Minaj as Muse: Embracing a Writing Persona
“First things first, I’ll eat your brains.”
–Nicki Minaj, “Monster,” from My Beautiful Dark Fantasy by Kanye West
Add Nicki Minaj to the list of artists whose work has influenced my writing process. Is she a fiction writer? No. She’s a pink-haired, crazy-voiced rapper who has collaborated with nearly every big name on the hip-hop scene. I could sell you on her appeal in great depth and breadth (those rhymes! that hair!), but instead I’ll focus on how Ms. Minaj represents a crucial discovery in my writing process.
Recall the February 13 post about writing from the Happy Place. People have compiled whole volumes on the tricks and rituals that help writers get to their Happy Place. Heck, some people have made it their life’s work to study it (see Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi’s work on “flow” and creativity; seriously, it’s worth it). For me, it’s not about how I get there, but who. To write from the “white hot center” (a term from Robert Olen Butler, an unequivocal personal favorite of Blogagaard) is not something I can do because I’m a huge coward. The “I” that I identify with most regularly—the human being who eats English muffins with peanut butter for breakfast, who knows how to shoot a free throw but not a clay pigeon, who has a mother who calls her every Sunday and a father who really digs Diet Coke—she can’t go where I need her to go in my writing.
So when I sit down to write, I leave her for a while and become someone else—just like Nicki Minaj does.
In fact, the name “Nicki Minaj” represents just one facet of the performer’s artistic self. The version of “Nicki” that has a mother, a cell phone bill, and some mild food allergies is someone else and thus has a different name (Onika Maraj). “Nicki’s” wild, destructive side has a name separate from her given one, too: Roman Zolanski says everything Nicki/Onika wouldn’t dream of saying. Roman accesses the dark places, tells a truth that hits harder than the other selves would.
Sound familiar? Marshall Mathers a.k.a. Eminem a.k.a. Slim Shady does this too. Having a persona(e) frees up the artist to go where s/he might otherwise not have the guts to go. (A different can of worms: listeners who claim to hate Marshall Mathers for his bigoted lyrics are probably hating one of his personae, not the actual man himself.)
Is writing under a persona somehow hiding or being inauthentic? I would argue that it’s actually the opposite. Writing under an imagined persona is an opportunity to access a part of oneself that is usually hidden. I’ll namedrop another psychologist here and invoke Carl Jung’s theory of the “shadow self.” According to Jung, this dark, repressed place is where our creativity lives. I actually like the idea that I’m walking around with an alter ego, one that possibly gets a real charge out of capping clay pigeons.
What would happen if you sat down to write as the darkest, weirdest part of yourself? What would that persona have to say that you’re not saying now?
If you need a soundtrack for s journey into your shadow, lend an ear to Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Fantasy and give my regards to the monsters.
Terra Silvia is a St. Paul-based writer who is obsessed with sports culture. She has written short stories, essays, and poems on the subject and has just finished a novel about a high school basketball star who, after quitting her team, must navigate the perils of friendship, romance, and a power-hungry (ex-)coach. In addition to writing, Terra sometimes teaches college students under an alternate persona.