Join Yasmine Cheyenne, author of The Sugar Jar, as she explains how our internal beliefs and the feedback of others can get in the way of our forward momentum with writing. Learn how to deal with feedback, be compassionately honest with ourselves, and how to keep going anyway.
What’s in Store
- Learn how practicing self-care can ease writing roadblocks
- Explore how to commit to your creative practices in ways that work for you
Prompt #1: Easeful
Once you begin writing, what feels easeful?
Express your writing ease with prose, poetry, visuals, or anything else that inspires you!
Prompt #2: Schedules
To schedule or not to schedule – do you think setting a time to write will be supportive to your writing practice? Why or why not?
Write about the feelings that come up in you when faced with the idea to schedule writing time. Use prose, poetry, or visuals to express how you feel.
Q&A with Yasmine Cheyenne
I write a lot for work, but I’m trying to figure out like, what is my story that I want to write for myself? And I kind of want to like really integrate writing for myself, but also using video storytelling as well. I’m not really sure. I feel like I know deep inside that I have things that I want to share, but I don’t really know exactly what it looks like.
I love this question. So let’s talk about the stories. Right, because here’s the deal. We have all been through so much. We have experienced so much. We could write seven memoirs about the things that we have all been through, right? But we don’t want everybody to know everything that we’ve been through. That’s the point. Unless you are trying to do like a Prince Harry style book. Most of us are trying to write about a particular thing and there is no public interest in every single thing that has happened in our lives, we’re telling a story for a purpose and to embed it with everything that we care about, the magic of our stories, the pain of our stories— We want to take the reader on a journey. The reason why I wrote in the chat, starting with the end in mind, and I didn’t come up with this. This is from Franklin Covey. It’s for business. However, I use it in creativity because what do I want the end result of this story to be? I might not know what’s going to be on the way in the journey for the reader. What do I want the reader to take away from this? And I like to even go deep, as deep as what do I want the emotion of the reader to be? Do I want them to feel empowered? If you’re a novel writer, do I want their heart to break? If you’re a thriller writer, do I want them to be terrified? What is it that I want them to feel? What stories do I have that I know will help create that framework for the reader?
When I was writing The Sugar Jar, for example, I probably had eighty stories that did not make the book. The reason why I’m sharing that is because we just have to start writing the stories. Once you start writing the stories and get them onto the page, and then you do the beginning with the inner mind and get clear on the energy—I’m a healer, y’all, you got to stay with me— the energy of the emotion, if it’s, “I want them to feel empowered,” then I know all of my stories that do not lead me on that journey to empowerment may not be a part of the book. I can keep them there. They might be for another book, another story, a blog, an article. Don’t get rid of your stories, y’all. But for this particular thing that we’re crafting, it’s not important. And so I’m sharing all of that to say you have to just start writing the story. The book is made up of stories and you need stories because we want to show people, right? We want to tell people what happened to us through storytelling. We don’t want to say, “And then you’re going to walk to the mall, and then you’re going to make a left.” You want to say, “And as I was walking to the mall, I looked to my left…” we’re telling them what happened, right? So make sure that you just start telling the stories that come to mind.
And that’s why scheduling is so powerful, because I’m sitting down to write a story. I’m sitting down to write poems. I’m sitting down to write about this particular thing. I may not know yet where this is going to go. And honestly, that’s how my proposal started. I just started writing about the sugar jar. Nobody knew what the sugar jar was, right? Nobody knew what that was going to be. And then when I started writing about it, I realized, “Oh, this is a book.”
So I hope that’s helpful. And I hope that it kind of gives you that spark to get started, because I can tell you have a lot to say. I can tell that you already write, you’re already a writer, you know this, right? So you just getting started and putting those words on the page. I think that’s going to be incredibly powerful for you and getting clear on what stories you want to share and which stories are going to be shown first.
How do you make sure that your writing still holds onto the pieces of you during revision processes and when other people are giving you feedback?
I think well, first thing, when we’re talking about writing a book, I’m writing not in collaboration with my publisher— my publisher and I don’t have the same goal. My goal is to create a book that speaks to my community, that speaks to my audience, and helps them to get the things out of the book that I want. I think that’s my publisher’s goal, too, but I also think they want to make money. So they want the book to sell. And I think it’s important for me, and I’m sure for all of the writers on this call, I don’t want anything coming out with my name on it that does not completely align with my voice and who I am. That is the most important thing.
And so there are things in this book I thought about, for example, like calling Dr. Maya Angelou Dr. Maya Angelou, she’s not actually technically a doctor. She doesn’t have a doctorate, but she got an honorary doctorate. I said, “We’re calling her that. We’re calling her Dr. Maya Angelou in this book.” So there’s things that you have to push back on and there are things that you have to you just have to know— Here’s something that I think is really important, and I’ll say this. I know my voice. I know when my community is interested in what I have to say. I know what my purpose is, and I know why people connect to my work. I will never get away from those things that make me who I am and make people interested and excited about what I do, and most importantly, help people in their lives, because I’m a self-help writer. So staying clear on those things when people say, “I think this will be really helpful if you change the story that way,” I ask myself those questions: Is this in alignment with me? Is this in alignment with my community? Will this deter me from my purpose? If it goes against any of those then the answer is, “I’m sorry, I can’t do this, it doesn’t make sense for my community. Can you share with me some things that can help me align with what the purpose of this book is?” And that’s the importance, too, of finding a, when you get to that place, if you’re not there yet, a literary agent who will advocate for you and a publisher who is actually aligned and telling the stories you want to tell, because a lot of times publishers will say, “Oh, that sounds like a great idea.” And then when you want to write a book that incorporates Black healing in it, like my book does, then they say, “Actually, we were thinking we could do…” whatever else. And it’s like, whoa, how did we go from Black healing to this? Like, it’s going to be Black healing or it’s not. So you have to just stand firm in that and make sure that you’re choosing someone when you’re writing that really aligns with what you’re looking for. And that’s another reason why I waited so long to go with a publisher. I waited until I found someone who was interested that was going to be in alignment.
Is there a structure to your writing hours? Like, for me, sitting down to write regularly is appealing. I just don’t know where to start. Do you start with writing prompts? When you want to write but you don’t know what you’re going to write, where do you start?
So, I’ll tell you two different ways. I write every day on Instagram, I share every day on Instagram, and I also write books and I also teach. So if I’m writing on Instagram, that’s something I might do, like, honestly, from bed, from the kitchen table. That’s, like, almost writing to myself as well, and I really enjoy it. So that’s writing time. If I’m up and I’m going to be writing a book or I’m writing for a story, I’m writing for something specific, I don’t like to put constraints on what I’m writing that day because I feel like I might get an idea. I don’t know if you all believe in the Muses helping us with our writing, but The Muses might have a different idea this morning. I might want to write about this, and they’re like, “No, we’re going to write about chapter ten. I know we’re only on chapter two, but we’re going to do chapter ten.” So I like to have some flow in there. I don’t know if you use Scrivener, you can use Google Docs. I keep a Google doc of just topics for the book or the story or the article or whatever it is I’m writing so that when I come to write, if I don’t know what to write about, I go to my topics list, I pull something from my topics list, and I go into that writing. And I think that can be really helpful. General prompts for me, they sometimes direct me too much into answering a specific question than to have the freedom to write whatever it is, I want to write about that topic. And I’m sure you know this, when you look at something you wrote, you read it and you think, I have a completely different way of writing this now.
And I think that journal prompts kind of give us that specific answer, whereas having those topics help us to have more flexibility. And I think that that’s helpful in being creative and not feeling like I have to answer this question, like this is a test versus a writing opportunity for me to connect to my creativity. So that’s the structure. And I only do an hour at a time. I used to do five hours, six, like when you’re writing a book, you got to get it done. And I would get in the flow of it and I would just write. And at that time it was my job. Meaning, I didn’t have any other things going on. So if my kids were at school, I would just write. I do not recommend— take breaks, rest. And I schedule an hour and I just do that hour, even though writing is my profession as well.
How long did it take you to write The Sugar Jar? What was the process of doing that?
The Sugar Jar took me six months to write and it is about 60,000 words. And I think that book poured out of me because I spent almost eighteen months on the proposal, like really crafting what I was going to be writing and getting clear about what I wanted it to be. So by the time I sat down to write each chapter, I knew each chapter intimately, like a friend. So I knew exactly what I wanted to say. I think now writing again and approaching writing again, I have now developed a language, so to speak, for writing. And so I feel more comfortable sitting down and knowing where I want the book to go when I’m approaching a book again. And so that was the process for The Sugar Jar. And I will also share that, from a lot of my friends who are writers, some of them, it took them 18 months to write a book. Some of them, they needed to take a break from the book. And I’m sure I’ll experience that in different ways as well. So, trying not to have any judgment against myself or yourself about how long it takes to write the book or how long— just let the flow happen. And because, again, even though this book took me six months, really, it took me about two and a half years with the proposal time. So. And tons of edits. Tons!
Where does perfectionism procrastination come from? Why do we do it even when we know it’s detrimental?
Perfectionism often comes from the way we grew up. If you are a recovering perfectionist like myself, a lot of times being perfect is the only way that you were seen loved, respected, validated. And so being perfect ends up becoming a part of your DNA. Because this is how I’m going to get love. This is how I’m going to belong. This is how I’m going to get cared for. And, unfortunately, we apply it to everything. We don’t just apply it to relationships. We don’t just apply it to that one person. We take it with us. We apply it to work. We apply it to everything that we do. And procrastination on the other side, which can also be in relationship with perfectionism, but procrastination is often yes, shame, yes, fear, and also sometimes scarcity. I see a lot of people, a lot of my clients struggle with procrastination, thinking there’s so many other people out there. Why get started? Why even write the book? There’s already a Black woman—there’s already a Black woman doing that. They’re not going to take me. And so I think perfectionism, they also are often united in that. Why do we do it even though we know it’s detrimental? We’re trying to protect ourselves. I think it’s so helpful to know this. We’re not doing it to be harmful. There’s a part of us that thinks, “When I procrastinate, I’m keeping myself from being harmed. I’m keeping myself from feedback. I’m keeping myself from not finishing this project. I’m keeping myself from being hurt from people who might read it.” With perfectionism, we’re saying, “I’m doing this perfectly so that people will love me, so that I won’t mess up, so that I won’t disappoint people.” All of it comes from a place of filling a void of something that occurred within us or something that’s occurring within us that says, “This is how I get worth this is how I belong, this is how I am seen as whole.”
And the work for us is to really explore and and learn how we are whole, regardless of what anyone thinks, how we matter, no matter what anyone else has to believe. And it sounds incredibly cliché, and with creatives, this is often such a part of our work. So I hope that that is helpful for you to hear as someone that teaches this work and is also a writer, that I’m still working on this, we will often be working on this for the rest of our lives. Healing is something that happens as long as we are living and breathing and in relationship with folks. And so, not that there is no rush, because we want to get to the other side of a lot of the things that are struggles for us, but knowing that we’re not behind is the work. I’m not too late! I’m not too late. And a lot of us with procrastination often feel like that, too. You know, I’m fifty now. Why would I do it? I have two kids now. Why would I do it? Who cares what I have to say? There are people waiting for what you have to say. And I didn’t believe that until I started putting myself out there. So I hope that’s helpful for you.
What’s a good first step to take when you want to start being more mindful and taking better care of yourself, but you’re stuck in the freeze mode? Do you have any weird but cool methods to get yourself jump-started?
So being more mindful, for me, that sounds like self-awareness and just understanding more of what we need. My favorite thing to do that— you wanted something weird, so this is something that I consider weird that I love— is in the shower, because most of us shower every day. No judgment, shower when you want, but when you shower, I like to get into the shower and imagine that any negativity that has come to me, whether I remember it or don’t remember it, is being washed away by the shower. Why I like to do that is because I don’t have to get on the floor and meditate. I don’t have to do the yoga and get into the yoga pants. I don’t have to write. I don’t have to do any of the things. I’m in the shower, probably getting into my pajamas, getting my cookies, watching my show. So this is a way for me to practice wellness. This is a way for me to practice releasing negativity. This is a way for me to practice mindfulness without having to do any extra steps. And I don’t know about y’all, but most of us are overwhelmed and do not want any extra steps. So I think this is a really great way to begin that. And it’s free. We have showers in the house, so you can start tonight.
Personally, I struggle with staying true to schedules unless I have some accountability. Do you have any advice for how I can regularly devote time to write for myself without depending entirely on a schedule? Or do you have any advice for how I can start following a schedule more responsibly?
I’ll be honest with you. I also struggle with schedules. I struggled with schedules because I just felt like, “I want to write when I want to.” Just to be honest, I did not want to be confined into writing. Here’s the thing: most of us have smartphones. There’s a note section of our phone. You do not have to be at a laptop or on your computer to be considered writing. If you are writing in the notes section of your phone, if you’re speaking and dictating it into your phone, that’s also writing. That’s also creativity. That’s also getting things out. Reframe what writing looks like, and I bet you you’re doing more writing than you think. Sometimes you might even be talking to a friend and texting and say something and be like, “Wow. Save that for my story.” That’s writing, too. So remember how much you are actually being creative throughout the day and the ways in which you might be being hard on yourself because it doesn’t look like sitting at the computer with your, you know, noise-canceling headphones on and writing. Writing on the train counts. Writing in the car counts. Writing every word counts.
As far as staying true to the schedule, I believe in flow. I try to do my best to stay as true to the schedule as possible. And also, there will be times where I will not be able to, and I think I shared this with y’all, but if I am the one who is breaking my schedule, that’s fine, because I am in charge of me. So there’s no need to be hard on myself about the fact that I needed to do something else as opposed to writing today. But the next day I make the intention to try to show up and do it again. Consistency is key. I’m not going to lie. It helps us to get to know ourselves better, helps us to get to know our creativity better. And if we’re looking to build a community to value writing, then yes, we need to be consistent because people are going to become— I was completely surprised when I got my book tour, part of my book tour last week. People were like, “You’re the first thing I look for in the morning.” I have no idea that I’m the first thing that people look for in the morning. I’m writing in the morning because that’s the best time for me to write. So remembering that when you’re building a community, though, they become used to what you have to offer. This doesn’t mean that you don’t deserve rest and that you can’t take breaks, but it also means that you now have a responsibility to your community.
And so, I have those moments where I’m like, the flow is really flowing and I could kind of write for the next forty-five minutes, I take advantage of those moments and let it all flow so that when I have those moments where I literally have nothing to say, I can go back to those moments and pull from that and have something to say.
This event was originally recorded on January 27th, 2023.
Yasmine Cheyenne is a self-healing educator, author, speaker, and mental wellness advocate who helps people learn how to cultivate daily practices to build healthy, joyful lives. Yasmine’s first book, The Sugar Jar shows readers that when we nurture our energy, we can create more balance and joy in our lives.
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Yasmine Cheyenne is a self-healing educator, author, speaker, and mental wellness advocate who helps people learn how to cultivate daily practices to build healthy, joyful lives. Yasmine's first book, The Sugar Jar shows readers that when we nurture our energy, we can create more balance and joy in our lives.
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