Pushing Boundaries with Micah Dawanyi

Micah Dawanyi is a 2x published author, artist, and master’s student based in Broward County, Florida. Once an athlete, Dawanyi was forced to give up his dream of playing sports after suffering from a life-threatening heart complication. After retiring, Dawanyi earned his first national coaching license at 16 and launched a private training business, also becoming the youngest licensed coach in his region’s history. In 2020, Dawanyi made the transition from sports to the creative arts after releasing his first book, and he hasn’t looked back since.

O: When did you begin writing? 

Micah Dawanyi: In elementary school. At that time I was just writing out school assignments, but language arts was one of my favorite classes by far. My 4th grade teacher taught me how to write and structure narratives, and I remember being really intrigued by the process of storytelling- especially in fiction. It was like you could let your brain throw up on the paper. I loved it.

In high school I got into playwriting- I remember this one instance where I was tasked with rewriting Romeo & Juliet as a comedy. Sounds crazy, I know, but I think the purpose of that assignment was just to stretch my creativity. I always loved writing in different genres and different styles, and college was when I started drafting my first book.

O: Is there a writer that you look up to, whether it be someone who motivated you to begin drawing or someone whose work inspires you today? 

M: Definitely- the person that comes to mind is Ryan Coogler. Most people know him as the director of Marvel’s Black Panther movies, but I was always fascinated by his screenwriting abilities. I don’t make films, but I always connected with his process of bringing writing to life through visuals, and also using art to touch on important issues in society. When I first started writing, I would draw out my concepts so I’d have visual themes to reflect in my work. I imagine as a screenwriter, there’s probably a similar process of interweaving text with visual concepts. But overall, I’m just really inspired by how powerful Ryan Coogler’s stories are. The storylines are always very well thought out; it’s never just “oh, this would be kinda cool.” He always embeds these introspective themes in his stories, and I try to do the same with my work as well.

O: If you had to describe your work in three words, what would they be and why? 

M: Direct, enlightening, and refreshing. Direct because my work cuts right to the point. I don’t try to use fancy words to sound smarter than I actually am, and when I tell stories, I try to make it as easy as possible for the audience to follow along. Personally, I get really turned off by books where I have to work too hard to figure out what’s going on. So for me, it’s important to be direct. 

I chose the words enlightening and authentic because I also try to take a unique approach with my writing. I pull from my experiences, but I try to tell stories with concepts that aren’t used very often. My new book is about what the danger of emotional suppression looks like in young adults, and I tied this concept into the greater theme of mental health stigmas. But I intentionally chose to make the book a fiction, instead of a self-help non fiction where I could have perhaps found myself “preaching” at people. I think the educational side of my brain is always seeking to inform, and the artistic side of my brain is always seeking to inform in a creative way.

O: What is your favorite part of the creative process? 

M: Probably finishing an illustration for a book. That’s when I’m like, “okay, so this is really happening now. I’m really going forward with this.” Because I write all the time, but I’m such a perfectionist and over-thinker, so 90 percent of my ideas get thrown away. But once I finish an illustration, whether it’s for an official cover art or just the themes I want to use in my writing, something feels very official… like things are solidified, if that makes sense. From that point on, I’m committed to the idea that’s been floating around in my head, because now I have a visual representation for it.

O: How has the pandemic changed your workflow? 

M: The pandemic gave me more free time. I used to do everything in-person, whether that be school or work, or other activities. But my schedule switched to a hybrid schedule, which gave me a lot more spare time. The arts (to me) exist in this other-wordly portal or dimension where you can get sucked in creatively. And sometimes there’s not much time for that if you’re busy with real-world responsibilities. But with more free time during the pandemic, I found myself with the time to get sucked into the arts. I’d find myself writing or drawing for hours and hours, losing track of the time and the outside world. But it was kind of nice in a way. I think I’ve been able to be more efficient and more prolific with my work, cranking out projects quicker than I perhaps would have without the pandemic.

O: Your work is vulnerable, informative, and hard-hitting. Where does your inspiration come from? 

M:  It honestly depends. If we’re talking about tangible things, I’d say world issues, music, films, conversations with my friends, and of course, things that I experience. But inspiration is so random. I can find it in the strangest of places. Early last year, I tripped when I was getting out of my car, and that little, seemingly insignificant moment inspired a short story that I wrote later in the year. Maybe the beauty of inspiration is that it’s so random, and you can find it anywhere in your life.

I also think of some of my best ideas in the shower, funny enough. That’s like my place of clarity. There’s this running joke that people use their shower time to sing and basically perform concerts, which is hilarious, but for me I just spend a lot of time thinking. I’m not sure why, but that’s just what works for me.

O: What is your favorite piece of work so far and why is it your favorite? (Please include a link if you have one, we’d love to include it on the website!) 

M: Definitely my latest book ‘Battle Scars & Blossoms.‘ I think it’s my most creatively-daring piece yet, probably because it’s fiction. I created this fictional ecosystem with a young college student on a very specific life journey, and I used that setting to tie in mental health awareness, which was important to me. I also broke the 4th wall through the way in which the main character narrates the story. I think I just pushed a lot of creative boundaries with that book, and that’s something I’m always looking to do as an artist. Even more special than that, the intent behind the writing process has been met by responses that have honestly blown my mind. I’ve gotten messages from people talking about how the book has encouraged them to open up and work through their personal struggles, and that’s just an incredibly rewarding feeling as an artist. That my work could ignite such thought and action in others.

O: As mental health is important to your work, how has this theme played a role in your life?

M: It’s personal for me. There are several people in my close circle that have been diagnosed with mental illnesses, and I’ve watched them wrestle through their lives with these great psychological tolls weighing on them. They’re still able to enjoy their lives in many ways, but there’s no hiding from the mental health challenges. The challenges are real and show up in so many different ways. But even on a smaller scale, I’ve seen so many examples of what can happen when you neglect your mental health. In my own life, that neglect led me through this long period of emotional confusion, where I didn’t really know how to process difficult feelings. And so much of life is about what you do with difficult feelings. So for me, mental health isn’t some trend to follow because it’s starting to become popular. It’s a theme that has followed me everywhere, in every season of my life.

O: What is one thing that you want your audience to take away from your writing?

M: It would honestly depend on the book or writing piece. But speaking generally, I just want my audience to look at the themes in my writing, whether that be mental health or social injustice, and think about how these issues influence their personal lives and general society. I want my writing to provoke thought, and conversations, and hopefully positive actions.

O: How is your writing process different when working on longer projects compared to smaller projects?

M: Longer projects take more time to plan. You have to be much more meticulous with a project like a book, because the idea has to be something that will survive the length of 50, 100, 200, 300 pages. I’ve had so many ideas that I’ve tried to make books out of, and when I went to write, after a few pages, I was out of things to say. You have to be so much more analytical with a longer project, making sure to outline and find a rhythm to the writing. Maybe it’s the same as making an 18 track album as opposed to a 4-song EP, or a 10 minute YouTube video as opposed to a full-length film.

O: If you could give new artists some advice from what you’ve learned, what would it be?

M: Don’t be afraid to push boundaries. So many dimensions of our lives exist within the scope of some sort of limitation. The most obvious example I can think of is rubrics for school assignments. I’ve never had an assignment that was completely, 100 percent up to me. But with your personal art, that’s exactly the case. You can do what you want. It’s 100 percent up to you. So be brave, be weird, and push all of the creative boundaries possible. 

O: Do you have any upcoming projects that we should look out for? 

M: Not anything coming soon, if I’m being completely honest. I’ve learned not to be in a rush to move to future projects because I don’t want to burn myself out by thinking that I always need to be productive. Right now I’m in a season of living, and finding inspiration in my everyday life. I’m sure that another project will arise from this season of life, and I’ll be sure to announce that when the time comes. But I have plenty of projects that are currently out for people to check out.

Everybody give a hand to Micah for his time answering all of our most pressing questions about writing and illustration! You can find out more about him on his website and Instagram.