“A new idea for me is so exciting, I want to jump on it right away because it’s fresh. But sometimes I need to slow it down, while I’m still developing another idea that’s in progress. I have too many ideas and sometimes struggle with focus because I want to follow through on every idea and that’s impossible. So, what I’m learning is to take it one step at a time,” said Thato Mwosa, Professor, Author, Artist, and Filmmaker.
Regardless of your field, to be recognized as a thought leader, you have to become a storyteller. Women who aren’t in creative fields, tend to reach a professional crossroads. Because early in life, we’re socialized to pursue our gifts. Yet once we ascend professionally, we’re often expected to dim our light, to become pleasing and deferential. And in that process, many lose the confidence to put their ideas out there.
But even if creative output is not critical for your career, the process, is instructive. Whether it’s posting on social media, writing a book, or presentation, storytelling is an effective way to communicate. As a seasoned creative, Thato has honed her process to move from having a lot of ideas to producing her most powerful stories. And there are lessons from her process you can use to distill brilliance in ways that work for you.
Follow Your Creative Impulses
Thato was drawn to creative pursuits as a child. “I never took an art class in my life, but even when I was young, I would draw very detailed recognizable caricatures of people that I knew. I just loved expressing myself creatively whether I was writing in words or drawing images. The filmmaking came later, because it was one of those things that I was exposed to in college. Once I took a film class I knew, this is exactly what I want to do. I’m drawn to film because of its potency which lies in its ability to merge visuals and audio to narrate captivating stories.”
And Tell Stories That Matter to You
Many Moms are drawn to mission-oriented work when we uncover problems we want to solve. Thato explained, “Although I also loved to draw, I remember thinking I was going to be an author. When I was growing up in Africa, the book I was attempting to write was set in a high school. And I remember the students had lockers, but the way our high schools were built, didn’t have lockers. I was writing through a Eurocentric lens because the books I consumed as a young child were mostly set in the Western world. Later on, I began to find the power of my own authentic voice and how important it was to share our narratives with the world.” Which led to the focus of her current work.
In Ways that Resonate
Thato’s creative range is impressive. She published a book, series of paintings and created a board game, along with her husband, within less than a year of her acclaimed debut film. She said, “I’ve been making films for the past 17 years and I’m the Mother of three, and a wife. But as an artist, I focus on illustrations like the Black ballerina series through my art business. Overall, through my many modes of expression, I am compelled to tell positive narratives of the African diaspora. Especially, of women and girls.” You don’t have to limit yourself to a single medium.
Capture Inspiration When it Strikes
There’s a lot of advice in creative circles about how to wrestle resistance, cultivate or rekindle creative fire. But the powerful ideas will come at any time. So, be ready for them. Thato said, “I find that I forget ideas if I don’t record them. So, if I’m not in a position where I can’t write it down, I use my phone because I always have my phone with me. If I’m walking or jogging it’s easy for me to do a voice or video recording.” A quick note or email reminder, sent to yourself, also works.
Figure Out How to Store and Revisit Your Concepts
Thato explained, “Mornings are when I’m most creative, and because my mind is crisp and fresh, I capture an idea until I’m ready to revisit it. Then later, I start looking at all of them. Have you watched Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED Talk?” In Gilbert’s best-seller, Big Magic, she describes her creative process and belief, that if we don’t act upon them, the good ideas will find other artists.
She added, “It’s so funny she tells a story of a poet who believes ideas are everywhere. She shares that the poet says, ‘sometimes when I’m in my garden working, a poem will fly to me.’ And she tries to grab it with one arm because she wants to hold on to it before it flies away. And I can relate because I feel like if I don’t capture ideas that come to me, they will find another screenwriter.”
Learn to Manage ‘Idea Overload’
Thato said, “Currently I’m working on two different short films at the same time. It is completely overwhelming, but I need to get it done.” She applies several filters to decide which ideas win and become projects. “I have my creative side, which is unlimited. Like any writer, I can imagine impossible things, like a dog flying. But I also wear the hat of a producer and the producer’s all about money and asks, ‘is that feasible? How will I do the special effects and make that work?’ My producer side will vet that idea right away and tell my artist side to be reasonable.”
Choose Your Vetting Criteria
Thato describes that for film, unlike her artwork or books, the implementation is quite involved and factors into her decision making. “I have to think, ‘can we do it in one day and how can we cut costs?’ It’s a struggle but it’s also an advantage. Because my practical self, or producer self will say, ‘I want to execute on this idea but it needs more time and money.’ And maybe with a particular budget I can do this. But the story itself also has to be strong. I like stories that have depth and deal with real life issues. I love to explore things that women confront on a day-to-day basis in a meaningful way.”
Including Themes That are ‘On Brand’ for You
For Thato, even with the practical considerations, it’s still the story that motivates her. “It starts with the strongest story. And I learned the biggest lesson when I shot my feature film, Memoirs of a Black Girl. I was just excited about telling a story about this young, brilliant Black girl going against the odds to succeed in a challenging environment. Although I knew it was a story worth telling, I wasn’t thinking like a producer at that time. I ended up with a cast and crew of about 35 people. It was overwhelming and expensive, but I learned many lessons.”
You may not have a commercial home for your ideas. But you can start by documenting what interests you, or where you want to demonstrate expertise. Then, you can decide which concepts to develop and where to tell those stories.
Consider, Creative Cross Training
Thato has a vision for this part of her work, including themes that ultimately define her films. But she has explored other styles. “I have a comedic script that I keep thinking is easy to shoot. It’s just funny but it doesn’t have that substance. A producer advised me to ‘write sci-fi or something unusual’ because I think a lot of us tend to write dramas. So, I ended up writing a sci-fi story about cyborgs, and had fun with it, but it’s not my thing.” Just like dancing or boxing, when you’re a runner, she admits writing outside of her genre helped her flex different creative muscles. And learn that if she wanted to, she could write for someone else in the future.
Or Revise Your Concept
You may have an idea that needs modest tweaks or an overhaul. So, don’t dismiss something you started without considering a makeover. Thato said, “I do fall out of love with my ideas and with some of my scripts. But putting it away forever is a harder thing to do because of all the time it has taken for me. I have a feature that I thought was gone forever, but then I realized I need to reimagine and rewrite it in a different way.” She had written a story from the daughter’s perspective but later felt writing it from the Mother’s perspective would deepen the story.
So, go on. Find those stories you want to tell. It doesn’t matter how mature or nascent your ideas are. Capture them and develop a winnowing process that works for you.
Many thanks to the talented Thato Mwosa!
Check out Thato’s amazing children’s book, 14 African Women Who Made History, her Ballerina Series, and Sawa Trivia card game. And follow her great adventure on her website, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.
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Thato R. Mwosa is an award-winning illustrator, screenwriter, playwright, and filmmaker. Her films have been broadcast nationally and internationally. Her first feature film, Memoirs of a Black Girl, premiered at the 2021 Boston Globe’s Black History Month Film Festival and it won Best Feature Film award at the 2021 Hamilton Black Film Festival and the 2021 the Roxbury International Film Festival (RIFF). Additionally, Thato won Best Feature Director at the 2021 Hamilton Film Festival. She has been featured on NPR and the Boston Globe.
Thato was a finalist for the 2019 Mass Cultural Art Fellowship in the Dramatic Writing category. Thato’s latest script, A Blue Dawn, is a quarter-finalist for The Academy Nicholl Fellowship and a semi-finalist for the 2021 Writer Lab NY.
Thato’s artwork has been featured at the Wortiz Gallery, Dudley Cafe and The Amory. She was twice selected as the artist of the month for the Milton Public Library’s Wortiz Gallery. Thato launched an African trivia card game SAWA Trivia in 2020 which is being used by several universities and high schools. In the summer of 2021 she released her first book, 14 African Women Who Made History.
Thato has taught film and screenwriting classes at Boston University, Harvard University and Lesley University. She is an Assistant Professor at Emerson College.Tags: Authentic storytelling and publishing for Moms, Authenticity and career growth for Moms, Career Development for Moms, Managing the creative process, Personal growth for Moms, Storytelling for Moms, thought leadership