The joy that caressed my tender heart when my short story about the tortoise and the lion was published knew no bounds. That was the first story I wrote. On the day of our graduation and prize-giving ceremony, I glanced carefully through the content page of the school’s magazine to discover my story was among those selected by the editorial board. This was how the budding process as a writer began. That was in primary school.
The story surrounds the mysterious disappearance of some animals in the forest. Mbe, the old tortoise alongside the king of the forest, the lion, were major actors. Mbe paid the lion a courtesy visit. When he approached the lion’s den, the lion flashed a welcoming smile at him. This was done with the conviction that Mbe would believe the lion was a harmless guest. The lion beckoned on Mbe to come on in. However, Mbe hesitated for some while. He looked down and momentarily studied the footmarks of other animals that might have approached the lion’s den. All were heading in a particular direction towards the den. No footmark headed in the reverse direction. This was how the wise tortoise discovered no animal ever entered the den and came out alive; hence their disappearance from the forest. It was this singular act that saved other animals in the forest as no one dared to come close to the den any longer.
Up until this day, anytime I pick the old magazine from the donkey-year-old book shelf standing pretty in the living room, nostalgia grips my entire being. My cheeks would hurt from grinning as I would read through the story with excitement dotting the entire landscape of my face. That story chronicled my journey as an apprentice writer
The journey maintained a steady ride into secondary school. Being a member of the editorial crew of the Press Club was pretty interesting and rewarding. I got to write engaging stories as well as evaluate articles submitted for publication. This paid off in the long run because I was able to pass the English Language subject without sitting twice for the senior school certificate examination. Mathematics and English language usually presented a big hurdle for students seeking admission into the university to study various courses. On the one hand, I was pretty good at numerical reasoning. This meant passing mathematics was quite seamless. On the other hand, my experience writing and editing articles for the press club of my school greatly improved my use of English, thus that became a good precursor to my passing English Language subject at national examinations.
As one who does ‘apprentice’ as a writer, I learnt to study myself to know what inspired me the most to write. I tried to also identify the best mood that triggers me to write well. Most times, I write better in a melancholic mood. At times, I also produce good literary works when ecstatic. I have also noticed I can as well write when under pressure. Some beautiful articles of mine were written not under a relaxed condition. They are mostly done in a charged atmosphere. One of them is “Lagos.”
Give me a refrigerator stocked with goodies, uninterrupted electricity supply, cable television, wireless fidelity internet connectivity, a smartphone or a notepad, a pen and jotter, and I’d stay indoors and write—never to step out for any possible reason. That shows how stupendously I love to write. But then, this does not mean I only write when the conditions are favourable. No. Being an apprentice writer, I have mastered always having a pen and a jotter somewhere close.
Have you heard of ‘The Cathedral Effect?’ It has helped me navigate writing different genres successfully. Over some time, I noticed that ceiling height, that is, how low or high ceilings are can inspire different types of cognitive reasoning.
If I needed to stay focused and be better at writing detailed and analytical works, I choose a room with a low ceiling. Also, when I find myself in a room with high ceilings, I become more open and creative in writing. Did I investigate the height of the ceiling from whence this essay was written? Please try not to hazard a guess.
Notwithstanding, I have learnt to pick what spurs me well to write and what spurs me better when writing. This has helped me to reduce any manifestation of writer’s block. I would also identify that a greater percentage of writing is thinking. I always knew that once one’s thought pattern and cognitive ability are distorted, then, his or her writing wouldn’t be good.
In the meantime, I always strive to become an improved writer. This informs why I refer to myself as an ‘apprentice writer.’ I realize that becoming a better writer involves a conscious and consistent effort. It required understudying other accomplished writers by reading their works.
Beyond that, I learnt to read without boundaries. The more I read, the more exposure I garnered to broaden my vocabulary, ideas and perspectives. A Latin maxim goes thus,
‘Nemo dat quod non habet.’
This is translated to mean,
‘You can’t give what you don’t have.’
This is why I read crazily—not limiting myself to any genre. Tellingly, my writing inspirations come from texts I’ve read. I also listen devotedly to both local and international news to polish my grammar and to keep me abreast of current global trends. Social media happenings have also inspired some literary works of mine
Does everyone appreciate what or how I write? Sadly, the answer is no! Certainly, not everyone gets to like the way a person writes. This is why I sometimes try to know my target audience. This helps me understand what seemingly appeals to them. I also seek to identify where my target audience can be found. If my target audience is on Twitter, I may want to employ brevity in writing. If I target educated professionals, then, I will most likely find them on LinkedIn and will have to be diplomatic and intentional with my choice of words. Thus, knowing my target audience and where they can be found sometimes shape my literary style when writing.
Just recently in a writing talk show organized for a small community of writers for a blog, I was made to understand that writing for print media was quite different from writing for electronic media. For the print media, the choice of words is such that the meanings are embedded. At times, the reader may have to read twice before the message can be understood. For electronic media, however, the language and style have to be in the most simplistic of forms to enable messages to be understood as quickly as possible. That is the power of knowing where target audiences can be found.
As an apprentice writer, I also read the works of great writers. I look out to gain a few things from them and I can develop literary styles in the process. Adopting a good style has helped me become better positioned to gain audiences. This in turn gives my writings wider visibility and acceptance.
There is also a certain writing competition blog, cmonionline. The blog provided me with a voice and the opportunity to hone my skill to become a fine writer. It also complemented my intentional writing drive and has instilled in me some writing discipline. The competition has helped and continues to help me properly identify myself as a writer while compelling me to build a writing routine in the process. I’m also excited to have made some interesting friends through the writing competition.
The blog adopted a peer-review process which saw more efforts channelled towards literary criticism. This involved the art or practice of judging and commenting on qualities and character of literary works, in this case, the blog’s essay entries. By this, I was encouraged to engage with other writers by discussing our works constructively. writers felt free to give opinions and hold dissenting views without the risk of being labelled clout chasers or wailers as the case may be. A feedback mechanism was also encouraged. This became quite crucial because such corrections would go on to improve my learning curve and this encouraged me to write even more.
Through it all, my approach to writing has been a deliberate one. It has involved distinguishing myself by using simple, clear and unambiguous language devoid of weird and heavy-sounding vocabulary. Also, when I write, I ensure I give my works captions and titles that stand out – so much so that it catches the readers’ attention effortlessly and stimulates them to read. I also ensure I edit my work painstakingly before submission. A story to this effect follows.
Defending my thesis at the faculty of engineering conference room, my external examiner and professor of communication engineering gave me some scare. Weeks before the day of defence, I had embarked on spiritual warfare. I fasted. I prayed. I knew post-graduate defence sometimes could become unpredictable. A lecturer supervising a student may be in the bad books of another lecturer. Sometimes, this predisposes such a student to potentially becoming a target of attack and a means to settle scores between waring lecturers when they sit in a panel to judge students during presentation and defence.
It doesn’t matter how intelligent that student might be, or how prepared he or she could be. The truth is that months of hard work from a student can be destroyed in a twinkling of an eye. Just a question is enough to throw the student off balance and second guess himself or herself in the process. So, any time a post-graduate student approaches a defence panel, the student does so with a racing heart. This was why I had committed the defence to the Almighty.
At last, the screen projector was set, and representatives from the school of post-graduate studies of the university were all seated in the panel as well. Aside from my external examiner and content readers, copies of my thesis report could be seen in the hands of other lecturers from sister departments within the engineering faculty. They were flipping and perusing through the pages with some wearing their moods lazily and enthusiastically on their faces. I knew I was about to enter a lion’s den. I wish I could become Mbe, the wise tortoise who outsmarted the lion in the forest. In this scenario, however, they were many lions to face and I never knew if I could come out of the den alive. It was my turn and the moderator beckoned for me to take the stage and begin the presentation.
Well, the presentation started and I began to talk. At first, it wasn’t without some rough navigations. No sooner had I started to talk than I felt the pores under my armpit dilate and let its tears sweep down my spine to my loins. I began to sweat like a ram in a slaughterhouse. This was despite the fact the room was stacked with two insane horsepower air-conditioning systems.
After my presentation came the time for questions. To my surprise, none of the panellists was willing to ask any questions. Isn’t my God a prayer answering God? But then, my external examiner wouldn’t give his judgement without asking a question. It was just one question he asked which I answered correctly. The look on his face was as though he expected me not to have known the correct thing to say. Then, he called my surname and said,
“Are you sure you’re the one that did this work?”
Brothers and sisters, at that point I froze! If I didn’t die that day, I might never die again. I felt my heart oscillate faster than the pendulum in a simple harmonic motion. This was because plagiarism at that level of study was hugely criminal. Yet, being an external examiner versed in the area I researched, he had the power to cancel the work and probably delay any hope of graduation. All of a sudden, I started saying ejaculatory prayers. To cut the long story short, I answered him in the affirmative and added that the thesis was my entire brainchild.
Guess what he said afterwards?
“…because for close to a month now, I’ve gone through the pages and contents of your work. I have also witnessed your oral presentation. You showed mastery of the subject area. Your oral presentation was exceptional and your thesis report was properly written with almost no grammatical and typographical errors.” At that point, the atmosphere within the room became relaxed and I was greeted with a strong ovation with handshakes and congratulations.
I wasn’t surprised anyway that the thesis report I wrote was free of grammatical and typographical blemishes. Numerous writing resources were quite helpful to me in the course of writing the report. One of them was Grammarly. With Grammarly.com, I was able to review my mechanical accuracy. SmallSEOtools.com and QuillBot.com were also beautiful writing resources I used and continue to deploy whenever I write. Both can be used to check for plagiarism. In addition, the latter uses state-of-the-art artificial intelligence to paraphrase and summarize my works. This significantly reduces my writing time. I was also introduced to Zotero, a magical tool used for in-text citations and referencing of research materials. Call it personal research assistance and you won’t be out of place. Beyond writing for leisure, I have also earned money and honorarium writing biographies and essays.
In all, I will describe writing as a journey and not a destination. As an apprentice writer, what is most important is to build and constantly improve me in the journey of writing. It can only get better. Yes, I know it can!
About the Writer
Chukwuemeka Oluka is a graduate of Electronic and Computer Engineering from Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka. He is a passionate writer, a research enthusiast and a COREN certified Engineer. He writes in from Enugu, tweets @Mekus_Oluka and can be reached via “firstname.lastname@example.org”