Being an avid member of Naija Stories, the online forum for aspiring Nigerian writers, I’ve seen newbies join the forum and post their first drafts of stories, poetry or articles and over time blossom into better writers. I’m not surprised at the growth and changes that take place as the forum offers many opportunities for that.
You get to write and get reviewed; comments open your eyes to more facts or hidden glitches within your work, you learn from the criticisms. You also get to read works by others who have carved a niche on the forum by their writing prowess. Unknowingly to most writers who read the works of others, there are a number of things happening each time you post a story on the forum, get comments and critiques, and each time you read works and also comment.
You are indirectly training yourself as a writer.
This makes a good alternative to attending courses on learning to write.
Overtime I’ve come to pick up a variety of tips that are quite useful for every budding writer. You might want to consider these tips which I have also used when writing some of my most recent stories on Naija Stories. They are tips that work nicely and help you come out better in the nick of time. These tips may be useful for bloggers, editors and journalists as well.
1. Don’t beat about the bush.
Too much flashbacks, back-stories, intros or long anecdotes are a waste of your reader’s time. Get to the point. In advertising the gimmick to grabbing and keeping attention is offering a lot in less info. Get to your point quickly too before your reader loses patience and moves on.
2. The first draft is for the cooler.
Normally when you write the first draft of your story, you’re so full of the story and you feel you’ve churned out a good piece. It is recommended that you write your first draft and then put it away in the ‘cooler’ to rest for a while. How long it stays away depends on you. The fact is, when you take a second look at it days later, you’ll see differently and may even re-write or edit it to be better.
By doing this you allow your mind to be refreshed and get to later look at your work from a detached and clearer perspective.
One of my stories titled ‘Love Jazz’ had three different endings. The final ending got my readers hooked. I wrote each ending on different days before deciding the final gripping one.
3. Cut down on words.
The temptation to be spontaneous in your use of words at times can get you carried away and thus you clutter up your narrative. On a second look at your work, take time to remove the unnecessary clutter of words. It’s time to get rid of those lexical nuisances you have an emotional attachment to.
While you’re at it, be mindful to keep it balanced. Removing too many words may end up killing the flavour of your story.
Flash fiction offers the opportunity for this. I also recollect a periodical Naija Stories ‘Writing Prompt’ competition which served a good training ground for decluttering of words in writing.
4. Be relatable and realistic.
Have in mind that you’re writing to be read and it’s necessary for those reading you to comprehend and relate easily with you. Writing is a form of communication between a writer and his readers. When your readers don’t get you, then you’re talking to yourself.
Being relatable makes you realistic. And don’t get it twisted – being realistic does not discredit fiction with fantasy elements. It doesn’t matter if your fiction is fantasy, Sci-fi or abstract, your story must be believable. Even make-believe must have an appearance of truth in it.
One of the laws guiding literature is the law of verisimilitude which means fiction must be believable because that’s what helps the reader to connect to the world you created on those pages.
How human are your characters? Can we connect to them? Can we relate to what they are going through? Do they react to situations realistically? One of the best ways to achieve this is to fashion your characters or locations after an existing person or place. Its one of the best ways that aid character development.
A character called ‘Shedrach’ in one of the story ‘Strange Women’, was modelled in full description and mannerism after a colleague in my office while the femme fatales in the story were modelled after three wild ladies in the Client Service department at my workplace.
5. Don’t give a damn what others may think.
Critics will nail you; your work will get ripped to shreds by others and at the same time others will shower admiration or praise on you. Whichever the case, don’t crave for emotional feedbacks; don’t write because you want to get a kick from reactions. Rather, write because you’ve got the passion to, and keep writing – picking up useful info from all that’s being said and keep doing it the way you’re inspired to do it. You can never satisfy everyone. No matter how good your story may seem, someone, somewhere will still crap on it.
Don’t listen too much to your critics; otherwise they’ll end up cramping your style and killing your inspiration. There’ll always be critics since it’s usually easier to talk about someone’s work than to write your own.
6. Meet your own expectations, not theirs.
This has to do with being unpredictable in fiction. Never let your readers imagine the end of your story before its ends. Throw them off board; piss them off if necessary with what they least expect. The fact is, even if it’s not what they expected, you’ve shocked them and gotten their attention. This is why a number of Stephen King’s fiction is uniquely infamous for catching readers off balance with shocking endings.
Sometimes readers would desire a certain kind of ending. Don’t fall for it. Give them what they don’t expect and watch the residue of the story’s imagery remain stuck on their minds and provoke their thoughts.
7. Read, read, read!
Just in the same way we are adept to picking up tunes and unconsciously storing them in our subconscious memory, the same goes for when we read – we end up picking up stuff that hides somewhere in our subconscious mind.
Also, you get ideas and learn how to do things as well as how not to do things. You also get to broaden your creative horizon. Many times I read someone else’s work and I’m fascinated by the style employed or the dexterity of the descriptive power. It eventually inspires me to want to attempt something new and differentiate a bit in my writing.
When I first read Ayi Kwei Armah’s ‘The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born’ in Secondary School, I was stupefied by the writer’s descriptive power. I found myself modelling my descriptive ability after the Ghanaian author.
Also let’s not forget that information is power…the power to write most notably.
8. Write, write, write!
This is why it makes sense to own a blog if you’re a writer because you actually become good at writing by actually writing! In fact, to succinctly put it, anytime you feel like writing, just get a computer or paper and pen or typewriter and get to work. There may be something big waiting to drop from you that moment.
When I started this write up, I had a direction in mind but as I wrote it the direction changed, simply because I decided to write. Don’t ever procrastinate on any opportunity to write.
The aim is to ensure you write much more and thus become a better writer. Never pass off the opportunity to write. A blog helps since you are kind of obligated to keep updating.
I always make sure that I keep writing. When I’m not inspired to write a story, I do a poem, when the poetry muse isn’t kicking inspiration, I then do articles – like this one.
*Inspired by: ‘Stephen King’s Top 7 Tips for Becoming a Better Writer’ by Henrik Edberg