody. While a lot of people feel like they’re missing out on a free trip to Disneyland, ya girl is chillin! I have no desire to cross paths with Big Rona so I stay at home. I take early morning walks sometimes and that helps set the tone for a good day, but other than that I’m cool. I don’t need to go outside. As far as my attire, I haven’t consistently worn a bra in a few months and you know what? I feel like this is a small victory.
In March, a tweet went viral about how Shakespeare wrote King Lear when he was quarantined with the plague. Have you felt more pressure than usual to write/create during this time of isolation? (If yes, how has that manifested? If no, how have you avoided falling into the insidious trap of hustle culture?)
Well listen, William and his King Lear can go kick rocks! What they don’t tell you about writing is that the words come when they come. It doesn’t matter how disciplined you are, the real words, the words that light the page on fire, they show up when they’re good and damn well ready, at least for me they do. There are times when I sit at a blank Google doc and the blinking cursor is just staring at me. Then there are other times when I can write 1200 words without breaking a sweat.
What partially drew me to this occupation was the solitude. I’ve always been able to get more done alone than I can with groups, and since quarantine, yes, I’ve completed a lot, but not because I wanted to compete with Shakespeare—not all, bro.
Also in March, GQ staff writer Zach Baron wrote an essay entitled, “How Do You Write About People When You Can’t Be Near Them?” This question applies to his line of work quite literally since he writes a lot of profiles, but given that all writing–to some extent–stems from being out in the world and observing it closely, how and where have you been finding creative inspiration these days?
Inspiration is like, whatever to me. Yes, you need something or someone to ignite that creativity. I won’t dilute that, but if your writing is solely based on inspiration then I think that’s going to make things harder for you. Writing, I think, should be about storytelling and (personally) an unflinching curiosity. My creativity comes via conversations with brilliant folks, or reading books. I don’t really search for inspiration much. Instead, I try to turn question marks into periods. It doesn’t always work, but I try.
What’s something you’ve written recently that you’re especially proud of (even if it’s just a sentence!)?
I have a literary agent now, which is bananagrams to even say, and I’m crafting my book proposal, which is a lot harder than I originally thought. Anyhoo, I’m putting together a sample chapter and my agent said it was a good first pass, which is code for “Yeah, no, this isn’t going to cut it,” but that’s fine. For me, being able to write about something that was so hurtful (and something that I’m still dealing with) was a huge part of my healing. So yes, it wasn’t great, but I’m proud of myself for even vomiting up those words.
What’s the best thing you’ve read recently?
Without a doubt, Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half. I want to fight Stella and I know she’s not a real person.
What advice would you give to young or aspiring writers who are trying to write something right now?
Don’t do it. People don’t read like they used to. They don’t value the written word as much. It’s all about pageviews, catchy headlines, and viral tweets. Being a writer is a lost art. Be smart. Go to law school. Go to med school. Drive a bus. Become a vet. Develop an app. Marry rich. Start a maple syrup conglomerate. Do something that’s lucrative. Being a writer is thankless, and there’s no real way to ensure that you’ll make it or make any real money doing it. Save yourself the hassle.
And if you believed any of what I just wrote, kick yourself. If you want to be a writer you can do it. All you have to do is… write. You got this!