Every writer, I hear, gets to feel very much like a fraud now and then, that feeling of inadequacy, of pretending to be something he/she has little if no right to assume. Well, this is something I feel very much right now and by putting pen to paper, or more realistically, putting finger to key board, I hope to convince myself, if not others, that I have a right to claim the name…Writer.
I have for years, struggled with the craft, self-instructing myself, writing and sending out samples of my literary pretensions with the hope that someone somewhere will read and take notice. I hoped that I would, on account of my efforts, be found worthy enough to stand behind, if not in the midst of, Nigerian and African literati.
At the time I started taking the writing process very serious, there was little by way of writing workshops and though the internet was available, the kind of connectivity it grants the world now was only being dreamt up by computer savvy nerds. As such, there were no meeting points for Nigerian writers and most emails sent to established writers begging for assessment, were either replied with a terse; “sorry, I am too busy to read your work” or a more progressive; “sorry I can’t really pay serious attention to your work, it shows promise, but you have to work harder at it”. In those days one made the mistake of sending out feelers to male writers – a mistake, for the truth, as I found out later, is that female writers have more time for rookies and are usually very eager to give them a leg-up.
While time has passed since those early days of penning poems that tried to explore my then common relationship woes and though I have gotten more confident with my word power and spellings, and have since given up poetry for prose, I still find that I am yet to make the desired breakthrough as a writer.
Some years back, established writers started paying attention to the upcoming ones, and writing workshops started springing up here and there, but I found myself rather unlucky when it came to selections. Perhaps, the fact that I usually make it to the last stage and then get a letter telling me politely that I can’t make it to the final stage because financial constraint makes it impossible for them to take all the final cut of 35 and I am part of the 15 dropped, says something about my abilities.
The same situation holds for literary competitions, though in this case I won’t deny that my habitual carelessness plays a major role, as I usually get to the final short list before being dropped, probably on account of my hasty editing which leaves several unsightly typos and extra, undeleted, words in my body of work – as later readings reveal.
While the fact that my entries get some measure of attention encourages my psyche, the fact that despite my hard work, my writing brings little if none of the desired recognition makes it very hard to continue on this path, especially when one feels he is nothing but a fraud that risks the disgrace of discovery. However, these doubts do go away after a while and I go back to writing and the hope that someday, someone will not just see my efforts and grant me the much needed leg-up, but society would say my name with that peculiar reverence that names of great sages impresses on the tongue.
As for self-doubt, I have learnt over the years that it is an irritant that will keep coming back to torment me into upping my craft, and that the one sure way to fight it is to write about things that are close to heart, things that grant me joy.
As for writing workshops, other than being great avenues for networking with both aspiring and established writers, I doubt if they can teach you anything more than you are willing to learn or have already learnt on your own.
For any aspiring writer that has ever had doubts about their ability and prospects, the thing is to keep pushing no matter how aimless it feels at the moment, work on your weaknesses and read as much as you can, for in the work of others, you will find nuggets of wisdom with which to drive your own creativity.
As I tell my heart when it despairs, “if the ability to tell this story is a gift, tell more of it. If it reaches the ear of anyone else asides you, you have made a mark, for a story told is like a birthing … your soul given to another.”