How Beyoncé's "Homecoming" Changed My Thoughts on Writing
I wasn’t feeling well yesterday, so when my husband took our son out to a movie, I decided to curl up on the sofa with some magazines and turn on Netflix for background noise. I streamed Homecoming, Beyoncé’s concert documentary about her headlining performances at last year’s Coachella.
I never opened the magazines.
Though I’ve never been an enormous Bey fan — save for Lemonade, which is a phenomenal album, I don’t own and haven’t listened to much of her work — I was riveted by the film. Her love for her family, dedication to her craft, and unrivaled talent were obvious, but the thing that kept me engaged was something rarely seen in concert documentaries: Beyoncé has a mission and it shows through in all that she does.
The ode to historically black colleges and universities. The diversity of the dancers, not only in skin color but body shape and size. The all-black marching band. The voice-over narrations and quotes from black leaders and intellectuals: Maya Angelou, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Audre Lord, Nina Simone, Malcolm X, and Alice Walker, to name a few. Each aspect of her Coachella performance and the accompanying film was carefully selected to highlight the black experience and bring culture to a stage that had never before showcased an African American woman headliner.
It made me think about my own work, how I often go through my days with little thought about the bigger picture. Most of the time I’m just doing my best to stay afloat — I write what pops into my head, publish or submit or pitch, and move on to the next thing, trying to keep this freelance writing train chugging along.
But watching Homecoming, I realized my work is lacking some higher purpose. When I was a grant writer, my purpose was simple: To raise money for programs and projects I believed in. But with freelancing, my aim has simply been to write, publish, make money, rinse, repeat. I want bylines. I want dollars. I want a career.
The tricky thing about freelancing — or any creative endeavor — is that the work never ends. If you publish an enormously popular best-seller (and kudos to you, my friend, if you’ve accomplished such a rare feat), you can’t kick back and rest on your laurels. The agent, manager, publisher, and readers want — nay, expect — another book.
There’s always something more to write. Another project to tackle. And in between all the writing is waiting. Waiting for the editor to respond to your pitch. Waiting for the piece to be published. Waiting for the masses to respond. Waiting for the elusive check to arrive.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the repetitiveness of it all, which can lead to some serious burnout. That’s why having some personal mission is so important. Why do you create? What message do you want to get across? What is your goal, outside of money, fame, applause, recognition? These are questions I’ve been asking myself since watching the film yesterday.
A while after finishing the documentary, I picked up a magazine and there, on page 8, was a quote that summed up all I’d felt while watching Homecoming:
So, I’m on a mission to find my mission. I want to explore more of what I want out of this writing life and hold myself accountable to it. Call it my “why,” my “purpose,” my “raison d’être” — whatever the name, it’s what I’m seeking right now.
Thank you, Bey, for entertaining, educating, and inspiring me in so many ways.