Being a Writer

Two months or so ago, I decided to become a professional writer.

Actually–let me backtrack a little bit.

As the legend goes, I was in middle school and an avid reader. My childhood friend and I would go to the library every other day to get new books to read, usually falling in the category of young adult supernatural romance or your more standard coming-of-age novel. We read, we shared thoughts, we got new reads, rinse and repeat. At this point, I didn’t like writing as much. It was always associated with school and essays and rigid structure. One day, bored but feeling my imagination taking flight, I grabbed an empty-ish notebook and started writing down my little tales.

Eventually that turned into writing an entire story in various notebooks. I let my friends read it; the notebooks were passed around. I remember one girl took one of the notebooks with her home and then came back the next day practically running. She came up to my desk and was like “Myliyah, Myliyah! Do you have the next one? This is so good!”

It was really since then that I kept writing. As time went on my writing transformed. I went from teen supernatural romance and the occasional fan fiction to contemporary young adult novels. I wrote one in high school about a girl trying to prevent a guy from deleting her favorite blog but, spoiler alert, ultimately fails. The ending’s a lot more depressing than I think I convey here, but that’s for another time.

Then I entered college and found myself at the epicenter of know-it-all-ness. The English department, as much as I love it, definitely has some know-it-all students. “What, you’ve never read Wilde before?” “Sylvia Plath’s poetry speaks to the [white] feminine rage.” A bunch of students in glasses and tumblers covered in stickers, clacking away at their Macs and judging one another for never reading the “classics.” God forbid I’ve never read Dickens until college, but none of y’all will ever read Morrison outside of your classes–

Off topic though. That’s a rant for another day.

What I’m trying to say is that I entered college and realized that the style I brought with me had to change. Maybe drastically. For a number of reasons. To start, I was behind everyone else. As intellectually adept as I am, I had to develop the language of the academics, at least when the scenario called for it. I had to read a lot more, I needed to expose myself to things I had never heard before. The education system is not equal, especially when some of the students at UVA came from big money. For two–and this I learned in my first fiction workshop–genre literature is not workshop compatible, unless the workshop is designed for genre literature. In my last year, I took a workshop about the fantastic and we discussed its various subgenres.

But the most important realization I had was that I was a Black girl writing white stories. The characters had light eyes, light hair, and were otherwise assumed to be white because there were no racial markers to distinguish them as otherwise. I realized I didn’t know how to write stories about characters that looked like me. It was a little bizarre. As time went on, as I took more classes to meet the pre-reqs to declare a creative writing major, I learned that I was going to have to learn how to write Black stories because it was common for me to be the only Black student in my workshops.

Somewhere in third year and fourth, I settled on a path for myself: go to Japan for a few years, come back for an MFA, then pursue a PhD in African American Studies with a concentration in East Asian studies (ask me why later). Over these past few months, however, I’ve let go of the PhD dream. As much as I love learning, I don’t necessarily think that the topic I’m interested in requires me to have a PhD in order to be knowledgeable in it. I’ve found myself gravitating towards the lifestyles of Baldwin and Coates–writers who are revered for their prowess and creativity without necessarily needing all the bells and whistles.

I think it also goes hand in hand with my style at the moment. I’m moving further from writing fiction and instead am writing more creative nonfiction works. I still read and love fiction, don’t misunderstand, but I think I feel the most me when I’m working with a nonfiction piece. I think I’m able to convey a lot through those works.

So…yeah. This definitely turned into less of a “why did you settle into this decision?” and more of a “this is how it started” kind of piece, but we’re rolling with it. Walk away knowing that I want to make this my career, along with translating contemporary Japanese stories authored by women. I’m excited about it. I always knew that I was going to be a writer, but I’m not sure that I was fully convinced that I would make a career of it until two or so month ago. I think in some corners I was still being held back by the thoughts of others, but like I’ve said many times before everyone has an opinion.

Catch me some number of years later with a Maine Coon in my lap and a headache from my editor.

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