6 Lessons I keep Learning as a Writer

I am a Writer.

It has taken me twelve years to say that out loud without cringing or wanting to disappear. I take on a different persona online and maybe that’s why it was easier for me to add “writer” or “author” to my profiles on social media but not easily utter the word when in conversation with someone face to face. However, the good thing about life is that lessons assail you from every direction and if you happen to procrastinate, like me, then these lessons sometimes come with a nudge from gravity and late nights.

Someone recently asked me, “what can I do to be a better Writer?” and I nearly choked, because it’s a struggle we face, the desire to be better and to be acknowledged for being good, better, the best and so on. So, thinking back on everything I have been doing over the years, I keep learning that to improve as a Writer, there are six things I keep going back to:

  1. Write. Writers write, so whatever day you are having, you have to write something- a sentence or two, just make sure that you write.
  2. Read and not just your favorite writers, read widely and vastly. Magazines, journals, memos, fiction- chap books, you soon find that words are like taste or touch, they linger longer than you expected when they resonate with you.
  3. Observe. My Mom says that writers are travelers. It is true, for you to create a character or setting, your observation skills would come in handy. So, take time and truly listen to others as they talk, observe people in the street (without being too creepy), or at a restaurant or even your favorite actors onscreen- watch how they talk, laugh and what they do- do they tap someone, laugh while covering their mouths and so on.
  4. Challenge yourself. It’s not enough to write just a sentence a day, how about trying to write a novel in a month, or a poem, or writing in some genre outside your comfort zone. It does not have to be perfect, however, it is your way to seeing how far you can go and what that feels like.
  5. Study your craft. Well, this is one thing I struggle a lot with because I may love creative writing classes, or workshops but just attending them or following through on assignments is tough for me. What I find encouraging is that I am always learning something new from every lesson, or speaker and that in itself is way better than the assignments.
  6. Finish. Look, every Writer has numerous story ideas that never make it to published book, however, if you start out a story, try your best to tie up loose ends, to finish it just because there is something satisfying about completions that mean you can look back and gauge your performance.

What’s great is that these are insights I gained from my experience and they are not the only insights, if you think that’s just talk try looking up “Advice for Writers” on Google and you’ll know what your ancestors started saying long before you even picked up a pen.

I love that I get to write and can share my writing with others and hope I’ll be vastly read. Have a great weekend ahead!

Keeping it Short

It’s been one of those weeks spent on the road. I’m anticipating another two weeks on the road, but so far, what’s suffered most is my writing. I can make my daily journal entries but anything to do with creating short stories or generating new ideas becomes difficult when all you do is talk about counseling and pyscho-social programs.

It made me question, “how can you get some writing done when you cannot seem to get time for it?”

The first answer that came to mind was accompanied by my Mentor’s voice and it was “You are a Writer, make time!” The other that came included a few tips:

  • always carry around a notebook. Jot down any ideas that come to mind, they could be of inspiration later.
  • If you cannot stay away from your phone, install a note taking app. Thank me later.
  • Try and make time, even if it is thirty minutes when you wake up or a few minutes during work breaks. Jog your mind of the importance of writing and see where that goes.
  • Don’t be so hard on yourself. 

So, I spent four days at this awesome hotel and I loved their color scheme so much and their paintings that I had to share a few pictures.

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loved the color of the curtains 🙂

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I guess, silver+brown+white are their go  colors.

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Loved this, it was right outside my room.

What are your plans this weekend?

I’ve got an idea, how about reading a free 5-page magazine? Just two short stories 🙂

The third issue of Nilichoandika Magazine is all about keeping it short and I’m so glad that I get to share two beautiful stories by amazing Writers. Get a copy here (Nilichoandika (3))- or on the left sidebar on this blog’s homepage.

Enjoy your weekend as I’m off to Kuria, who knows, I might just visit a place or two in Sirare while at it.

My writing space

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My writing space has always been neat. It’s got a keyboard, stick notes, highlighters, writing pads, blue and black ink pens and never without pencils and erasers.

I have written some of the stories I never thought would find their way into print.

Here, on this table in my mom’s room, surrounded by heaps of books on African literature is where I first came up with Ulioko. He’s the only character who resonates with most of the people who have read the Currents Series. With utterances like:

“You cannot dip raw cassava in hot water and remove it expecting to eat it.”

“Even the baboons do not like to stare at their children’s buttocks.”

I have drafted some of the stories that are neatly tucked away in my journals, gifts that some day, someone will treasure knowing that I wrote something every day.

My writing space has always been neat because I like my things in order. I like an essence of space and when everything is piled up, my mind wanders like a child digging through a chest of family secrets.

I thought that every word I wrote would be as crisp as my writing space, but this picture serves to show that inspiration does not trickle down a straight path.

Have a lovely week Writers!

Back to square one; reflecting on writing

Have you ever found yourself going back to the beginning?

I am talking about a situation that makes you stop, go back in time, and then come to the present to figure out where you went wrong or why you did not see it coming?

This week has been my reflection week (hence few posts, if I may admit) and the key issue that has been bugging me is my writing.

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Image courtesy of: Stocksnap

There are three things I wish everyone knew about writing and Writers:

  1. Writers are not gods. We create worlds but we do not magically make them appear.
  2. Writing takes time and energy. There are good days and bad days, but the bottom line is that there are days!
  3. The first draft is just that…the first draft, and it takes more work to get it into that book that a reader holds.

So, I woke today at 2A.M.and sat on the floor beside my bed, pulled out my notebook and started updating the story I have been writing and halfway through, I found myself irritated by what I had written and frustrated that it was not flowing like I needed it to.

I closed the notebook and went back to sleep.

When I woke up at 6:30A.M, I opened that notebook and there it was again, three pages of babbling that did not appeal to the story I was writing and as I looked at it, I went back in time and asked myself, “why am I writing this story in the first place? Why have I been writing every day? What’s so unique about this story?”

As am I typing this, the answer still remains, “It’s you who is impatient.” This story wants to be told, and I started out so well, when I was optimistic about it but now because of other projects and work, I have set it aside and only come to it when I am frustrated.

Have you ever found yourself going back to the beginning? If you have, don’t be afraid of what you might find as your weak spot. It will freak you out, make you sad, angry or disappointed in people and yourself, but…if it’s to do with something you are passionate about, it is definitely worth the trip!

I am working on letting go of my frustrations because…this book deserves better, my writing deserves the best.

 

The 5 am club

Have you heard of the 5 A.M. club? It is all about getting up early to have the perfect head start to a productive day. I had done this in July 2013 (read about it here)  and it helped me set a great pace for writing The Currents Series. I am having trouble writing my latest manuscript and I thought why not focus and get in those two hours before leaving for work every morning.

So, I decided to join the 5 A.M club and set my alarm for 5 o’clock every day and let’s just say that I need all the motivation to pull through.

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Picture courtesy of Google Images 🙂

I started on Sunday and so far I can only focus for thirty minutes before the Muezzin makes his call to all the faithfuls. We are surrounded by three mosques and a catholic church, so after five-thirty I find myself drawn to all the calls. I look outside my window and watch out for those who are awake like me, the boda boda drivers, children going to school, the street lights, vehicles and before I know it, it’s already seven and I have to get ready for work!

So, I’ve got ten days to put in some work and get this manuscript going and maybe then I’ll have an update on what’s good.

Until then, have a lovely afternoon.

 

 

Peaches and Grapes

Loving someone is tiresome. It is exhausting to always think of someone and when you want to call them you realize you have no credit. You brush your teeth and wash your face with cold water jolting those facial nerves awake. You wrap the lesso around your waist because God knows you cannot walk out of the house to Moha’s shop in your nightdress, or else people will know that you sleep in the little mermaid’s red nightie.

They’ll see Sebastian hovering slightly above your ever growing bum, and think, ‘Gosh! She is certainly expanding, that one…yes, ever since she got that job up the street, she seems to be growing from behind.’

So, you get to Moha’s shop and buy an Airtel top up card for 50 bob and rush to the house. You load the credit and check out the Unliminet options- because that card says that you get some 100MB+20mins+100sms.

You wait for that text….

When you check, you realize that you are only going to get data bundles and you have no money to call him. It’s 7:30A.M. You check whatsapp but he was last seen yesterday at 2A.M.

2A.M?

What was he doing up at 2 A.M? You check your last chat and it ended with a ‘goodnight’ at 9 P. M. and an unrequited emoji kiss…

It is almost eight o’clock and you are already exhausted, having asked yourself so many questions and arrived at no answers.

Loving someone is tiresome I tell you…hand me some grapes will you?

The perks of writing

I am listening to Sam Smith’s “Lay me down,” which features John Legend hoping to hear that final rendition that gives me the shivers. It is soaring to 31 degrees outside and the open window guarantees a humid breeze.

I have had two cups of tea and filled out a job application for the next research project I would love to engage in just to avoid writing this article, but you know what they say about writers- we are forever churning up words even in our sleep. Gosh! People can be clueless at times, but it’s beautiful.

Writers have the best company, words. With this delightful company comes a villain, the need to rearrange and do away with some to create the best story.

Have you ever been to an open air market?

Okay, in Kisumu, there’s this big open air market, we call it Kibuye. It is pronounced as kee-boo-yeh. I think. There are plenty of hawkers and goods and you have to bend and go through piles of clothes until you get what fits you. It is like digging through a pile of laundry which reeks of storage, to get the perfect second-hand outfit which you’ll wash, rinse in fabric softener, and iron and you’d look like a goddess. The process of getting that item is stressful. Writing is like that.

Well, it feels like that to me, but this is not about me, not yet.

Now, let’s get back to me, thank you. The final version of Earth was delightfully emailed to my Mentor/Editor this morning- during my first cup of tea moment. One hundred or so pages of words that he would slash and underline or comment on using green fonts for the sake of originality. He called immediately to ask, ‘how do you feel?’

I wanted to say, ‘hot’ because of the tea I had swallowed in a hurry but resorted to saying ‘fine, thanks.’ He added, ‘you should be excited, you know the advantages of writing and so far it has been a great journey for you, eh?’

He hung up. I looked at my phone halfway between rage and joy. It’s a hard place to be in because rage shakes you to your core and joy is like a volcano that’s working its way to an eruption. Writing has advantages? Really?

Now that I think about it, it does: not everyone delights in the company of words or rearranges them to create a story. I mean, even liars cannot stick to a story for long.

So, if you are writing, or finding your way around words and it seems like nothing good or praise is coming out of it, just know it takes time. Yes, everything takes time, but with writing you have to keep the words flowing out of you. Let them flow and sometimes force them out of you. Purge on that blank screen.

The greatest perk of writing to me is the fact that it came out of me- not you, him, her, or someone else, but the words come out of me-and that in itself is the most glorious creation.

 

Beneath the pile of Grey

There are some scenes, but for me it is mostly dialogues, that always put me in a state. Sometimes I read and ask, “where did that come from?”

Sometimes I read and nothing resonates within me, but with Wind there was a moment that made me stop and put the manuscript down and go about the house cleaning rooms I had already cleaned.

It is a conversation that takes place five harvests later between Wema (the royal guard) and Baraka (Princess Amani’s husband). Wema and Amani were in love but Amani was a Princess and she was already promised to Prince Baraka- their marriage being that one of allegiance.

Baraka tells Wema;

Sometimes when I look at her, I see it, like grey ashes that are a reminder of a fire that once raged, and sometimes when you blow on them, you see a spark, a bright orange spark that burns beneath the pile of grey, is it too much for you to be here? Would you will your tongue to tell me what is in your heart?

Wind is only seventy-five pages, but of all that is said and done in the book, this moment made something in me stop.

It is also the only bit of dialogue that was not edited out of the story, and it makes me wonder what would happen if Amani did leave her husband for the first man she loved?

I am writing.