Everyone aims for perfection. Everyone wants to be recognised, to be good at what they do. Everyone wants that immortality that comes with having people read about them, having people wishing to know their story; the ability to be alive in the minds of others. The travails, pains, downfalls, tears and eventually, the success that comes with laughter, triumph and joy which we have experienced are things we would like people to read about.
Of course, we all want the above but there is always the question of “how good we are”, the challenge of putting our stories down in an attractive and interesting way that people will find worth reading. There is always that fierce battle with grammar, punctuation, interjections, simile, metaphor and sentence creation – a battle so fierce we could liken it to the biblical battle between the angels and the beast. Indeed, writing would seem to some people as a fierce, mean and terrible beast (chuckles), an insurmountable task of some sort. At least, it did seem that way to me until I heard the words of the teacher who had taught me through my primary six. I can tell you are itching to know what it was my teacher had said so, here is the full story.
Mr. Emmah, my class teacher was a firm disciplinarian. He was one who was not averse to making good use of the whip when occasion demanded. He was resolute in the discharge of discipline and passionate in teaching, especially mathematics which he could teach the whole day! Mr Emmah’s love for mathematics and his style of teaching, coupled with the fact that he stammered a lot – as often with his hands when holding the cane as with his mouth when speaking – didn’t make us love him any better and so, in our childishness, we tried not to get in his way, even to the extent of avoiding our teacher by spending longer hours in music, computer or home economics room during practical classes on those subjects. It wasn’t long before our teacher whom we nicknamed “Iron”, due to how hard his knocks and slaps were, discovered that we had been using our hot little brains to outwit him and play truancy and so, while we revelled in our escapades, Mr. Emmah kept counting the days until payback. It was a hot Thursday afternoon, 01:15 PM to be precise, when we received the pay-cheque for our negligence and a few words of advise from our teacher which remained with me and which, I would say, forms the premise for my story.
We had spent our time at the computer room as usual and refused to return to the class long after break was over and since nothing out of the ordinary had happened so far, even though it was about two hours since break was over, we had thought, rather childishly, that it was just going to be like other days where we had gotten away with playing over our teacher’s intelligence. Plus, we had a good excuse. The computer teacher had asked us to clean the computer room and dust the huge PCs in the room. None of us had any idea that my teacher had filled all the chalkboards and the new white boards in the class with notes from Primary six Civic Education text book. I can recall that the topic was on “DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES”. How profound! (Chuckles)
On arrival to the class few minutes towards the end of school for the day, we had all received bone-shaking lashing from “Iron”. His hands swung with vindictive anger and the cane moved intermittently between his left and right hands. Oh, yes! Mr. Emmah’s hands were both capable of swinging the cane with acute perfection and both hands left hot impressions on the skin of his victim – our skins! After the ordeal, Mr. Emmah had commanded us to copy up all the notes and while we did so, he had begun to advice us. He had said a whole lot of things but one single statement had been imprinted in me. He had said, angrily, that “everyone wishes to go to heaven but not everyone will; only those who worked for it would make it”.
That statement had made me improve commendably in my education and in several other aspects because I knew that if I wanted the first position at school, I had to put in the work, and if I wanted anything, I really needed to work for it. At that tender age, my teacher had made me realize that the world never gave freebies and that smart hard work was the precursor of good results.
“Everyone wishes to be a good writer but not everyone will; only those who put in the work will achieve this feat” is something I accepted at the start of my journey to becoming a good writer. It is the statement which pushed me from struggling with a 100 words composition on how I spent my holiday and a 50 words letter to an imaginary uncle abroad requesting for assistance on one thing or another to writing this 2500 words composition with ease.
Hardwork will always pay is something everyone needs to have at the back of their mind but most particularly, writers.
When I started out at writing, a lot of things were quite confusing to me. First on that list was the difficulty I faced with good sentence creation. I had to learn good use of simple sentences and then, complex sentences in bringing out appeal in my writing and arresting attention. I also struggled with the rules governing the use of English language. English, I discovered early in my journey, was a quite complex language; the presence of homonyms, homophones, antonyms and synonyms are things that gave me a lot of headache. I seriously think many writers faced the same struggle and I can surely say that few writers still make mistakes in their usage.
The case of punctuation, was quite a hurdle in my early years, I must say. Funny how English twists rules in such obscure patterns that could elude even a keen observer. However, learning on punctuation rules and the laws guiding the frequency with which and where they are used turned out to be a fun-filled learning process. Every writer must take punctuation seriously because they give a piece of writing the flair it needs. Punctuation gives written letters life and emotion and intonation. Without it, one would rumble on with the words without feeling the emotion accompanying the message or understanding the message, itself. Punctuation also cleans up a work. This is something I learnt early when I started writing. A well punctuated piece appears more visually appealing than a piece that is not so well punctuated and it is also a more interesting read.
In my bid to become a better writer, I also became voracious and unapologetic reader. Reading broadens our horizons and takes us where we haven’t been, where we are unlikely to be. Reading imbues us with that confidence that knowledge alone can give because reading is one way, one very potent way, of acquiring knowledge.
While in primary school, we were issued a reader, a textbook that dealt extensively with English subjects bordering on Verbs, Adjectives and the likes but it was normal as children to skip all the serious looking subjects to those portions of the book that contained stories. I loved stories a great deal, we all did as children. Perhaps because we were brought up in the era of the “tales by moonlight” which was a tool that our grandmothers used to teach good morals or perhaps, because we, as children, naturally loved listening to narrations. Well, that would be for another day.
During those years in primary four and six, Mr. Emmah, made it necessary to read from our English texts almost every morning. We were never to forget it at home. Not bringing your English text book to school could earn you some serious lashing from “Iron” and so, English text book was usually the first book that went into our bags every morning. While we read through, “Iron” nodded and made corrections. It didn’t matter that sometimes, his enunciation came out confusing to us because of his stammering, we quite well appreciated the mental excercise of following Bola and Alade on their trip through the states of Nigeria. We saw through their eyes, or rather through the book, what these characters saw and learnt what they learnt. It was normal sometimes to engage in banters over who could outdo Alade’s genius or Bola’s vast knowledge. Through reading about them, we built our vocabulary and made significant improvement on our own grammar and the impeccability of our spoken words because we all wanted to speak the way Bola and Alade were speaking in that text book.
Growing up, I consumed a lot of novels and kept gleaning from books. With every book I read, I learnt something; It was either I was getting to learn about a new writing style or gaining knowledge of a new place, a strange tradition, an event or something else.
I took great interest in Chinua Achebe’s work, Things Fall Apart. It was a great book, one of those books I kept re-reading because of how much I could learn from it. I read The Last Duty and then Ngozi Adichie’s work; Purple Hibiscus and half of a yellow sun. I read a lot of books authored by Nigerians and they all came out quite appealing. I loved their styles. They all had something to offer but I needed to broadened my horizon this pushed me to read other books written by writers overseas. I read Emma Drummond’s books and devoured books by Ben Carson, Nelson Mandela and Dan Brown among others.
Dan Brown had so many twist and turn to his writing. It was something I so much wished to have in mine too. He was one of those writers who made me realize the importance of research. His writings created controversial opinions and counter-opinions in my mind and he made me look at things through his eyes while yet keeping himself neutral. I think this is one of those qualities that a good lawyer needs to posses but more so, a good writer too.
I had gone great lengths in learning about writing, the dos and don’ts. I needed a platform where these rules could come off as more realistic and then, it occurred to me that social media could also solve this.
I joined groups on social media that dealt with the art of writing, particularly Facebook, in a bid to gain more knowledge and practice. These groups shaped my insight on the art and inculcated in me resilience and discipline. I learnt to look past writing for likes and writing to make a point. It was from social media I learnt about persuasive writing, first from Emmanuel Emilonaire Akpe’s writing style and then from several others. I saw cop writing in a new light and I thought about the similarities between persuasive writing for marketing and expository essays. In both, you try to convince.
While perusing through Facebook, I also discovered story writers of admirable talents. One of such writers which, eventually, became a role model to me was Aaron Ansah-Agyeman, A Ghanaian writer. Aaron’s imagination ran wild and his sense of humour and juxtaposition of words made his writing appeal to all my senses. His stories created the illusion that I was watching rather than reading the actions. It had hurt me badly to learn later on about the death of such a genius but his writings always inspired me and whenever I get tempted to give up, I get an upwelling of strength reading through one of his old stories. Aaron ansah-agyeman.com became a frequent search of mine on Google because he motivated me.
I guess my liking and continuous following of Mr. Akpe made me gain interest in debate club in my secondary school much later. Just like reading, continuous practice in speaking helps gain mastery of words usage. If we speak often with people, especially those of learned groups, and listen intently to their response, we understand better how words are to be used.
To be a good writer, one needs zeal. Writing is hard. Yes, it is interesting and hard. Not like lifting a bag of cement unto the head, no but it does take a lot of flexing, in this case, not muscle but brain and imagination. Just as we do exercises to keep the body fit, the brain must be kept fit by frequent exercises. I discovered that I developed the habit of imagining and talking to myself.
By questioning myself, imagining things and and describing accurately what I imagine, I trained my brain to become witty. Wit is what every writer needs. It is the scent leaf that gives your writing aroma and without it, you are likely to come off as boring. When we imagine, we create in our minds; we give things colour, mass and life. This is why writing can be considered an art.
I’ve come across people who look at those self-conversing individuals with disdain as one would a person with mental problems. So, as a writer, you must look past all the criticisms because it is in the mind that ideas are born. Your story first exist in your mind before any other person gets to know about it and the only way to have sound ideas is to have a sound mind; this too is gotten by sound mental exercises.
As a writer, you must learn to take a break also and get yourself aquainted with nature and the peace it offers. Your brain needs the rest because, like land, if not well taken care of, the brain is prone to diminishing returns. Stress and tiredness are not friends of writers. Every writer must avoid them.
A tree does not make a forest. It will be arrogant of me to say that I was able to accomplish all these on my own. Of course not! My family played a big role in my journey to perfect writing. My father, especially, loved stories and raised the stakes higher every time. It was my father and sisters who always listened to my ramblings and patiently corrected and it was mostly with them that I bantered.
Cmonionline.com made me resilient and gave me a platform to practice. The feedbacks we receive after submitting our write-ups was very encouraging. Cmonionline.com also brought great people my way with amazing writing ability. Their interest in my growth has been unexpected and warming.
In all, relying on God and his gifts has been quite helpful. Trusting him to lead me everyday through my journey to perfection has been all shades of strengthening.
Surely, Cmoni, I believe that those who wish to be a better writer can become one; just work for it.
About the Writer