Write Your Feelings
"Writing my feelings didn’t just help me heal; it helped me add my voice to issues that affected people who typically don’t get a chance at the mic."
Post from 31 Plays in 31 Days
2016 has been a rough year—and it’s just August. As a carefree black girl and conscious writer, I’ve had to channel a lot of conflicted feelings into creativity. Police shootings, skirting the myth of the angry black woman, and annoying people that try and pet my fro are not the ideal sources of inspiration, but what do you do when your muse wants to fight the power?
Let’s be clear—this is not one of those blog posts intended to make white people uncomfortable. It will, however charge artists to create work that is not easy, but will change lives. This is about my process of translating my frustration into action.
Writers are often told to use the craft to heal. We all know that binge writing after a breakup or a major trauma helps lighten the emotional load. Most of that writing is stored in a dark, dark place under our mattresses until we can muster up the courage to look at it again. Here’s the question: when do you decide to show it to other people? How soon is too soon to revise and rework until the piece is ready for others to read, or even perform?
I was told it’s better to wait than to release material I’m too emotionally attached to. I took this to heart, waiting years before I released hate poems I wrote for high school boyfriends, before I shared a short story about a little girl who called stray bullets “monsters,” and before I performed a semi-autobiographical solo show about taking the blows life deals and turning them into wins for your future. Do you see a theme, here? Still, writing my feelings didn’t just help me heal; it helped me add my voice to issues that affected people who typically don’t get a chance at the mic.
Ok. So, you looked at that monologue, and you decided to turn it into a brilliant play. How the hell do you pitch this play as something other people want to read or see on the stage? First, remember you want people to see your message, so don’t alienate them from the story. Well, in the case of police brutality, I had to remind myself that the object is not to paint the picture of the evil police officer against the unarmed black child. That story is obvious. What is the most universal but emotionally poignant part of that story? To me, it was this: how are we supposed to get to the truth if one half of the story will never be told? When police shootings happen, it’s easy to point the fingers at victims, because you will never get a chance to hear their sides of the story. They are gone to us forever. They cannot control the way they are portrayed to strangers who were only introduced to their lives because of their deaths.
I felt hopeless, but I didn’t stay that way for long. I transformed those feelings into a play called Justifiable Force. I wrote a One Act play from the perspective of white police officer, charged with shooting an unarmed police officer. Why from his perspective? Because protagonist don’t always have to be crowd pleasers. The story needed to be told from the shooter’s perspective; therefore, when the decision of who was wrong and who was right was made, the audience felt just as conflicted and compelled to move as I did. Two years ago, in the very beginning of a MFA Dramatic Writing program, I wrote my feelings. Then, I did not know it would be a work that not only gave me the only little notoriety I have to date—a Kennedy Center MFA Playwrights Workshop Finalist—but that it would be a work that would haunt me until I got it right. It took me two years to realize that maybe the question wasn’t how soon should I wait before letting the play be seen by other people, but, how long would I fight for people to see the play.
This year, while participating in 31 Plays, I was motivated to start that fight again. What does this mean to me, two years later? What does it mean to the world two years later? My inspiration was Mike Brown, and two years later, there is Koryn Gaines, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling. The issue is still very relevant.
Writing is about 10% composition, 80% revision, and the last 10% can go to caffeine, rejection, eating ice cream for dinner, and writer’s workshops. It took two more years of frustration, two more years of social media posts, two more years of calls for gun reform, pictures of people who are no longer with us, and a lot of coming to grips with my own humanity to realize that play I wrote two years ago was just the frame for a larger project. And here we are. In the midst of a playwriting challenge, and I’m thinking about taking over the world, once again.
Writers don’t create worlds; we just interpret the world most people rush past in a way that causes them to stop. Don’t be afraid to create works that speak out on societal issues. Don’t be afraid to share works that came from difficult emotions. No one remembers writers that are afraid of causing trouble.
E.E. Wade is a 25 year old award-wining writer from Birmingham, Alabama.
Her works have been published in Hanging Loose Magazine of New York, Skirt magazine, Birmingham Arts Journal, and won the Birmingham Public Library’s Word-Up poetry slam for two consecutive years. Most recently, she was honored as a 2016 finalist for The Kennedy Center’s MFA Playwrights Workshop.
Her premier publication, eyestodewhulrd, was written during her senior year in high school. Since then, she has had numerous plays produced, and wrote, performed and produced a solo show for her MFA thesis at Savannah College of Art and Design.
Currently, she lives in Los Angeles, California, performing and pursuing a career as a television writer