How I Get It Done: Joy Bryant, Good Girls Revolt Actress, Writer, and Clothing Designer

Joy Bryant. Illustration: Rebecca Clarke

Joy Bryant is a former fashion model, an actress on Good Girls Revolt, a writer, a clothing designer for Basic Terrain, and a co-founder of a new production company. She has a dog named Bubba and a husband, a stuntman by day and a business partner in her clothing line by night. She wakes up without an alarm before 7 a.m., takes drum lessons in the evening, and is working on a book proposal for a collection of essays. She spends two hours every morning on uninterrupted writing sessions, after which she turns her cell phone on. Here’s how she gets it all done.

On dedicating time to writing:
I wake up pretty early, between six and seven. I get out of bed and I write for two hours. Or if I have a script I have to read, I read it then, or if there is some other kind of work reading I need to do, I do everything then. I like getting up early and not really having anything on my mind and just going for it, whatever it is. I feel like I understand things better because there’s no distraction in the morning. Before 9 a.m., before email starts going or my phone rings, that’s my sweet spot. I don’t turn my phone on until about 8:30 or nine in the morning, and I don’t open up my computer until I turn my phone on. Sucks for people on the East Coast, but that’s the way it is. My phone is off at night. My husband will say, “What if there is an emergency? and I’m like, “Well, we’ll find out in the morning, I’m going to sleep.” With writing, I’m working on a book proposal so I have to make sure that I have the time and that I make the time to devote to that. The morning hours are probably my most focused and consistent in the day, and the earlier I get up, the more time that I have to devote to writing.

On the many things she balances in one day:
I do my writing session, I eat, I walk the dog, I try to bang out as many emails for my clothing line, any type of correspondence that I need to do. I go to my new management’s office to talk about the production company we just started. I come back, in traffic, and I get back to work on all my Basic Terrain stuff. I’m trying to come up with some print and pattern ideas, so it’s really just brainstorming what those things could be. I’m also trying to squeeze in watching the U.S. Open.

From writing to my career as an actor/wannabe producer/clothes designer, everything always happens in one day. It’s not that a different day is dedicated to each one. If something needs my attention, I will make mental space for it, but if I don’t have to, I don’t. Sometimes it is hard to go between things. I need a little pause in between, even if it’s just a half an hour, a little sliver of time in between is very helpful. But sometimes you don’t have that luxury and you gotta do what you gotta do, and hope that you’re doing it well. Sometimes I just keep going until everything’s done. Sometimes things are done at four or five, or sometimes they’re not done until before I go to bed.

On drum lessons as stress relief and a focus tool:
Growing up, I always had a natural attraction to the drums, but it wasn’t until I did my first official lesson with my friend, who is the drummer for TV on the Radio, that I really got into it. My husband gave me a drum pad and I would just practice on that, and then for my birthday last year, which is in October, he got me an electronic drum set that I can play with headphones. I was doing a guest character arc on the show Rosewood and they had hired real musicians to play some musicians in a scene. I started talking to one of them, and it turns out that he’s this Grammy-award-winning drummer, and he’s like, “I give lessons!” I’ve been studying with him for a little less than a year. I love it. It’s one of those things where you’re just never too old. I wish I had started taking lessons sooner: Time goes by, time goes by, and you’re like, “Oh, wasn’t I supposed to take drum lessons like five years ago?”

If I have time, I’ll practice on my set a couple times a week, definitely on the weekends, I’ll spend hours on it. Even during the day, I’ll find myself practicing paradiddles. I find that it really helps me to focus. If I need to disconnect and reconnect, it helps me to jump back into whatever I’m doing. I play Eleanor Holmes Norton on Good Girls Revolt, so I am constantly trying to rally these women for this big lawsuit, always giving a speech or trying to communicate to people why they’re being oppressed. I practice on my lap right before a shot just to sort of focus and let go of everything. I find it really helps. I read somewhere recently that drummers have really different brains. I’m not gonna call myself a drummer yet, but I can see why that is.

On how she finds the time and energy to tackle many different disciplines:
Having all these different jobs, I feel free to express myself in all these different ways. It’s about compartmentalizing everything and not taking on too much. I know it sounds crazy to say that I’m not taking on more than I can chew because I know it sounds like I’m chewing a lot, but I make the space for the things that need my attention. I plan things out. I have to write everything down or else I’ll forget. I have to make a schedule. By doing that, that at least helps me figure out where to focus. I can’t just say yes to everything. I can’t just expend energy. I have to be very judicious with my time. If you can’t finish things or execute them, then they just kind of sit around and collect dust. I know what that’s like. Even though I’m doing a lot of different things, I feel that they all connect to each other.

At the end of the day, I want to tell stories, whether it is through the brand that David and I created, or me telling stories that I created on my own that I actually write, or producing stories that I feel are interesting or important, or acting in stories that I feel are important. It’s all a reflection of me, but it just comes through in all these different ways.

I’m going to be 42 next month, and I am very clear on the kinds of things I want to do and how I want to live. Sometimes I get really busy and sometimes it’s overwhelming doing a million things at once, but for the most part, you make time for the shit you wanna make time for.

On learning to leave her baggage behind:
I had a lot of issues with my mother and how I grew up, and the reason for why I was able to succeed for so long was really a reaction to that. I didn’t want to be like her, I didn’t want to be like that. There’s nothing wrong with that, because it helped me get me to places that I wanted to be. But at some point in my life, I couldn’t use my issues with my mother as my motivation anymore. Not when I’m a grown-ass woman. I had to find another way. What am I living for? What are the things that motivate me now? Once I realized that, I was like, “Oh, shit, I’ve been walking around with so many damn bags for so long that I had no idea.” Once I could make peace with her, it seemed like my life took on a whole different kind of spin.

Tomorrow is never promised. There are so many things that I want to do that it’s like, you don’t know if you walk out of your house that you’re ever going to come back. I don’t mean to sound all morbid, but that’s the reality! In the meantime, what the hell are you gonna do? You can’t sit around waiting for things to happen. Now that I’ve left those bags at the station, I feel lighter and I actually feel freer than I’ve ever felt. I feel more creative than I’ve ever felt. I feel more confident in myself than I’ve ever felt.

I’m taking on more things, but it’s not scary to me. I’m doing more, but I’m trying to work a bit smarter, not harder. There are all things that I love and things that are self-generated. There’s a passion that exists there that didn’t exist before.

On accepting that sometimes you just fuck up:
The clothing line definitely causes me the most stress. Oh my god, it’s so hard. My chest tightens up when an order is late or we can’t get it out or something happens. Nothing that is worthwhile is easy, but I had no frame of reference for how hard it was going to be, and damn. At the same time, I have to remind myself that we have only been in business for two years and for someone like me who is an overachiever, mistakes happen. Mistakes happen because they have to happen. If we can learn from the mistakes that we make, and move on and try to minimize them them next time, then great. And sometimes, you just fuck up. There’s nothing you can do about it other than be like, “I fucked up.” This is another test. Remind yourself of why you’re doing this. Why did we get into this? Why is this important? Why am I not going to give up right now? It’s more than just this temporary moment. We’ve been very fortunate in many ways and we’ve also learned and made a lot of mistakes and things can always be worse. We just have to take the knocks and get back up. My grandmother always taught me, “Everyone’s gonna get knocked down. You gotta get up, dust yourself off, and keep going.”

On her life-changing signature coffee recipe:
I try not to drink coffee every day. I try doing one day coffee, the next day tea. We make coffee at home, and our go-to coffee is Bustelo. We usually have it with sweetened condensed milk. It’s the best way to make it. If I don’t do that, my second option is cold-brew coffee with coconut water. You gotta try it. The coconut water with the cold brew, it gives it just the right consistency and just the littlest bit of sweetness. You’re hydrating and dehydrating at the same time. It’ll change your life.

How Actress Joy Bryant Gets It All Done