One of the best decisions I made in 2010 was to focus on the development of my writing skills. My deep thirst for training made me go all out for as much I could handle alongside final year academics and other activities in the university. The Future Project Creative Writers Workshop was one of those trainings. There we had access to some of the top writers and stakeholders in the publishing industry and similar sectors of the Nigerian creative economy. Muhtar Bakare, the founder of Kachifo Limited, was one of those special facilitators we had the privilege of interacting with.
That early morning of Saturday 5 June 2010, at the REDSTRAT office in Surulere, Muhtar Bakare began by asking the rather scanty class: “Why do you want to write?” Different people gave varying responses; many trying to sound very noble and altruistic. But he was quick to commend someone who mentioned ‘money’ as a factor. Others mentioned fame; need to write compelling stories; and contribution to humanity as their respective reasons. He said, “Be true to yourself; don’t deceive yourself. It takes courage to write and have a voice. To be exceptional in anything; you have to look at failure in the face, and stick out your neck…” He then asked a poignant question, “Are all stories equally valuable?” I only remember that he mentioned the term ‘cognitive dissonance’ in his elaboration on that question.
“Writers are prophets… Read so that you can write. Write to make a difference. Writers codify stories. Writers must have clarity and not mix things up. Don’t tamper with facts, but put your emotions in there. Facts are not yours; facts are sacred. Don’t mess with facts…” he said. Then he asked, “Why is it that we do not write about rain; women and their hair; and seasons?”
“Reading allows you to see how other people handle emotions… Nigeria is yet to change because our writers have not successfully/properly codified the situations that are prevalent… I like subtlety… Take moral positions…” He emphasized the need to do (extensive) research as a writer which would be evident in your content, authenticity and details. Then he quoted some of his favourite lines: “Life is short, nasty and brutish… Time/life has passed, but there is no sweetness here… because we have not got courage… If you want to be nice, you can’t be a writer. If you are looking for the easy way out, you can’t be successful or exceptional. There is no easy way of being a good writer.”
Muhtar reminded us all that Farafina is a business outfit and that as such there would be the kind of books they liked. His frank admonition for us: “It takes at least four years to get a book out (published) from the start of writing, if you stick to it… The (Nigerian) publishing industry has not evolved as an extension of the culture of the people. Culture is very expensive… (think about the cultural artifacts)… it is the highest form of literature that we have… Connect online with other writers across the world/globe. Blog. Apply for those grants… Do creative copying… History is a progression by extension… Geniuses copy, but they do so creatively. Be careful not to make (ordinary) men gods.” I had started this blog, Gbenga’s Notebook! (“Egbe’s Diary, at the time), in May 2010, but had not been uploading new posts. I must say here that I was imbued with passion for consistent blogging by Muhtar Bakare’s words that morning. That mention of the word ‘Blog’ did something spectacular in my head!
He continued, “When you start something, always have the courage to finish it. Apart from Simi Dosekun, Farafina met all its published authors first on the internet… You only own things that you understand… Nigeria needs at least a thousand publishing firms… It took Amazon nine years to break even and Starbucks thirteen years. We will get to that tipping point. We should be who we say we are, not what people say we are… Have absolute dedication to writing. You are a writer because you write, and write consistently. Writing is about what you do privately. You need exceptional discipline. You are the architect of your own downfall.”
As he waxed philosophical, maintaining his calm mien, his words hit home. He implored us to understand the rules of the language we use and be open and willing to be edited. He encouraged us to write creative non-fiction and send to online magazines and blogs, not forgetting to post links to those stories on our blogs. “Don’t be afraid of criticism and write well researched and well modulated stories. No matter how good you are as a writer, people will criticize your work. Don’t take rejections personal. Have the courage to put yourself out there!” That was it. By the time Muhtar ended on that charge, we just had to clap!
What points resonate with you? What lessons have you learned from this recap and what other tips would you like to share with other writers? Drop your comments and share with us! –GN!