Cerece Rennie Murphy: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became An Artist

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Believe in your story. It’s the single best piece of advice I’ve ever gotten as a writer. You won’t always believe in yourself and because of that you might not be able to fight for yourself. When you can’t, fight for your characters. Believe in their story — your story. In the early days of my career, this simple belief gave me the strength to push through a lot of fear and doubt.

As a part of our series about “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became An Artist” I had the pleasure of interviewing Cerece Rennie Murphy.

National bestselling and award-winning author Cerece Rennie Murphy has published eleven speculative fiction novels, short stories, and children’s books, including her latest release Enchanted: 5 Tales of Magic In The Everyday. Ms. Murphy is also the founder of Virtuous Con, an online sci-fi and comic culture convention that celebrates the excellence of BIPOC creators in speculative fiction. Ms. Murphy is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA)’s Kate Wilhelm Solstice Award for significant contributions to the science fiction, fantasy, and related genres community.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

Thanks so much for having me! I grew up in Washington, DC with my sister and parents who kept a small library of books written by or about Black writers in our living room. The books ranged from the poetry of Maya Angelou to history books by Ivan Van Sertima to novels like Beloved and The Color Purple. My parents knew I loved to read and encouraged it. At the time, I didn’t realize what a gift they were giving me. Over the years, I’ve met so many people who never knew any Black authors growing up, much less speculative fiction writers, but for me, it was literally the easiest thing to get my hands on. So when I decided to write, I never doubted that I could. I knew I was joining a long history of people like me who had done it.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I can tell you that I never expected to be a writer. I have loved to read since I was a child, but never imagined or wanted to write a book. I wrote poetry, but nothing else. In fact, I used to tell myself that I couldn’t write anything longer than 5 pages.

My long form writing didn’t begin until I started reading fan fiction. The first short story I ever wrote was an extended scene from an episode of The X-files. It took more than a decade to write anything else until one day an original sci-fi story came to me while I was washing the dishes. I was SO excited about that story. I wanted to see how it would end and I knew I wouldn’t get to find out unless I wrote it. That’s how it started, with a simple desire to read the story that came into my head.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I have no idea how to choose something like that! I can tell you that this journey has brought me so much joy! It’s a career path I never expected to have. I’ve had many, many challenges along the way, but 10 years later, I can tell you that I love what I do just as much, if not more, than I did when I started.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Right now, I’m in the process of editing my 12th book, a steampunk, fantasy, murder mystery that’s unlike anything I’ve ever written in terms of time period, tone, and structure (think Carnival Row meets Beauty & The Beast), but I’m having a ball learning how to tell this story.

I’m also in the middle of planning Virtuous Con: Black History Month 2024, which is an online sci-fi and comic culture convention that highlights the excellence of indie BIPOC creators in comics, novels, film, and visual arts. It’s our 4th year running the convention which takes place on February 23–25, 2024 and each year I’m so humbled by all the amazing artists that come out to be a part of our event. This year is no different.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

My favorite experiences are when I meet a person who never saw themselves as a speculative fiction reader. Then I tell them about a story that I wrote and it intrigues them. They go home, read the book, and love it. Next thing you know they can’t get enough, not just of my books, but other speculative fiction authors. That’s just the best.

Where do you draw inspiration from? Can you share a story about that?

You know, all my stories come to me in dreams or waking visions, so I kind of have no idea where they come from. LOL! I can say that what inspires me and keeps me writing is a deep sense of hope for humanity and what we can create when we lead with love, kindness, and integrity. The courage of other artists inspires me to be brave in my own work.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

That’s a great question. With my stories, my hope is that they inspire people to see the power within themselves and use that power for good in the world. I know how much art has meant to me. It can lift you out of your darkest places. For me, Virtuous Con is about lifting up those voices so that fans can be inspired, and artists can be encouraged. That’s the story behind Virtuous Con’s name. It’s about nurturing that virtuous circle of fans and artists helping and inspiring each other to aspire to something greater — for ourselves, our communities, and our world. I hope it’s helped.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1 . This is not about you! When I started out, I had so much doubt about ME as a writer. Was I good enough? Did I know how to tell the story? On and on. What I know now is it doesn’t matter whether or not you’re good enough. If you hear the call to create — answer it! You can get better. You can grow and learn. Get over yourself and realize that a) the process of creation is a gift you give to yourself; b) the product of creation is a gift you give to the world. You don’t know who needs the work you have inside you or who needs to feel seen and heard. Art is a blessing and a blessing is not complete until it is shared. Do it. Do it to the best of your ability and then do it again. You have a right to your voice. Raise it. Free yourself and you might just free somebody else along the way.

2 . Stop waiting for perfection to start. When I wrote my first book, my first child was 3 ½ . I was busy and it was crazy. I did the best I could. By the time I wrote the 2nd I had a newborn. Between the snow days and the sickness and LIFE, my day almost never turned out the way I planned. I thought I would never finish. Twelve books later the moral of the story is just keep going. Write a paragraph. Write a page. Write a sentence. The secret to writing a book is that you start and you don’t stop until you finish. It’s not sexy, but it’s true.

3 . Constructive criticism is ESSENTIAL to getting better. Find people who have expertise you want to learn and YOUR BEST INTEREST at heart. When they point out a flaw, LISTEN! Consider whether or not you agree. Why or why not. You don’t have to agree, but if they know what they’re talking about, ignoring their counsel may be to your detriment. If you agree, make changes. If you don’t agree, at least you know why and you can stand by it. Sometimes constructive criticism will hurt your feelings. That’s ok. Take a walk. Take a day. Give yourself a chance for the emotions to recede, then come back to it.

4 . Everyone isn’t meant to share your dream. Being an artist, starting a business as an artist, is a risky thing. Everyone can’t see your vision and even fewer still can hold it, especially when things get hard — and they will absolutely get hard. The circle of people who have your back is going to be a lot smaller than you think it will. If only you can see your vision, that’s enough. It’s lonely, but it’s enough.

5 . Believe in your story. It’s the single best piece of advice I’ve ever gotten as a writer. You won’t always believe in yourself and because of that you might not be able to fight for yourself. When you can’t, fight for your characters. Believe in their story — your story. In the early days of my career, this simple belief gave me the strength to push through a lot of fear and doubt.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would love to inspire a movement where people recognized their own power to shape the world. We think we are powerless, but I believe that each of us is powerful beyond measure. The world is the way it is because the powerful few convince the many that we have no power. It’s not true. In my movement, everyday people would recognize their power — to heal, to challenge, to change — come together and change the world.

We have been blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she just might see this.

I would love to sit down with George Lucas, thank him for what Star Wars has meant to me, and ask him about creating a world as big and as vast as Star Wars. I’d also love to talk with him about creating an infrastructure that would give indie creators, and particularly Black indie creators, access to producers looking for innovative IP across the industry.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

I’m @cerecermurphy on Twitter and IG, but you can also visit my website at cerecerenniemurphy.com to learn more about what I’m up to.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Thank you again for having me!

Cerece Rennie Murphy: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became An Artist was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.