By Gabriel Dinda and Verah Omwocha
“I am thinking of writing, a beautiful story about my childhood; incorporating some of the lessons I have learnt in life. Please advise me.” Read the message from a mutual friend.
Many people reach out to us – individually – telling us that they want to write and asking for advice. The first piece of advice we can give to someone thinking of plunging into writing is WRITE. That’s the beginning and end of it, the act of writing itself. Everything else we list below is to feed or give you a guiding light. It is only possible to share an idea or a piece of advice on a story that has been written as opposed to an idea that is still in someone’s mind which you don’t have access to.
Others ask about publishing before they start writing; more like a woman booking a maternity ward before she is even pregnant (although she might be ‘planning’ to get pregnant).
Here are some ideas that can help you get started on your writing journey.
- What is your Why?
A whole chapter of ‘The Craft of Creative Writing’ by Mugeni Ojiambo and Verah Omwocha covers the overview of writing as a career and the possible writing careers available. Your reason for starting out will sustain your writing; it will inform your ‘HOW’. Be deliberate about it. Evaluate why you want to write and if your reason can only be achieved through writing. Good writing is not for the faint-hearted so if your why is not convincing, all the best in your ventures. If you are convinced that you MUST write, tag along.
- Here is better than there
The best place to start is where you are. With what you are familiar with. If you have lived in the village all your life, you are better placed to write about your experiences in the village than about Disneyland, which you’ve only seen in movies. The story is within your surroundings.
- Write DAILY
You will only master the craft of writing and get the benefits that accrue from it if you commit to it. Find a way to write on a daily basis or constantly, let’s say three times a week. But do not write occasionally. Have a schedule and do it daily. Let your mind get used to the idea that you are a writer. That way, it will be part of you and it will probably get easier with time for you. Writers write!
- Set a specific time to write
Writing only when you feel like it is very romantic but unfortunately, very unprofessional, impractical and unproductive. Professional writing demands that you respect it. Do you only go to work when you feel like it? Set a specific time to write and actually WRITE. Keep your word. Make it very definite; I write from 6 a.m. to 7.30 a.m. every day. Have a notebook where you jot down story ideas you randomly think about and when you sit down, pick what to write and write. If you want to work on a novel, for instance, do it within the specific time set. Stop the ‘romance of feelings’. They always lie to us, and you know this better than we do (emoji).
- Read like all depends on it (Your writing actually depends on it)
The greatest weapon for a writer is reading. If you want to write one book, ensure you read ten books of the same genre/topic before you start. Read both related and unrelated literature. If writing is your justice, then reading is your justice system. Read more to write more.
- An accountability partner will help
Get someone to write and walk with, perhaps your mentor or just someone who can keep you accountable. We are weaker than we can admit. We all need someone to encourage us. Get such a person from those writers you admire. You could also join clubs or writing organizations like Writers Guild Kenya where there are systems of accountability and growth as you help another person in their writing journey also write.
- Set writing targets
If you are travelling from Nairobi to Kisumu and the driver of the bus you are travelling in speeds off towards Mombasa road, you will be justified to call him or her out. But if you don’t know where you’re going, you will have no reason to call the driver out. Where is your writing ‘headed’? If you don’t know, you might not have a reason to write daily. Set targets to your writing. Do you want to write 500- words articles daily? Do you want to write a 50, 000-word novel in a month? What do you want to do? Have that target and break it down in a way that you can track it on a daily basis. If you are to write a 50,000 words novel in a month, how many words should you then write daily? If you know where you should be going, it is easy to know when you are lost.
- Get an outlet channel
Try by all means to have an outlet channel for your writing. At first, it is okay to write ‘for yourself’ but you’ll only grow as a writer if people read your work. You could be writing a novel, but once in a while, share bits of pieces of your writing on social media or to your family of writers and friends. Start a blog if you don’t have one. Submit to platforms such Goethe’s AMKA Space for critique. Submit short pieces to online journals. This serves as a way to introduce you to your potential readers and build a network of readers. It also helps you to hear the preliminary feedback that should be helpful for you in your writing journey. If you try to surprise readers, you’ll end up more surprised.
- Educate yourself
You do not need a degree in Creative Writing to be a writer, but it is your responsibility to educate yourself on matters of writing. Read reference materials on writing, blogs, magazines etc. Attend writing Masterclasses, like ‘Write Your Passion’ whenever possible. Attend workshops and writing-related seminars. Follow writers on Social Media and join groups of people with similar writing interests.
These are just ideas to guide you on this very honorable but rigorous journey you wish to undertake. But remember that the greatest secret to writing is actually WRITING.
Both Verah and Gabriel are Writers and Authors at Writers Guild Kenya. Emailemail@example.com