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Using my voice and pen for good

read + write
we’re back. get excited.
Every few weeks while we’re testing Notes, we’ll publish interviews with writers testing the feature. Today, we’ve got reading recommendations, inspiration, and writing advice from Bee Quammie, Justin Myers, Akotowaa Ofori, and Polly Irungu.
These writers will be joining us in a Space tomorrow (Friday, July 8th) hosted by @TwitterWrite. It’s not to be missed — set yourself a reminder here
read + write + inspiration
Our first guest is Bee Quammie. Bee is a writer, radio host, TV personality, and public speaker. She has written for Chatelaine, Refinery29, CBC, Maclean’s, and more. 
📸: Eh Forbes Photography
📸: Eh Forbes Photography
What’s the thing you read when you want to remember how to write?
I read my old journals. I used to wish for opportunities to write for amazing publications about things that mattered to me, and I used to dream about having a book deal. I have those things now, so when I need to remember what I can do, I go back and read… me.
What’s the best thing you read in June?
I revisited a breathtaking essay by Jesmyn Ward called ‘Witness and Respair’ that was published by Vanity Fair back in 2020. I was feeling stagnant in my own writing, and that piece shook something loose that was blocking my creativity. 
Who’s the Twitter follow that hasn’t let you down, since the beginning?
Halle Berry. She’s a rare and refreshing example of a celebrity who has figured out how to ride the Twitter wave, not be carried away by it. 
Tell us a way you’re excited to see people use Notes?
I’m really curious to see how Notes helps people to further build community and create opportunities for themselves. My tweeting of random thoughts has led to bigger opportunities for my writing and beyond, so it’ll be interesting to see how Notes contributes to that.
What’s a piece of writing advice that’s held true for you?
Someone once told me “write from your scars, not your wounds,” and I use that as a gauge for making personal writing public. I’m a pretty open writer, but I constantly have to ask myself if I’ve healed enough to show people where I hurt. 
How would you describe your relationship with your readers? (especially if it’s evolved)
Writing is such a solitary and therapeutic practice for me that it’s easy to think that no one really cares. When I realized that people did, in fact, care, I had to find a balance between embracing the support of readers without being swayed to write for readers. People connect with my work when I’m authentic about what I write and how I write it. When I satisfy that, my readers are satisfied too.
Our second guest is Justin Myers. Justin is a writer, author, and columnist for British GQ. He has written for The Guardian, International Business Times, BuzzFeed, and more. His most recent novel, The Fake-Up, was released earlier this year. 
📸: Justin Myers
📸: Justin Myers
What’s the thing you read when you want to remember how to write?
An hour or two of reading something new can get my gears in motion again — even if I’m not fond of what I’ve just read. Maybe it’s just the act of reading something that reminds me, if I don’t write, then nobody can read it. Sometimes I might go back and read something old of my own, something I was really happy with, and try to channel whatever energy had a hold of me that day.
What’s the best thing you read in June?
Who’s the Twitter follow that hasn’t let you down, since the beginning?
I’ve followed comedic writer Mollie Goodfellow for a number of years. Whether she’s posting jokes, memes, serious musings on what’s going on with her at the moment, or simmering fury at the state of the world, it doesn’t matter — it’s always interesting.
Tell us a way you’re excited to see people use Notes?
I’m looking forward to seeing people play around with formats, to find their niche, to create something of their own. A new platform always feels like a clean slate, and Notes has your potential audience already there, waiting to be informed, or entertained. What ideas that might have otherwise lain dormant will be coaxed out by Notes? It’ll be a good training ground, an evolving workshop maybe, for people ready to go beyond short, sharp soundbites and explore their ideas and feelings.
What’s a piece of writing advice that’s held true for you?
If I may, I’d like to dismantle one very common piece of advice I see, which I have always ignored and it’s done me the world of good. ‘Write every day,’ they say. Well, no. Don’t. Not if you don’t want to. It’s true you can’t edit a blank page, but if you fill one with something you feel you’re writing at gunpoint, you might grow to resent the process. If you’re inspired to write every day, then, yes, do it; if you’re on deadline and you need to get something down, then, yes, do it. But if you don’t feel like it, don’t. 
Actually, I will give one piece of advice that works for me now — instead of making rash decisions about something you’ve written, leave it overnight. It might read back entirely differently the next day. (Also: angry emails — future you will thank you sitting on those for a night.)
And instead of deleting whole swathes of copy from your piece, dump it into a document called ‘Offcuts’ or ‘Spares’ or ‘Unused’ or whatever. Tuesday’s deletions might just be what Friday’s piece was waiting for all along. (This especially works with books, actually — gems that don’t fit into one story might well shine even brighter in another.)
How would you describe your relationship with your readers? (especially if it’s evolved)
I can only comment on it from my side, so they may see it completely differently. But I think they trust me. We’ve been through a lot together. What’s great about writing for a long time and developing your own voice is that your readers’ collective ear evolves alongside it. Eventually, your readers want to hear that voice talking about any number of things, not just the subjects you’re known for writing about. It’s a huge honour — and sometimes feels like quite a big responsibility — when someone says, ‘I was waiting to hear your take on this’ or ‘I read about X and immediately thought of you’.
Being able to make people laugh, and make them think, is an honour I don’t take lightly.
Our third guest is Akotowaa Ofori. Akotowaa writes a blog and short stories, sometimes under the pseudonym ‘The Spider Kid’. Her short story Principles of Balance was published in Jalada Africa’s ‘After+Life’ anthology, and shortlisted in the 2020 Nommo Awards. 
📸: Henry Desouza Nelson
📸: Henry Desouza Nelson
What’s the thing you read when you want to remember how to write?
In the past, I’ve often revisited a sprawling and slightly abstract essay by Annie Dillard titled, ‘Write Till You Drop.’ More recently, though, I’d say several chapters from Akwaeke Emezi’s memoir, Dear Senthuran, contain the words that renew my writing each time I read them. 
What’s the best thing you read in June?
Definitely The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal. It was such a well-rounded and well-researched novel full of ambition, love, and astonishingly credible events that never happened. I love it when works of fiction make me doubt their fictitiousness. That’s the kind of sci-fi I aspire to write.
Who’s the Twitter follow that hasn’t let you down, since the beginning?
For me, it might have to be @AFREADA, and I’m not just saying that because I’m a literature person. The team that runs their social media understands clean branding, simple sweetness, and the power of wit. Their tweets are as much a delight to engage with as are the stories they publish and publicize.
 Tell us a way you’re excited to see people use Notes?
I’m excited to see people use Notes to expand on those hilarious snippets of real life that they often compress into Tweets or threads, especially in Accra. Accra is a city full of the most unbelievable tales, and very few platforms have any record of this outside of Twitter. I’m excited to read about more strange encounters in traffic, in restaurants, with dispatch riders, and many more.
What’s a piece of writing advice that’s held true for you?
“Write early.” I consider myself a morning person by nature, but I think it’s generally true that your mind is more uninhibited just after you wake up, which helps with creativity. It’s also difficult to let creativity have its way with you if you allow all the other obligations of the day, or other people’s thoughts, flood your mind before you try to start writing. 
How would you describe your relationship with your readers? (especially if it’s evolved)
I consider each person who responds to my writing worth responding to individually, though I may not always have the time and energy to do that. I have some sets of very loyal readers who’ve been reading me online for about 7 years. They will likely jump on anything I write no matter the platform, form or genre, and they feel as close to me as personal friends.
Our fourth guest is Polly Irungu. Polly is a multimedia journalist and founder of Black Women Photographers. She has written for The New York Times, Reuters, NPR, BBC News, and more. 
📸: Kreshonna Keane
📸: Kreshonna Keane
What’s the thing you read when you want to remember how to write?
I always find my way back to Toni Morrison and Octavia Butler. They remind me that all is needed for me to do it. I’m always getting in my head about my writing. As someone whose first language is not English, I had trouble speaking and writing, which impacted my confidence. 
What’s the best thing you read in June?
In Every Mirror She’s Black by Lolá Ákínmádé Åkerström, who also happens to be my mentor. The novel gets at the heart of what it’s like to be a Black woman in this world. The level of nuance and care in this book is felt with every word.
Who’s the Twitter follow that hasn’t let you down, since the beginning?
@MichellCClark for his inspirational gems, @WrittenByHanna for bringing the tea and receipts, @lenubienne for always keeping it real, those are just a few of my faves!
The best part is that I recently met @lenubienne IRL when I visited NOLA this past week for ESSENCE Fest, and yes, she was EVERYTHING!
Tell us a way you’re excited to see people use Notes?
I’m here for it all! I think one way is to see people use it to amplify their voice in a unique way that won’t get lost in the noise of it all.
If you want to flex your writing muscle and have never felt like you had a platform, I think Notes is a great way to start and leverage your existing community. 
What’s a piece of writing advice that’s held for you?
Once again, Octavia Butler. This quote: “You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.” If there is one thing I have, it is persistence. I’m not the best writer. By far. But what I will do is continue writing. Continue using my voice and pen for good. 
wrap up
What a lineup. Thanks for reading — remember to follow @TwitterWrite and set a reminder for our Space on Friday. 
See you next time,
Anna
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