For the first time I was accepted as a judge in a writing competition. It was a humbling moment for a budding writer like me. And it was heady too, that I had to play an important role in selecting the winner of a writing competition, one where my peers – probably – had entered for.
But the joy seeped out of me as soon as I began reading the long-listed stories.
Four stories were longlisted. These stories should not have been written in the first place. Reading through them, one is left depressed. The editing was to the point of being sloven, as if the writers had set out to mock the competition or writing itself. I read through lines where the writers never bothered punctuating their sentences. This is not about the classic use of the hyphens or colons and semi-colons in compound sentences, the writers chose not to bother their stories with petty punctuations such as ‘full stop”, and “comma”. It was tedious, and for a moment I felt the need to call up the longlistees and tongue-lash them. Was that deliberate? Did they set out to torture their readers?
Two of the stories read like essays, nay, ramblings, the type you do when you are drunk or high, wild thoughts tripping all over themselves and a machine strapped to your head, downloading these train of thoughts. There was no inkling that the writers had thought of structuring their stories, that they even knew they were supposed to know of the word “structure”. Then again, I saw great ideas muddled up in unguided writings. Their storylines, if well written, could be great stories. And as I winded up with the last story, I was left with anger. Anger for our system which is presently killing budding writers.
Little attention is paid to writing, to our literature. It seems, to the average Nigerian, that our writers actually reside abroad, and we, the “pretend-ones” who reside in Nigeria, should never be taken seriously.
What platforms do we have in place for the young writer? This brought to mind the essay I wrote for Saraba Magazine on the writing and the home-based Nigerian writer.
For this competition, I sadly say that there is no winner. The stories submitted should not have been written in the first place. I do not discredit the writers themselves – I have nothing against them. But I think, for us to begin to rise, we must teach these young Nigerians how to write. We must teach us how to write. We lack government support, but we have ourselves and our experiences and if we could sacrifice a little of our time and quit complaining over what is not working in this system, we could birth a new generation of writers that would outdo us. We have our job cut for us, but are we really concerned about the growth of the budding writers? As we struggle to make our own names and place in the writing world, we could also join hands and help these voices that are presently being muddled up in a rotten system.
For a start, these young voices should be engaged in various writers workshop. They should join writing groups on the social media where they get to share their stories before their stories are submitted for publications or competitions. I implore them to register with naijastories.com
Reading through these stories, I was reminded of how I started. I had to learn from my friends on Facebook. I had to read a lot of works published by our home-based writers and those in diaspora. And for every line I put down, I compared with the greats’. I found I had a long way to go, and only determination and zealousness would take me there, wherever that is.
There is no winner in this competition. But we can begin to win when we help our young writers.