Whenever I punch into my Facebook page I usually find folk like Thuo Patrick there, armed to the teeth with their brushes and paint filling the place with color. Sometimes I will engage but most times I won’t because you don’t add brush strokes to a Picasso painting. Others are however more discreet and they prefer the hidden veil of the inbox. I got a message from a reader telling me my writing is congruent with David Karanja’s “The Girl Was Mine.” I said I haven’t read him but I will make a point to look him up and they told me if I don’t get the book, I can email them my postal address or tell them where they could drop it off and I was overwhelmed by the generosity. I also got another message from a reader who goes by the name Lewis that stirred me. I asked him if I can use it in a post and he gave me the green light.
It read in part…
Hi, just from reading your piece. “Sons and Fathers.” And I couldn’t fight the urge to write you this. Even though my dad was the opposite of your dad I keep asking myself the same questions over and over. What type of dad will I become? What if I become a failure in life? What if the folk in the village are wrong to believe in someone like me?
I am convinced that I am a writer. I have always liked writing. I read Bikozulu, Magunga, Oyunga Pala and, sometime, back I stumbled upon your blog. It was like stumbling on a dam inside the forest, it breaks the monotony of the woods. Every time I read your pieces I feel like I can’t write another sentence. I feel like it would be an injustice to the world. That I will make a laughing stock of the writing craft. It makes me feel that all I ever produce is inferior.
I feel like all I want to do is read and read until I can produce such polished work. The feeling of being submerged in well-done work hits you like water from an overhead shower. I mostly wish I could see some of your very first publications to gauge if writing is like driving and the more you get behind the wheel the more you master the skill and the bigger the likelihood that you will become a pro, or if it’s like walking where one is born with a certain walking style that sticks forever? Wherever you are just know someone here believes you deserve a pat on the back for good work.
Thank you Lewis. (Is that like, Lewis Hamilton?) And to answer your question nobody is born writing, most of us are born wailing, unfortunately only our siblings in western have managed to monetize it. Writing is like any other craft. You have to work on it to get good at it. Think of it as a muscle whose exercise is reading, writing and a whole lot of living. It takes time and it’s unlike any other craft because you won’t become exceptional in a day, a month or an year. You have to keep showing up even when there is no applause. And you have to write, not necessarily for applause but because somewhere deep in your core you can’t do without the pen.
Society likes to put successful artists on a pedestal, as if they’re these mythical creatures with something esoteric that nobody else has. They show you the braggadocio and the trappings that come with it but never the building process. They never show you the rejections, the doubt, the time in the fringes when everybody has abandoned ship and it’s just you and your craft. Those are the days that build character. Those are the days that define your success, not glamour, awards or applause. Society also likes to pick people who fail when pursuing their dreams—as you must when you’re breaking new ground—and package them as the poster boys for failure so everybody can know not to follow in their footsteps. It’s your job to give them a deaf ear and to prove them wrong.
I’m far from being a pro. Hemingway is quoted as saying that we’re all apprentices in a craft that no one ever becomes a master. No words have been truer. I never feel as if my writing is complete, in fact I’m very insecure about it. After I’m done I often feel it needs a lot of work and sometimes I’m forced to rethink entire paragraphs and posts. It doesn’t come from nowhere. I didn’t wake up writing like this. I started writing for an online publication called Spyce Magazine. We used to write an article every day. It closed shop and I started a blog that fell through the cracks before having another stint with Oyunga Pala’s, Modern African Guy. He edited, “Kiddo Needs a Father Figure” and I learned plenty from the red edits he left on the page. I still have a long way to go but the path feels a little bit clearer now. I want to focus on writing novels. If there is a roundtable in heaven I want to be seated smack in the middle of Tolstoy, Donna Tartt, Chinua Achebe and Shakespeare, so you can imagine that if writing was climbing a mountain I haven’t even put on my gear.
Where does it come from, the energy to chain yourself on a desk and force the words out of your fingers? For me it comes from the need to be an architect of ideas. To write for the reader like me who loves words with music. The reader who loves to be immersed in a story and be on the edge of their seat and at the same time learn something about the world or about themselves. It comes from the need to bring something beautiful into the world, to challenge the status quo and to shake, if not the universe, my immediate environment. It also comes from a selfish place. I don’t want to be forgotten. I would love it if a hundred years from now a young guy stumbled into a backstreet bookstore and found one of my books, like you would George Orwell’s, Animal farm.
So Lewis, pick up your pen and get to work regardless of who you think writes with the smoothness of butter. I can tell you for free they didn’t start that way. Dig your foundation. Oftentimes a lot of people won’t even see what you’re doing, because great artists dig deep into the earth and have a basement in their building. (I mean where else are you going to park your Lamborghini Murcielago?) Hard times will come, its steepest before you get to the summit. You have to choose who to listen to, it helps when you value and believe in your inner voice more than all the outside hubbub that is against it.
A few of you have reached out to me, asking for a hardcopy of The Engagement. We’re rolling out the electronic format but if the budget allows we will go to print. The economy has kicked all of us in the shin. I’m sure there are a lot of you who would love to purchase the eBook but can’t. I’m giving away copies to five lucky winners who can answer my Trivia. I wrote an article sometime back which had a woman who was an alcoholic and she may or may not have committed murder. What was the title of the article? Put the answer in the comment section and I will send the first five readers to comment with the right answer the book.
Hey there, we don’t (yet) have the budget to buy space on prime time TV or full page ads in the Daily Nation, so your shares are what help us get discovered. Feel free to whisper us to a friend and leave a comment.
I like to think of myself as a reader who writes, a Pan-African who thinks with the tips of his fingers, but when I’m not molesting the keyboard I’m usually destroying yogurt (not Frusion) or staring into the vastness of space.