Ayanna Gillian Lloyd is an essayist. Fiction writer and one half of the duo behind Designer Island. A Caribbean lifestyle website. She also works as a copywriter and strategist at an advertising agency.
Ayanna is eager to contribute to the new wave of Caribbean stories and storytelling. She gives a peek of life and creativity from her perspective. Read on and learn the colour of her crayon.
1. How do you define creativity and what does it mean to you?
Human beings are innately creative. We’re always solving problems, trying to see things from new angles, trying to figure out how to beat a system, how to make something work, how to make it better. Creativity is often about necessity, about survival. Making art is about survival too.
2. How much of your creative ability do you think is innate? Or is your creativity a skill that you have developed?
I have always loved books, words, and stories. From calypso, to fairy tales to tales of the Greek, Yoruba and Egyptian gods to stories of my family growing up in Belmont, I was always surrounded by stories. I think we are natural storytellers. Perhaps if I had not been, I would have never loved language the way I do. I do think talent is innate, that we come into this world and into our bodies with gifts because we have work to do while we are here. However, if the gifts are not nurtured, if we do not find ourselves in the right environment or create the right environment for them to flourish, then it never really matters. Talent is innate but it is just a tool. It must be nurtured, honed and developed like any other tool.
But at the same time, if you don’t have the talent…
3. When did you realize that you wanted to express your creativity? Was it encouraged by others (e.g., parents)?
I always wanted to be a writer and I have always been surrounded by books and readers but it took me a long time to take it seriously. I meandered for a long time, doing different jobs, always in some ways associated with writing. I was a freelance journalist at Vox Magazine many years ago, taught secondary school Literature, wrote for websites about self-development and African history, worked in Corporate Communications and now in Advertising. I have always been writing, always been telling different types of stories. Maybe about two years ago I started making deliberate moves to grow as a writer. I was neither encouraged nor discouraged from writing, but I think the environment that was created for me – a love for books, for stories, one that indulged my curiousity and irreverence had a major impact.
4. What is your standard for evaluating your own creative work and the works of other people? Do you think that monetary rewards can be compatible with creativity in general? Are monetary rewards relevant to your own work?
It is important to surround yourself with people whose work you respect and can bounce ideas off of. People have this romantic idea of a brooding, solitary artist, creating in a vacuum, drinking whisky and that inspiration just comes like a thief in the night and suddenly we are great writers and produce amazing work. When it comes down to it, the work is solitary but that is only part of the picture. My work began to accelerate when I started deliberately following writers on Twitter, reading their blogs, reading good books with intention and then joining the St James Writers’ Room where I get to bounce ideas around with other writers, have my work critiqued regularly and develop a kind of discipline. I have only just begun to take my writing seriously and to really give myself a chance to do better work.
I think it is also important to develop relationships with different types of creatives. It allows for a blend of perspectives, gives a range of influences, a range of teachers and sharpens your eye to better evaluate your own work, to know what to look for, what works, what doesn’t etc.
As for evaluating the work of others, there are writers whose work makes my breath catch, makes me stop and hold the book to my chest and close my eyes like I have just eaten something absolutely divine. The only metric is the way the work makes me feel, whether it moves me. I only know it when I feel it.
Money is great. I’m a fan of money. I’d like to be able to live off what I love doing. I wish we all could. Artists should be compensated well for the work they do. But would I never write again if I were not paid to do it though? Nah. Junot Diaz said in an interview once “A writer is a writer because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway.” That’s the truth.
5. Do you think your own perception and evaluation of your creative endeavors are influenced by the views of other people? What role do you think the culture that you live in plays in your creative efforts?
It depends on who those people are. My writers' group led by Monique Roffey has become invaluable to me in terms of learning to develop my craft. I have also been lucky to meet one or two other really great writers that encourage, critique and guide me along the way. Their belief and opinion matters a lot.
The Caribbean has been exploding with literary activity – Bocas in Trinidad & Tobago, Calabash in Jamaica, Nature Island Literary Festival in Dominica, Word Alive in St Lucia etc. Bocas Lit Fest is the only literary festival I have attended personally and I am honoured to be a part of their Who’s Next programme this year that features emerging writers. Attending Bocas, going to readings, meeting writers, taking chances have all been important for me. It’s about being part of a wider conversation about ideas, about writing, about the Caribbean, about women, about the world we live in.
I am a woman of the African Diaspora and the Caribbean Diaspora. We really live at the cross section of the world. We are constantly negotiating and coming to terms with our history, with this place we have found ourselves in and are helping to create. That is a big part of how I see story – that we are constantly, communally negotiating history, negotiating the telling of it, weaving together myriad voices. The really great writers have this uncanny ability to see a moment and articulate something that we’ve all been feeling but had no name for in a way that resonates so perfectly with a whole cross section of people. This is the space that I am from and am writing from, although it may look a lot different from the Caribbean of yesterday. We’re constantly negotiating and writing back to that as well.
6. What do you do when you experience a creative block?
Wail, moan, cry, beat up and read. Ride it out. Do something else. Live a little or a lot. If I find I have nothing to say, nothing to create maybe I have a raw material deficit. You’ve got to live to write well. If you have no stories in you, no experiences then you have no food for your work. If I am working on a piece and I find it is not working or I get stuck, I take it to my group and ask what they think. Chances are, someone can help me diagnose where I have been going wrong.
7. How do you make the leap from a "Spark" in your head to the action you produce?
Get it down. Don’t stick. Sometimes you lose the moment. But I also let an idea cook for a while in my head. Let it wander, roll around, get dirty so I can taste it and feel its shape. With Designer Island if either of us has an idea for a story or an interview we bounce it off each other, work out the nuts and bolts together. The process is far less solitary when you are a collaborator but no less rewarding. After that it is far less sexy. It’s pure work.
8. Do you have any special rituals that you do in order to achieve your creative goals?
Not rituals per se, but I do carry around a notebook all the time. I am partial to Moleskine notebooks. I love how the paper feels. I love that they endure for a long time and can take a beating. I enjoy writing in public spaces – a bar, a restaurant, sometimes sitting in my car. It allows me to people watch.
Does rum count as a ritual?
9. Has your creativity changed stylistically as you have matured? If it has changed, please explain how?
I hope so. These are early days for me but I think I am becoming more fearless. Less inclined to care about giving offense or hurting feelings or writing something taboo or even writing something awful. Less worried about being vulnerable. As I work with my group, get guidance from mentors and pay greater attention to craft, I hope I am more deliberate and intentional rather than waiting for inspiration and despairing when it does not come or relying on this nebulous thing called talent. Writing is craft. The mastering of that craft takes lifetimes. But as I said, these are early days yet for me.
10. What has been the greatest sacrifice that you have made for your craft?
Nothing I have done feels like a sacrifice. The work feels very natural so far, both with my fiction writing and with the development of Designer Island.
Spending Sundays at the St James Writers' Room or Designer Island laptop work sessions at Drink feels like what I want to be doing, not a sacrifice.
11. Who or what has helped you to persevere and not quit?
I have good friends, great mentors. I am doubly fortunate that in some cases they overlap. In my case it was not so much about not quitting but about getting started! Many people write for years and never submit anything to a publication, never share their work, never attend a workshop, never go to a festival, never get help. I was one of them. You can muddle along for years that way being afraid, hoping that a miracle happens, never really taking the risk of exposing your writing. A friend told me once to stop being a coward and “Earn my angst”. It hit me like a big stone in my chest. So that’s what I am doing, earning my angst.
12. Do you believe that it is important to be accepted by others as being creative or is just doing what you love to do enough to justify your work? Explain.
You can create, make things and love it for as long as you live. Does not mean you are any good at it. Does not mean you are doing what needs to be done to develop and grow. If you want people to read your work, to enjoy it, hopefully to pay you for it then the quality of your work has to grow and be meaningful to other people. But I think if work is meaningful to you, if you create from an honest, fearless place, it resonates.
13. Has rejection ever affected your creative process? Explain.
It’s early days for me yet. I have done more rejection of my own work than others have. But I know it’s coming.
14. Looking at what you have created in the past, would you change anything today? Why or why not?
I am happy to have created everything that I have created, even pieces that were frightfully bad. They were all part of the process. Writing crap is better than not writing at all.
15. Have you ever doubted your talent? If so, how did you work through your doubt?
Everyday. Every single day. I cry, beat up, drink rum and do it anyway.
16. What piece of work are you most proud of? Why?
I am happy with the work I have been producing as a result of my workshop experience. I can see the growth that has amassed since my decision to take deliberate, intentional steps. I am also very proud of Designer Island. It’s young, still developing and still finding its voice but we believe in it.
17. Have you helped or mentored anyone else? Is there someone that you see (name drop) that you would like to Mentor?
I was an English Literature teacher for almost 9 years. Some of my best days were spent talking about books with my students. Magical moments happened when I felt like I stopped ‘teaching’ and instead felt like I was sitting with a group of really bright, curious young women, talking about books and ideas. To see a student go from having no idea why they have to read this dumb book to caring about the characters, and even better, to appreciating the writer’s craft, is an amazing feeling. I taught some amazing young women. I could confidently leave some of them to run this country.
18. To a young Creative emerging in your field, what advice would you impart unto them?
Read. Read as much as you can. Read good books. Read bad books. Read bestsellers. Read classics. Read newspapers. Read blogs. Read anything that catches your fancy. Read like it is your job. Live well, live badly and absorb everything you can. And write. It seems self-explanatory but I spent a long time wanting to write without much to show for the desire. When you get a chance to meet someone or join a group that can really help you improve you don’t want to be caught with nothing to show for the desire you profess. Be unapologetic about the fact that it is important to you and prove it.
19. What would you most like to be remembered for?
I’d like to be remembered as a part of this new wave of Caribbean writing that’s exploding around us right now. I hope we endure and can create work that is important and meaningful and says something about the time we live in. If I could write one of those books that you read over and over again on rainy days, when you feel sad or when you want to get lost in something beautiful, one that almost makes you want to cuss because it so good, I would have far exceeded any of my own wildest hopes.
20. If you were a crayon, what would be the name of your colour?
Beautiful, Badass Black :)
You can follow Ayanna on Twitter @AyaRoots. Or check out her writing at Designer Island at www.designerislandlife.com. Ayanna will also be at Bocas Lit Fest at the national library Port Of Spain . Check the schedule to see her and other Caribbean Writers at www.bocaslitfest.com.