5 Things I Learned From Beyonce's "Lemonade" That Will Make Me A Better Writer
My takeaways from this past weekend...
True art can't be rushed
One thing that I've always admired about Beyonce is that she takes her time. When other artists rush to put out albums or singles in an an attempt to stay "relevant" or satisfy an eager fan base, Beyonce is fine-tuning, revising, and polishing her work into something well worth the wait. I've written before about dealing with writer envy, and at times I feel that push that can drive an artist/writer to put out work before it's fully matured. Social media is a major culprit of this. I've been on the brink of panic attacks from scrolling through social media, seeing all the greatness that people are creating, and wondering when I'll finally get my stuff together. But Beyonce inspires me to shut out the noise and do the work, no matter how long it takes or what people expect. The afterglow seems so worth it.
Beyonce inspires me to shut out the noise and do the work, no matter how long it takes or what people expect. The afterglow seems so worth it.
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Channel your emotions into your craft
This is one that I have swayed away from over the years. As I've gotten older, I've convinced myself that writing about my emotions, especially about romantic issues, was too insular and too mundane. I felt that I should be writing about the "important" stuff...wars, economy, politics, revolutions in far away lands. And while all of those are important, critical things that affect me on a certain level, what I feel and how I feel it are set against the context of these wider issues, even when I don't realize it. Beyonce expressed very intimate feelings, allegedly about infidelity in her marriage, in a way that was much bigger than her singular self and her singular circumstance to create a cathartic representation of the complex emotional reality of black women everywhere. That is the magic behind the strength that it takes to pour all of the colors of your emotions into your craft. By making your testimony exist, the realities of others can be realized and dealt with. And this heals us all.
By making your testimony exist, the realities of others can be realized and dealt with. And this heals us all.
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Literature and art are one big conversation that you must engage in by appreciating the work of others.
I'm ashamed to say this, but Beyonce turned me on to Somali-British poet Warsan Shire this weekend. I should have already known of her. I should have already known her work. But that's one of my favorite things about Lemonade...it made me study. I also now know of Lisa-Kainde Diaz and Naomi Diaz of the French-Cuban duo Ibeyi, who sing in English and the Nigerian language of Yoruba and Laolu Senbanjo, the Nigerian visual artist behind the elaborate painted dancers toward the end of the film. And as Okayafrica alludes to, there are shades of Toni Morrison's Beloved throughout the visual project. I feel Alice Walker and Zora Neale Hurston there, too. Lemonade adequately defers to the ancestors beautifully. This is an example I am eager to follow. I just need to pay better attention.
You and all your layers are the true art.
We aren't drawn to Beyonce soley because of the music. As Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah says in this piece about the Beyhive for NPR, we are drawn to her coming-0f-age journey, and through her we triumph. I think even Beyonce has come to this realization only recently since we've seen her perfect exterior come down to reveal something more genuine in recent years. As I've watched Beyonce go deeper into this creative realness over the years with each project, I am reminded that my layers are what I have to offer to anyone who reads my work. When I try to make my layers seem like something else or when I omit them completely, I create an inferior quality product. Beyonce, and Lemonade specifically, have taught me not to use my work as a shield from being seen. People ultimately want you. They want you to deliver yourself to them through your work.
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The work of self-knowledge and expression is mandatory for great work
My muses are the Knowles sisters, Erykah Badu, Tracee Ellis Ross, Zora Neale Hurston, Ntozake Shange, Issa Rae, Jessica Care Moore, Myleik Teele, and many other black women who drip with a nectar called self-knowledge. I admire their ability to reflect that knowledge in every aspect about them, from the way they dress to what they do for a living. I've watched Beyonce grow into this, so I know this is a process, and watching her has made me feel OK about my process in spite of the ever looming expectation of instant "have-it-togetherness" that women, especially black women are faced with. Beyonce, and all of these women, create great work because of the time they have dedicated to self-work.
Beyonce says her grandmother was an alchemist for turning her lemons into lemonade. Self work is the alchemy through which we turn our perceived flaws and quirks into magical things that only we can create.
What did you think about Lemonade? What themes were you able to pull out that helped you with your writing?