Tanaya Winder is an author, singer/songwriter, poet, motivational speaker and educator who comes from an intertribal lineage of Southern Ute, Pyramid Lake Paiute, Diné, and Duckwater Shoshone Nations where she is an enrolled citizen. She blends storytelling, singing, and spoken word to teach about different expressions of love (self love, intimate love, social love, community love, and universal love). Tanaya stopped by the American Writers Museum on May 9, 2019 along with Lakota hip-hop artist Frank Waln to perform and discuss their work and approaches to songwriting. Ahead of the event, Tanaya shared insights into her writing process and offered these five nuggets of writing advice, as well as some reading recommendations for books by indigenous writers.
Carve out time for the creative process.
With so many different obligations from work to taking care of loved ones and ourselves, it can be difficult to not be exhausted by the end of the day. Tempted by Twitter, Instagram, Netflix-binging and napping. Quieting all the thoughts, stress, anxiety, and to-do lists in my head is the hardest part. Prioritizing what brings you joy is just as important and so I put “writing time” into my calendar to make room for larger chunks of writing time.
Figure out what works for you.
I like to start the generative process by observing the world in different ways. Sometimes I’ll go to a coffee shop to “people watch” with headphones in my ears to distract myself in ways that allow me to access a different part of my brain. I have several writing playlists that get me into different moods and songs that trigger different memories. Other times I just need to reconnect with the beauty of mother earth by spending time with the land; it gifts me a gratitude that makes me want to help create something to remind others of the beauty of living and all the lessons that living carries.
Believe in the process and actively engage in the process.
Whether it’s writing a novel, an album, or a collection of poetry, it can be daunting to have a big project in front of you. Reminding myself of the importance of process (i.e. writing / editing every day, reading as much as possible, and researching) and the patience involved in practicing one’s craft each day helps the project feel less intimidating.
I heard once that the world, institutions, places, and people celebrate what they value. I do my best to celebrate every phase of the writing process I am in whether it’s completing one sentence, one line of a poem, or an entire essay or song. The writing world can feel oversaturated with other writers and social media doesn’t help with feeling overwhelmed with the pressure to feel seen. At the end of the day, you’re the one who pushes yourself forward and so, you need to be your biggest cheerleader.
Ground yourself in the why of your writing.
Why write? Why open yourself up in this way that stretches and pulls in the most unpredictable directions. For me, the why is the most important part. Each piece of writing is an offering to the world to teach others something that hopefully helps them navigate this world. Writing is ceremony, writing is heartwork. Each day I try my best to open myself up and lead with my heart.
Tanaya’s Book Recommendations:
- This Wound is a World by Billy-Ray Belcourt
- This American Ghost by Michael Wasson
- Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers by Jake Skeets
- Our History is the Future: Standing Rock Versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance by Nick Estes
- We Are Dancing For You by Cutcha Risling Baldy
- Brother Bullet by Casandra Lopez
- New Poets of Native Nations edited by Heid Erdrich
- Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings by Joy Harjo
- Words Like Love by Tanaya Winder