I allow myself a good cry, at least once a month. Before you judge—hear me out. All at once, I have to juggle being a strong support system for my family and friends, a very vocal do-gooder, relentless creator, and a sensitive human being who wants to hug it out every now and then. It’s cool to put up a front that we don’t get discouraged and stressed out, but anyone who has ever pursued a creative career knows the rollercoaster your life can be until you “make it.” Unfortunately, we teach ourselves to be so down with life-on-the go that stress can be a celebratory marker of successfulness. Have you ever been told, “you know you’ve made it when you’re grey by 30?” Well, maybe not exactly like that, but I’m sure you’ve encountered people who instead of telling you to be emotional about situations, say have faith. Yes. I know that. I know I have tremendous faith that I was created to do incredible things. I’ve been writing for 12 years, and I’m only 25. That means I committed to this career in the 8th grade. I was an intense ass 8th grader; I know. Still, I’m glad I found something I was really good at, made me happy, and could turn into a career at such a young age.
If this was you too, you’ve also experienced an embarrassing mountain of rejection. Les’ be honest: I was a shitty writer in the 8th grade. So bad, in fact, that when I was accepted into fine arts high school for creative writing, I had to pretty much start from the bottom. The very bottom. I didn’t know proper grammar or sentence structure. Most of my peer critiques—yes, we had writer’s workshops in high school—focused on how many run-ons, made up words, and incomplete thoughts riddled a 10-page story. By the time my classmates got to the content, well, I couldn’t hear anything else. I just wanted to cry. That’s exactly what I did. I went home and I cried to my mother. She listened, patiently, but she also taught me the best lesson as a writer: you wanted this, so figure out a way to prove you can do it.
Eventually, I stopped crying and bucked up. I checked out every manual of style, every canonized ole fart, and every self-help book on taking criticism I could find in the school library. I read them all in a week. Went back, and did that until I could identify what was wrong with my composition and how to fix it. Then, I became any other know-it-all high school writer. I wrote beautiful, but empty prose. My poetry was correct form, but had no spirit. I made it through critiques, but that’s just it: I made it through them. No one remembered my style, because it could’ve been anyone’s. I’d just copied it from cummings, or Plath. I even copied Virginia Wolfe. Now, what in the world did I have in common with Virginia Wolfe? Not a thing. I hated everything I wrote, and if you ask to see any of my work from that period, I’ll side-eye you to filth.
What did you do, Erika? How did you fix it? I’m glad you asked. I revisited my mother’s words. You wanted this, so prove you can do it. She wasn’t telling me to prove I could imitate other people—that would come in handy when I got into comedy. She was telling me to prove I could do it. Me. The girl who came from a hometown that now has under $900 in their bank account. The girl who came from a family that couldn’t afford creative careers, but worked hard so I could be the one to break out. I changed what I was reading. Why couldn’t Zora Neale Hurston, Kevin Young, Sonia Sanchez and Lucille Clifton be my canon? Why couldn’t I make up words? Why couldn’t I run the world and cry at the same time? I could. No one was going to stop me. I might be little, but if you know me, you know I’m scrappy.
That’s when I started hustlin’. No, good liberals, I don’t mean conning people out of money. I mean working twice as hard as everyone else so I could do things my way. Hustlin’ meant learning the rules, figuring out why I wanted to break them, and breaking them well. It’s not enough to stand out. If your writing is soulless, you won’t move anyone. Move them to passion. Move them to anger. Move them to sexiness. Move them to laughter. Move them somewhere, and one day, they’ll move you into their own personal canon.
I hustled until senior year, I was the one to watch. When I spoke in critiques, I had all the power and the sass to make people cry. I’m not going to lie and say I didn’t indulge, at first. But, I did think about those days I went home broken-spirited and hopeless. Two things you can’t be if you want to work in this industry. If your spirit is broken, you’ll try to fix yourself until you don’t have a voice. If you’re hopeless, you’ll give up. We can’t do either of those things. Not today. The world needs creators. They need to see people make light out of the dark. So if you feel like you’re down, don’t stay there. Hustle.
I hustled my way through undergrad, and when I decided to write things that were meant to be performed, I hustled my way through grad school. If I thought that last hustle was hard, boy did I underestimate the “big move” to LA. I had such high hopes. I knew I’d been working hard most of my life to get here. I knew I had the chops, and could take criticism with a smile and a good comeback. I did not know, you ain’t a hustler if you’ve never lost a game. I’ll say that again. You ain’t a hustler if you’ve never lost a game.
Yeah. I’ve had a great deal of rejection, but I thought that was all in the past. Surely, everyone wants to hire me, with my shiny MFA and my rags to…better rags story. They will. In time. But today, I cried it out. I’ve been stressing, and fell back in that “never let ‘em see you sweat” mentality. Chile, people sweat. If they don’t, they die. The key is to never let ‘em see you stop moving. If you sweat, or cry, keep it movin’. Keep hustlin’. Change your approach. Be patient. Like I said, it took 12 years for me to become the writer I am today. It might take a few more for other people to see that writer. Even though I allow myself those monthly cries, I’m not sad. Not at all. I’m human. I know myself. I’m the best hustler when I’ve gotten all negativity out of my way.
If you’re like me, it’s probably time for you to pull up that emo iTunes playlist and have yourself a little ugly cry. Get it all out. When you’re done, get back to the hustle. If you need a reminder of your inner hustler, holla at ya girl.