In My Backyard
In My Backyard is a limited interview series sharing the stories behind some of my favorite makers and creatives killing it in my own backyard. The series highlights the power in starting where you are and collaborating with others in your network.
Meet one of my favorite writers and artists from the city, Arielle Gray.
Passionate about her work, dedicated to her craft, and committed to impacting the world around her, Arielle began writing at a young age. Ever since then, she has pursued writing everything from album reviews and journalistic pieces on policing urban communities to short fiction stories and research pieces on the cannabis industry. She’s versatile, authentic, and a passionate storyteller, with bylines in outlets like Mass Appeal, VICE, our beloved Killerboombox, and many more. Arielle is currently the Arts Engagement Producer for The ARTery, WBUR’s arts and culture team, working on writing, community programming, and partnership building.
Arielle shares her story in this edition of In My Backyard.
THE EARLY YEARS
What do you do and why do you do it?
I do what I do because writing has always been the thing I knew I could use to change things, to make myself and others like me heard. I'm passionate about using my words to unearth or perpetuate existing conversations about things impacting my communities.
How did you get your start in writing? What were your early years like doing this work?
I've always been a writer, since a very young age. I used my words to get all of the worlds and scenarios I dreamt up in my head. For a while, I wrote (and still write) predominantly speculative fiction and it wasn't until my 20s when I first explored the avenue of journalistic writing. Journalism, with its rules and penchant for brevity, seemed foreign to a detailed, fiction writer like me. But once I delved deeper into journalism, I fell in love. My early years as a journalist contained a lot of hard lessons, a lot of rejections and a lot of learning moments. Once I found mentors to guide me in my writing career, things began to come together in a more cohesive way.
What was the hardest part of your work in those early years and how did you get through it?
Rejections are (still) some of the hardest parts of being a writer. Up until this year, I was freelancing, so you have to constantly be pitching ideas to editors, hoping that one of them picks up your piece or proposal. Submitting to literary journals or getting fiction published is a lot of rejection as well. I had to train myself to see rejections as opportunities for improvement.
MAKING THE TRANSITION
What was the process like from getting your initial start in writing to writing for larger outlets like Mass Appeal and VICE?
The process was a lot of learning what did and didn't work. Often times, when editors reject your pitch or proposal, they tell you why. I had to look at these reasons for rejection and figure out how to adjust my pitches and writing accordingly. Each pitch has to be different, depending on the platform you're submitting it to. It also took a lot of research, of following writers online and taking down emails, along with keeping a watchful eye on calls for pitches on Twitter.
What's your writing process like? How has it changed or further developed over the years?
My writing process is mainly a lot of staring off into space, day dreaming and then sporadically coming up with ideas and feeling the need to write them down. What's weird about me is that I very rarely write things in succession. I may get inspired and jot down the end of a story, or perhaps the middle. And once I sit down to assemble it, I find myself looking at a pretty complete piece of work. I always keep a small notebook on me to write down story ideas and other random bits and pieces that may float into my head.
You're now the Arts Engagement Producer on WBUR’s arts and culture team. Congratulations! Can you tell me how the opportunity came about and the work you're doing in this role?
The opportunity came about through a lot of hard work. I started at WBUR as a writing fellow and while there, expanded on and utilized many of my previous skills as a graphic designer and community organizer. In this role, I'm generating new ways to bring our arts and culture content into real time, via community programming and partnership building, along with handling socials and writing pieces.
LEARNED LESSONS, ADVICE, & WHAT’S NEXT
What’s one of the most important lessons that you've had to learn as a writer? How has this lesson shaped your progress as a writer and the work you're currently doing?
I can't stress this enough. Rejection and constructive criticism are two of the most humbling and helpful tools in writing. Being constantly challenged to improve and push your boundaries will help your artistic growth, all around. Plus, it keeps the ego in check. This lesson has taught me that there is always room for improvement but also always room to write things that you want to- the how is what's important.
What’s one lesson you're still continuing to learn?
One lesson I'm continuing to learn is perseverance. Sometimes, it can seem easy to give up or to stop doing something, simply because you feel you're not good enough or cut out for the work. But perseverance is what keeps you going, throughout the doubt and trepidation. Perseverance will keep you going in ways that talent can't.
What does "community" mean to you? How do you go about building community and collaborating with others?
Community is an ever expanding and evolving term. It's as boundless as human variety. Community is where people find common ground, where they can build meaningful relationships with each other in reciprocal ways. My goal is provide spaces for that building, through my community organizing and through my writing, I hope to archive the moments and communities and people making impacts on our culture.
What are you looking forward to as you continue to grow in your craft?
I'm looking forward to growth. And more growth.