John Legend says this about writer J. Ivy: ‘Brilliant’ and ‘incredible’

J. Ivy Headshot
What inspired you to write your first book?
My first book was a poetry book that my family and I self-published back when I was in college. It was called Poetically Black/Ivy In the Making. The inspiration was simply my mother telling me I had enough poems for a book and [she] encouraged me to do it. At the time I hadn’t been officially writing for that long, but her “why not” logic made sense. Years later I self-published a book called Here I Am: Then & Now, which was inspired by my album Here I Am. This book was a dialogue, a deeper dive into the life and the times of what inspired the album and some of the current situations we’re now facing.

Do you have a specific writing style?
Once I know what topic I’m looking to discuss, my writing style is free-flowing. I find that wave, that stream of consciousness, and let my instinct drive the words onto the page. From there I structure what’s been written, fill in the holes, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite some more, [and then] fine-tune the point I’m looking to drive home and the story I’m looking to tell.

What books have most impacted your life — or work as an author?
Makes Me Want to Holler by Nathan McCall, So Far, So Good by Gil Scott-Heron, Embraced by the Light by Bettie Eadie, The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield, The Auto-biography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley, and The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra.

What books are you currently reading? Why this author?
I just finished Believe to Achieve by Howard “H” White. I recently picked up Written: The Lyrics of Grandmaster Caz and Reach: 40 Black Men Speak on Living, Leading, and Succeeding. I had the honor of meeting with “H” and after hearing some of his story and words of wisdom I was intrigued to read his book to further learn from this great man. Written caught my eye when I was in the music store. He’s one of the greatest MC’s; I love adding the lyrical appeal to my writing, and I was inspired by the lyrics I read in the store and the hand written layout of the book. Reach was a gift from my publisher. I love hearing about what others have gone through to get where they are. It’s motivating and inspiring!

What new authors have piqued your interest?
Michelle Alexander, Dr. Chandra Gill, and Etan Thomas

If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything about your latest work?
You know, I was so super thorough with the process of creating Dear Father that there really isn’t anything I would have done differently. I’m really proud of how it turned out and there are other pieces that I’m still looking forward to adding to it, like the audio book and kicking off www.DearFatherLetters.com, which is the writing movement we have attached to the book. The mission is: “One Million Letters Written, One Million Hearts Healed.”
J. Ivy - Dear Father - Breaking The Cycle of Pain - Book Cover
Is there anything you find particularly challenging about writing or coming up with a concept for your book?
For me, as a writer, what to write about is usually the hardest part. I have ideas fire off all the time, but considering where to put the energy, as well as what will be most relevant to the times, can at times be a creative tussle. Writing is like breathing. The key is making a decision on how you want to breathe.

What was the hardest part of completing this project?
The hardest part was just making sure I didn’t leave anything out. I didn’t want to look back years from now and wished I had added something here and there. I wanted to make sure the story was complete, but after countless re-reads and re-writes I’m confident that I accomplished that goal.

What advice would you give other writers?
The main advice I would give is to be fearless, honest, and transparent with your writing. Trust yourself and know that what touches you will touch others. Fear kills creativity and ideas, so lead with love and let it flow.

Describe the process of getting published.
Getting published for me may be a bit different for most authors. A lot of authors in the game have agents. I was approached after speaking at a conference, which I was invited to after speaking at Deepak Chopra’s annual conference. Once the introduction was made and discussions were had about the possibility of partnering on this project, I submitted the first draft of the book. They loved what they read. I loved their energy and vision, so we decided to move forward as a team.

What were the literary, psychological or logistical challenges in bringing your work to life?
Literary, I wanted to tell the story so well that it would make my father, mother, family, friends, my city, and fellow poets/artists proud. I wanted to make sure that it would be authentic. I wanted to make sure my voice would be heard even though it was being told in the written form. Psychological, the story is so personal, that I had to remind myself to not be afraid to let go. My goal for telling this story is to uplift, inspire, and help heal others who may have gone thru or are going thru what had happened to me. In order to reach that goal I had to wear my heart on my sleeve, I had to wear my badge of vulnerability and let go so the point of the book would be felt. Those moments came by slowing down my thoughts, meditating, praying, leaning on my emotions when it was time to zone out and put pen to page or fingers to keys.

Everyone’s process for writing is different. Explain yours.
It depends on the time, the mood, the day. I may wake up and write what I was dreaming. I may schedule a time to sit down in a café and write. I may be working on something else and the pieces of the puzzle I was looking for earlier will come to me. It varies, but the key is to be ready to receive it when it comes and write down everything because those thoughts and ideas may not return.

What are five of your favorite books and why.
Gil Scott-Heron’s So Far, So Good expanded my creativity. He taught me to think outside of the box. The Celestine Prophecy showed me how everything happens for a reason and that there is no such thing as “coincidence.” “Makes Me Want To Holler” inspired me to keep fighting and was superbly written. “The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success” reminded me and taught me to look within. And “Embraced by the Light” spoke to my spirituality and knowing that we are not alone and that we are protected.

Please provide three “good to know” fact about you. Be creative. Tell us about your first job or the inspiration behind your writing.
My first job was cutting grass for the neighbors on the block. I loved hooking up folks’ lawns and getting paid for my hard work. Early on it taught me that hard work does pay off. I’m a Grammy Award Winning Poet/Artist and 3x HBO Def Poet. My father was a disc jockey/on-air personality and my mother is a retired nurse, so I always felt it was is my life’s mission to use my voice to help heal people. Also, I love my Chicago Bears and Bulls…

What is the mission you set out to accomplish with your voice in this book?
Again, the goal is to help people find healing thru the power of forgiveness and self-expression. I want to help break down the barriers of pain that have imprisoned us for generations. I want this book to help better ourselves so we can help better those around us.

Who are the authors you reread and why?
Deepak Chopra, Kevin Powell, Michael Eric Dyson, Cornell West, Paulo Coelho… I reread them for inspiration and information.

A great book has what?
For me a great book makes me take a look at myself. It makes me think of how I can become better. It drives me to push through the obstacles. It challenges my thinking. It teaches me something. It tugs on my soul. It feeds my appetite for knowledge. It helps me grow.

You develop character and ideas by …
You develop character and ideas by going thru life experiences, going thru the good and the bad times, and learning from each scenario. You develop character by looking in the mirror and being honest and objective with yourself. You develop it by learning from others. You develop it from breaking thru the pressures that life will place on your heart and breathing easier when those pressures return.

Where would you travel if you could to write your next book?
Ethiopia

What is the gift of reading and why does it open up a new world?
The gift of reading expands the mind. It opens us up to new worlds, new cultures, new thinking. Reading teaches us, it inspires us. It pushes us to become more. Reading helps us to discover who we are. Reading and writing are truly two of the greatest gifts we were ever given.

Munson Steed
Munson Steed

Founder and publisher of rolling out's parent company Steed Media Group.

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