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Member Spotlight: Tennison S. Black

author Tennison S. Black and an image of their book Survival Strategies

Why is writing important to you and why do you think it’s an important medium for the world? Writing is the ultimate aggressive act. It’s only in writing that we are able to make love at the world’s end. To fight back against the *everything* of this world. And through it we authors, are victorious against the scraps of our lives catching fire in our hands, saved from our own self-loathing mechanisms, or at least, at most, we are there to think about how glorious, how awful, we could be if we tried. Sex, drugs of choice—but the best word there is choice, not drugs—both get a place of honor and so do the utterly unobtainable answers—like, how do we ride the lightning bolt of freedom if we’re just glorified delusional killers? Writing is our grappling hold on our own humanity—and I don’t know about everyone else, but I have greasy hands from eating French fries when I shouldn’t have been. What I mean is, what else are we supposed to do with our lives? Here we are, living, squishing around in the sack, and what else is there? A corporate job? That’s totally fine for many, many people, but it makes me ugly cry. My writing and artistic processes are the only way I know how to live—how to be alive and a little less fucked-up while being alive.

What are your tried and tested remedies to cure writer’s block? Don’t fight the many-armed state of feeling uninspired. Cut off its oxygen by ignoring it. Do something else, then tell yourself you’re too busy to write—and suddenly it’s the only thing you want to do. The term “writer’s block” doesn’t sit well with me. Something about it feels too literal, but for me, I think of this as feeling uninspired. And it usually means I’m drained by life at the moment so recharge is in order. In the meantime, read. Read *not* specifically to inspire yourself (do not select books that will help you pursue your current project) but just read what you want to read. Emphasis on the desire. Listen to some story podcasts. Go to the poetry shelf and pick a book at random. Read three poems and then go back to life. But again, tell yourself that you can’t write right now. Too busy. Nothing works better than telling myself I can’t. Suddenly it’s all I can think about.

Other things I do:

• Reread the current project and tinker a little here and there.

• Go to a writing class.

• Go out with a writing friend and just talk about writing.

• Go lay in the hammock with no phone or electronics—daydreaming only.

• Spend some time alone.

What is your favorite time to write? Right now I’m an “in the cracks” writer. Typing out bits on my phone, grabbing a little space here and there. But my favorite time is in the morning because if I can get in the zone, the whole world and a whole day blurs away. That’s the best. Really though, don’t we offer up too many shoulds? What works for me probably won’t work for anyone else. Things like we should write every day, a certain number of words is best, and this time or that is the best way. Mine is every changing. In grad school, I had an instructor (hey Matt!) who taught us to observe our writing practice. Some of us wrote best at night and others in the very early morning. Those with kids or who were caretakers or who had a couple of jobs plus school wrote in the cracks or on their phones, walking between classes. All are valid. But the point is to observe what works for you and to try to create the ideal circumstances as much as possible. After that, I’ve made a habit of observing my writing needs and making note of them regularly to be sure I meet my needs and to create the ideal environment for my writing. Do I always succeed? Not even close. But succeeding 40% of the time is a damn sight better than the success rate of 5% that might happen without the practice of looking deeper, you know? What do you need?

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received and would like to impart to other writers? When I was writing my collection, Survival Strategies, a mentor of mine had to talk me down because I was stressing about the potential reaction of a family member to the material that didn’t cast them in the best light. My mentor reminded me to keep my eyes on the work and to worry about that when, or if, the time came. Too often we worry about how something might be received, how we can possibly get it published, or how we might market it. But all of these are distractions from the work. Let go of the fear of what-ifs and write. You can’t know what will happen and if you’re looking out there, your eyes aren’t on the work where they belong. “Cross that bridge when you come to it,” my mother would have reminded me. But I think of it as keeping my eyes on the work. The rest will have its time, or it won’t, and either way, that time is not when actively pursuing a project.

What excites you most about being a writer in today’s age? The writing world is finally taking strides to reflect our world (though still markedly inadequately so—we’ve made a small start). Readings are more interesting when it’s not an echo chamber of experiences so too are speaking engagements more engaging, and the books are much more enticing as they often depict people and experiences that have heretofore been ignored in the mainstream. To be able to witness this push has been phenomenal—though to be clear, it remains too little (and far, far too late) but a start has been made and we’re all better for it. Imagine how wonderful it could get. Imagine what we’re capable of when we make room for everyone.

Tennison S. Black’s Survival Strategies is out September 15 with University of Georgia Press.