What’s your favorite thing someone else has said about your writing?
Victor LaValle describing one of my characters as petty will remain with me for a long time, if not forever.
What is one craft or writing book you love?
I’m going to give you three.
I've found some good guidance in Jewell Parker Rhodes’ Free Within Ourselves: Fiction Lessons For Black Authors and Stacey D’Erasmo’s Art of Intimacy. Rhodes’ book is a fundamentals book that I’ve learned a lot of craft language from. It also places writing within the context of living a life so it’s motivational in that way. D’Erasmo’s book is more like a philosophical exploration of how writers write intimacy. As someone who often writes familial relationships, it’s helpful to see the tropes we get caught up in.
Francine Prose’s Reading like a Writer is helpful but it generates that experience of being a black student and seeing few, if any, black people on the syllabus. (And having your teacher, refusing to face her racism, double down with “You can assume that if a writer’s work has survived for centuries, there are reasons why this is so, explanations that have nothing to do with a conspiracy of academics plotting to resuscitate a zombie army of dead white males.”)
Who is one other writer you’re excited about right now?
I'm reading Dionne Brand and Edward P. Jones right now. Writers who I've previously read and excite me in different ways. I'm enjoying the experience of reading A Map to the Door of No Return and All Aunt Hagar’s Children at the same time because I can carry one idea from one book and try to explore it in the other. For instance. they are both working with ideas around how black people carry history with them but Edward P Jones’ style really gets into the everydayness of life so it’s especially interesting to consider how one carries history at this very intimate level.
What’s the worst piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What’s the best?
I don't know if I've received very bad writing advice. I think everything produces a learning experience. I will say a recurring conversation that turns me off is the idea that fiction writers give a lot of time to projects and that investment doesn’t guarantee anything (read: publication, especially with fanfare). I understand it but it's discouraging. I think if we really pay attention to the process, we see there are all sorts of nourishment.
The best advice: read craft books.
Do you have a dedicated work space? Do you write in your home or do you prefer to write elsewhere?
I do write at home. It's not my favorite thing though, particularly because my home is very small: living space is dining space is sleeping space is study space, etc. It can feel cluttered and overwhelming. If I’m on a daytime writing schedule, I might go to the public library or, if I have money to spend, a coffee shop with good lighting.
What are some of your writing habits?
I don't work on my writing projects daily but on writing days, I do set a time goal. So maybe two hours of writing or a combination of reading and writing over four consecutive hours. The exception is when I’m writing the first draft. I try to use momentum to get to the story's ending.
When I don’t have many daytime commitments, I write late at night and into the morning. I prefer dark and quiet, not just for writing but also for taking care of household things. It seems my body/mind wakes up around 9 p.m.
When you are sitting down to write, what is the first thing you do?
I almost always turn on Alice Coltrane. I always do a short breath focused meditation to shift out of whatever mindset I needed for my previous tasks and into one for writing.
How do you pay the bills/financially support yourself?
I have no income right now so my savings account plus familial support plus social services like Medicaid and the public library system are my support.
When in your life have you felt your work/life balance to be most in sync? When in your life have you felt the most out of sync?
I think my life is my work so it’s really hard to balance resting/taking care of myself/enjoying life with doing my work. I do a lot of unpaid work (programming art events and discussions). I love the work but I’m on a hiatus because I wasn’t balancing things well but also because I think a retreat or hibernation phase of making is necessary. I don’t want to be producing just to keep up with some arbitrary standard or because it feels like everyone else is producing.
What are the most pressing demands for your time, energy, labor (including emotional labor)? What has worked best for you in terms of balancing those demands with writing?
Maintaining my household, my wellbeing, my relationships with family and friends, and being present in community (especially for the sake of my work) are all demanding. I have a personality that swings from being overwhelmed to being exhausted by (too many) people. I’m over 30 and managing a chronic illness that causes fatigue. I play around a lot less with my time. It’s my main resource. It’s a practice to not give it away to just anything or anyone. In the same way, I set goals for how much time I give my writing, I set up plans for these other demands. Like, I’m going to invest some time in this particular relationship or I’m going to these three events this month, or I’m going to clean for 15 minutes, and I’m going to be okay with staying at home, resting and not working.
What are the ideal conditions for your creativity?
I think we all know the ways solitude is necessary for artmaking. What’s been interesting is how community has been critical for my creativity. It’s fairly easy to generate ideas but it’s easy to feel stuck when too isolated. I’ve had breakthroughs during workshop, while talking with other writers, and while listening to artists talk about their work.
Do you have any writing rituals? Or any non-writing rituals that feed your writing life?
I think having a meditation practice has helped many aspects of my life and since everything is interconnected, my writing practice has benefited from me having healthier relationships, improved self-esteem, etc.
What self-care practices do you have and what, if any, routines do you have surrounding them? How does self-care relate to your writing life?
My self-care practices include: journaling, detaching from my digital attachments, walking, meditating, and asking my body what it needs (and getting answer like: to pee, to eat some greens or some root veggies, etc.).
I hope that my writing, as I do with all of my work, contributes to resisting the dominant culture (white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism). What I’ve learned is this isn’t possible without some self-care and self-actualization. bell hooks’ Sisters of the Yam is one of my favorite reference materials for this but also the older women I’ve met who do community work or political organizing. Like witnessing the ways these women live their values and care for themselves and other people was critical in my transition to adulthood.
Nina N. Yeboah was born to Ghanaian parents in Alexandria, Louisiana and raised in Stone Mountain, GA. She is a reader, prose writer, and cultural worker. She was the 2016 Voices Rising Fellow at Vermont Studio Center, a 2016-2017 FIELD/WORK resident at the Chicago Artists Coalition and is an alum of the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop and the Hurston/Wright Writers Week. In 2017, she was a finalist for the Guild Literary Complex Leon Forrest Prose Awards in the category of nonfiction.
Contact: @gotmyniinaa (Twitter) and NinaG8 (Goodreads)