I take it that most (if not all) of us are getting our read-on? Great. If we were to take a poll on the kind of books people like to read, I’m pretty sure we’d have a loooong list to choose from: fiction, biographies, historical romance, mystery, sci-fi, poetry, self-help, religious etc etc. In the same way that we have different genres in reading, the reasons why people write what they write are different. In order to develop your writing ability, you also have to recognize your writing interests and in so doing, your writing style will develop. Why is it a good idea to figure out the reasons that propel you to write?
– It helps you understand yourself as a writer better
– You discover what your sources of inspiration are
– You learn your strengths and weaknesses as a writer (Eg. Whether you write better on a deadline, or whether you prefer to write leisurely and at your own pace. This can prove REALLY helpful when it comes to school writing assignments, reports for work etc)
– You could potentially develop a common theme in your writing…or go against what could be a common theme: It lets you know about possibilities.
-It helps map out your growth as a writer. What you choose to write about at 13 years, might not be the same thing you decide to write about at 20.
Like I mentioned in module 1, I used to do a lot of reading on basically everything. Curiously enough, my writing did NOT start off with a desire to match a certain author’s style or to explore a genre of writing. My reasons for writing first started with a desire to understand myself. I TRIED to keep a diary (the operative word here being TRIED). I would be consistent with it for a week or so, but soon enough my entries would dwindle off to nothingness. This taught me an important thing about myself as a writer: I write best when I am inspired. There has to be something specific that I am either very enthused or aggravated by, in order for me to come up with a good piece of writing.
Consequently, during my adolescence…particularly around 12-14years, writing was therapeutic for me. My best writing (for a 12-year old) came about when I was either upset or angry. Especially when I was angry. My sister taught me anger management, and she also taught me how to write. Because every time she would make me extremely angry, I would go to my room, pick up my journal and write. At school, there were a number of occasions when people would just piss me off, and I’d walk away from them, head to my desk, and start writing. Sure, I’d be writing through a veil of tears in my eyes, but I’d write nevertheless, and it would calm me down. The fun part is when I’d pick up what I wrote days later, and I would be amazed at the sheer silliness of the moment.
From 15-18 years I started writing in order to understand myself. Any teenager knows that this time period is always eventful. From issues related to friends, school, parents, crushes, beliefs etc, its all about figuring oneself out. I was pretty independent at an early age, so even when I was in boarding school, I tried to figure out my issues on my own, and in order to do that, I would put my thoughts on paper. Most of my writing at that time was very philosophical (always because I considered myself a philosopher lol), as I tried to figure out why life was the way it was, why friends could let me down, why my crush had no idea I existed, why the pressures of responsibility were so great etc. I also wrote quite a number of poems during this time.
The turning point in my writing took place in my final year in high school. My English teacher Ms.Koree, was teaching us the techniques of report writing. She showed us a number of examples on how to write and gave us an assignment. Now, one thing I absolutely cannot stand, is boredom. I found the report samples too technical and boring. So I decided to spice it up. I imagined myself to be a detective who was solving a murder case and who had to write a report on the crime scene. I don’t have access to that piece right now, but I believe its what introduced me to creative writing. After high school, I had to write college essays. Again, I wanted to write something “out of the norm.” Even if it was just one paragraph that threw the reader off, I wanted to do that. So in writing about why a young person like me contemplated about serious issues, I started off with a very scenic introduction set in Africa (which, now that I think about it, is pretty cliche for an African) [You can check out that essay here: http://circumspecte.blogspot.com/2008/06/another-essay.html]
In college, I joined the school newspaper as an editor. My reasons for joining and writing were simple: I had many criticisms of Western media portraying Africans and African countries in the wrong light, and I wanted to rectify that. At the time, there was no black person on the team, and I also wanted some form of representation for MHC’s black community. Initially, most of my articles were centered on human rights stuff, explaining the nuances of democracy in African countries etc. As my studies in Economics progressed and I settled on economic development as my area of concentration, I began writing more development-based articles instead eg, on why the World Bank, WTO etc don’t really have the solutions to Africa’s poverty issues.
The point of this personal story is to emphasize the fact that there is no real definition of who a “good writer” is. I think its really important to understand this before we get into the technicalities of writing. Everybody has to start off somewhere, and if writing poetry is how you start, great. Also, there is always an opportunity for change to be made. Today, when I read the first book Abena and I wrote, I have to laugh because it represents Jemi at 15 with her somewhat warped view of what was important in the world etc. You can be the best writer you want to be. But only if you allow yourself. There is no template profile on who a writer should be (it might interest you to know that some of the best writers in history were actually regarded as weird or misfits in society). If you want to write in a language other than English, go ahead. If you want to write about an annoying encounter at school or work, go ahead. You will never know the lengths you can go to until you try.
Module 2 Suggestion:
Ok, in order for us to determine our reasons for writing, and in time, our identities as writers here’s what I suggest we all do.
1- Make a list of 10 things that interest you. (It doesn’t have to be restricted to writing, just 10 things in general (Eg. music, women, human rights, butterflies, fufu, friends, Ghana, internet, basketball, love)
2-Take 3 of the 10 things you’re interested in, and write a 200 word paragraph on each.
*For the first thing you write on, try and write it immediately after reading this module, and time yourself. Take note of when you’re writing it (morning, afternoon or evening), what the environment is like (is there music playing, are there many people around, are you alone?), think about how you’re feeling as you write it (do you find it to be a nuisance, are you enjoying it? do you feel like putting it off?)
*For the second thing you write on, set an appointment with yourself for sometime between today 6/16 and 6/23, and write. Please email it to me by 6/24 at email@example.com . After you send it to me, review how it felt to write on a deadline. When you set up your appointment did you stick to it? Or did you put it off for a while?
*The third thing you decide to write about…don’t write until you feel especially inspired. You don’t have to email these to me unless you want to. I will however probably ask for these at the end of the writing workshop, so please do write lol.
I realise this probably doesn’t make complete sense but I sincerely hope you guys do get a chance to do these cos it really will be very helpful and interesting for you to discover your writing style and to see your progression at the end of the workshop. With module 3 we’ll start looking at the technicalities of writing – sentence formulation, grammar, vocabulary etc. Happy Writing! And let me know if you have comments, suggestions etc. Peace.
Jemila Abdulai is the creative director, editor and founder of the award-winning website Circumspecte.com. A media and international development professional and economist by training, she combines her business, communications and project management expertise with her strong passion for Africa. Besides writing and reading, she enjoys travel, global cuisine, movies, and good design.