IN THE AUTHORS’ OWN WORDS... What Discourages Us

15 Dec 2012

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As a follow-up to last week’s piece on challenges of writers, why have tried to get a number of writers share their experience. The first part is presented below in the writers’ own words.

The Frustration: To be frank with you, I think my number one enemy is my pocket: when I am broke and I cannot figure out where the next money will come from.  It kills my spirit, it makes me ask myself: What is the point in writing?  What am I looking for?  What do I gain from writing and at the end of the day if there is nothing to show for it? 

When you look at the society and you hear the kind of money going round, politicians making a kill every day in millions of naira and dollars, you ask yourself questions, you feel so sad and discouraged.  When you hear about people making free, easy money, billions of money, oil subsidy money and stuff, you feel so discouraged.  You start wondering whether you chose the right profession as a writer.  You begin to say: “Monkey dey work, baboon dey chop.” 

Then of course, the environment can be frustrating.  You are in the mood to write, you are in your groove, ideas are flowing, then suddenly NEPA strikes.  And you are like a fish out of water.  Or you are writing in the middle of night, which is the best time to think and write.  And suddenly, NEPA strikes.  And everywhere is total gloom.  You cannot start disturbing your neighbours with the sound of your generator, so you just force yourself to go to sleep. 

The Encouragement: Other than that, nothing disturbs me in my writing.  As a writer,   I love to use the challenges and the frustrations around me as an inspiration to write.  Sometimes frustration can also serve as a source of inspiration.  When I am sad or have suffered some form of loss or bereavement, I channel my frustration into writing.  I write like mad.  I write with vengeance.  I write to be happy because nothing else makes me happy than to write my sorrows and frustrations away. Rather than focus on discouragement, I prefer to encourage myself.  I believe that with our huge population, a writer stands a chance of making a fortune, if he writes a great book.  I don’t believe in the crap that Nigerians don’t read and that we don’t have a reading culture.  Write a good book and Nigerians would follow you like Twitter.

• Mike is journalist, author, columnist, blogger...... very many things in one.

The Frustration: There are no guarantees in the writing life. If you are in school studying, for example, you can at least be sure that one day you will earn your doctorate, but the novel you struggled for years on end to write may not find a publisher. In America, for instance, the author of the great comic novel The Confederacy of Dunces, Kennedy Toole killed himself only for the mother to eventually find a publisher for the book that is now on its way to becoming a modern classic. I have written volumes which went down with the fire that destroyed my library, but the struggle continues, as we used to say in our Aluta days.

The Joy: Nor rejection slips nor the abandonment by friends and family should deter or discourage a true writer. In poetry, one never expected to make any money anyway. So the joy is in the rhythm and the rhymes. No apologies whatsoever...
•Maxim is a poet, author, literary critic, blogger, among others.

The Frustration: In my 22 years as a writer, I have faced a lot of daunting challenges ranging from self-doubt, fear, rejection of manuscript, lack of financial reward and poor reading culture in Nigeria.

I started writing commentaries in 1990 during the military regime. It was an era when there was a lot of media censorship with some print and electronic media proscribed for publishing news which the military considered inimical to its interest. News on democracy, human rights and development were highly censored. I recall that some of my critical articles were not published by government owned media then. Even the versions published by private media were sometimes watered down in order not to offend the military rulers.   The return to civil rule changed all of that. More so with the coming into force the Freedom of Information Act in 2011.

My self-doubt was as a result of many years of failure of O’ Level English language. I consistently had P. 8 in the subject from 1985 when I first graduated from Secondary School up until 1990 when I eventually had A 3. It was very traumatic for me. However, I have largely overcome that challenge as I read about great writers and draw inspiration from them.

In 2010, as a way of marking my 20th anniversary of commentary writing as well as commemorate Nigeria’s Golden Jubilee, I decided to publish a book of essays. I worked on the manuscript and thereafter started looking for publishers. One notable Nigerian publisher scorned my manuscript being a compilation of commentaries. She said it will not sell as she’s even having difficulty marketing creative works in her stable. Not even my offer of paying for the publication dissuaded her. Another publisher asked me for 75 per cent advanced payment on the agreed cost of publication.   This I could not afford. I was later introduced to Joe Tolalu Associates in Lagos who gave me favourable terms of payment. After the publication of the book “Nigeria, My Nigeria: Perspectives from 1990 – 2010” I have had to market the book myself as a marketing deal struck with a book seller was not profitable as I would like. I am happy to say that the book has been well received and I am in the process of printing a second edition as more people demand for copies.

Commentary writing either as a freelance or columnist has not been financially rewarding in Nigeria. Many newspapers in a bid to cut cost and because of the thought that they are doing the writer a favour do not pay for published articles.  In my 22 years of writing, it is only The Guardian who in 1996 paid me a total sum of N400 for the three of my articles published in that year. The newspaper paid N100 for two opinion pieces published on week days and N200 for the one published on Sunday. When I got the money I used it to buy belt at Oshodi market. It is therefore passion that has sustained my writing.

The Encouragement:  Poor reading culture among Nigerians has also been a disincentive to Nigerian writers. It is the joy of a writer to be read. Greater joy comes when there are feedbacks. It is very discouraging when sometimes my family and friends see me as wasting my time writing. While many say they don’t have time to spare to read hard stuffs like commentaries, others believe it will change nothing. However, I have psyched myself up to believe in my passion and continue to write for the betterment of Nigeria.
•Jide is a an Abuja based Development Consultant and a Columnist with The Punch newspaper

The Frustration: We live in an era of dying literature. In today’s Nigeria, creative writing seems an old-fashioned business. People don’t just read anymore. When I was growing up in the eighties, it was fashionable to be a novel buff. A student was as good as illiterate grandmother if he if he could not recount plots in the Pacesetter Series, James Hadley Chase and Harlequin. Crafts of great writers like Sidney Sheldon, Harold Robbins, Robert Ludlum, Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka were regular playtime gists.  Not anymore. Today’s writer essentially talks to an empty audience. This is a challenge.

No trader enjoys a quiet market. Your work is no work if it makes you no money and yet makes no noise. There is nobody that writes absolutely for a living in Nigeria because poverty stares a writer in two directions. Writing is mass communication of some sort. The ground must shift when the writer writes.

The Encouragement: For me however, the remedy is the God-like feel that comes during and after the craftsmanship. The writer is a man alright. But he is a man truly in the image of God. He kills at will, renders an innocent woman barren, changes destinies, punishes an innocent person for the sin of another, reverses fortunes between the leader and the led and sometimes raises the dead. Either through his biro and his pen, he is omnipotent and omnipresent. In the few works I have been privileged to complete and release to the public, I get a kick when readers call about how I play with the fate of my characters.

Writing is a vocation with an underrated public profile. Very few writers have national honours, chieftaincy titles, honorary degrees, street names etc. But no man can award another man a national honour, make a titled chief, confer on him a doctorate degree, name a major street after him and turn him a pauper all in a single stroke. Only a writer can do that. That is a sweetener to the bitter pills of being a writer in a society of declining appetite for quality literature
•Deji is a banker, author, essayist, among others

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