Beyond the Chill: Unveiling the Secrets of Strong Writing by Prof. Tom Odhiambo

By Gabriel Dinda

The recent Writers Guild-Kenya Manuscript Polishing Workshop wasn’t just about conquering the cold Saturday morning. It was a testament to the power of a dedicated community, where authors shared the journey of transforming their manuscripts from hidden gems to polished prose. Held at the serene Passionist Retreat Centre in Karen, the workshop, led by the brilliant Prof. Tom Odhiambo, offered a unique opportunity to filter the overwhelming sea of writing advice and focus on the core elements that truly make writing sing.

One of the most impactful takeaways, courtesy of Prof. Odhiambo himself, was the crucial role of language, genre, and audience in crafting powerful narratives. Every language carries a distinct character, a “sign” as he phrased it. Choosing the language, be it English, Swahili, Gikuyu, or any other, is the first step in signaling to your reader who you’re writing for. This, in turn, fosters a connection, allowing your audience to see the world through your words.

But language is just the first layer. By selecting your language, you’re also laying the foundation for your genre and target audience. As Prof. Odhiambo emphasized, becoming a great writer requires being an avid reader, not just of books, but also of the cultural landscape. Understanding the current trends and the convention of your chosen genre is paramount. Additionally, a deep grasp of your subject allows you to refine your ideas and effectively target a niche audience, rather than casting a wide, unfocused net.

The workshop wasn’t just about theory, though. A highlight for many, myself included, was debunking the myth of writer’s block. Prof. Odhiambo offered a refreshing perspective, “writer’s block often stems from a lack of clear motivation” he said. Why are you writing this story? What compels you? With a strong “why” fueling your fire, the supposed block simply melts away.


Another gem – the idea that even seemingly uninspired ideas hold merit. The act of writing itself, even if it feels disjointed initially, is the key. Through drafting and redrafting, you refine your thoughts, giving your ideas shape and clarity. Remember, even the grandest concepts need to be grounded in reality, reflecting the complexities of everyday life and the challenges we face.

In the end, the Writers Guild-Kenya Manuscript Polishing Workshop served as a powerful reminder that good writing isn’t about chasing after mind-blowing ideas. It’s about meticulously crafting your message, wielding the right language, and understanding your genre and audience. As we put pen to paper or tap away at our keyboards, let’s remember the transformative power of each word we write. Each sentence has the potential to inspire, to enlighten, and perhaps even change a life.

Gabriel Dinda is the Executive Director of Writers Guild Kenya. 

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