Home Writers Creative Essays How Macleans Ignited My Writing Potential | Ekoja Solomon

How Macleans Ignited My Writing Potential | Ekoja Solomon

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As a young boy growing up in the agrarian region of Benue State, the expectation was for me to go to school and fall back on agriculture. Many of my peers were either cultivating the soil with sizeable hoes or raising animals at a subsistence level. I equally had a fair share of agriculture when the responsibility of raising my father’s animals rested upon my shoulder. My father, being an engineer at Benue Cement Company, would usually resume work by 8 am and close around 4 pm. During this interval while he was away, I usually fed the animals. There was a time, as a child, when one of the boars at the farm knocked me down for feeding it late. This experience dismayed my thoughts of embarking on a writing journey. My teachers at primary school, who should have helped me, unfortunately, never had the knowledge of creative writing,nor could they spark up the writing potential in me. This negligence made me reserved and unable to coordinate my thoughts.

After my primary school education, my first exposure to writing stared at me during an entrance examination at Mount Saint Gabriel’s Secondary School Makurdi. One of the questions asked was, “In 10 sentences, write an essay about how you spent your last holiday.” Since I was competing with over 900 pupils for a limited 150 admissible space, I quickly organized my thoughts and wrote an essay with the sketchy knowledge I had acquired from reading novels. Fortunate enough, I was among the few selected from this pool of pupils when the admission list was released.

When I returned to secondary school, I was always taken aback when my seniors were called up for awards during the assembly session. This made me start developing an interest in competitions. On one occasion, during a literature lesson in JSS3, my teacher introduced a book titled “Animal Farm” for our use. As we took turns studying this captivating novel, I began to appreciate the efforts of writers like George Orwell, and Jerry Agada. How he sat down to critically think and put down such a fascinating story wowed me. The way characters like Snowball, Boxer, Squealer, Napoleon, and the farm owner were woven to play their roles in the book further oiled the wigs of my writing potential.

One fateful day, while in junior secondary school, Macleans(a toothpaste manufacturing company) organized an essay competition for students in Benue State. According to the requirements for submission, each participant was expected to write an essay and enclose it in an envelope with an empty pack of used Macleans. Our teacher then informed us that there would be a Nokia phone for the star prize-winner of the essay. This mouth-watering prize motivated many students across the state to send in their entries for evaluation. During this period, I was faced with the dilemma of writing a winning essay and getting a Macleans pack. The latter was a harder nut to crack because Macleans products then were not popular among Nigerians. Nevertheless, I gathered my thoughts together to write an essay on a foolscap sheet. Searching for a Macleans pack made me visit waste bins, search my school hostel, and foot paths. My search was unfruitful at first, but with persistence, I found an old pack of the toothpaste, enclosed it in an envelope together with my essay, and submitted it to the organizers. After the evaluation of entries, a young boy from a command secondary school won the star prize. Despite my failure, I was encouraged by the effort I put in to participate in the competition even without a writing coach. This, I believe, was the spark that ignited my writing potential.

During the 3rd term holiday break of 2007, my storytelling skills took a new turn after attending an English holiday lesson. My teacher at the lesson introduced me to the use of provocative openings. According to him, “it helps a reader to be interested in a piece of writing.” With this knowledge, I was able to craft numerous compelling stories for the entertainment of my peers. It even assisted me in answering the essay section of my English language paper during my Junior Certificate examination.

After these experiences, I was placed in a science class to study sciences due to my performance in the junior secondary school examination. This decision starved me of literature study and slowed down my writing journey. All I was concerned with at this point was ionic bonding, projectile motion, differentiation, and Mr. Niger D.

In 2009, my writing journey was revived when a relative of mine gifted me an internet-enabled Nokia phone. With this device, I signed up for accounts on Facebook and Twitter. The more I read posts from my friends and influencers, the more I was motivated to also coordinate my thoughts and transform them into writing. For instance, my first form of writing on social media, which was done on the 18th of December 2010 around 6:52 am, was, “Jesus is the reason 4 de season.” With continuous practice, my writing started getting more engagement. When I attempted to write longer posts, I was constrained by the 1024-character limit of Facebook and the 140-character limit of Twitter. This made me migrate to the use of Facebook notes for longer writing compositions. The more I wrote the more commendations I received from other social media users. This gave me the confidence to start searching for writing gigs online. Each time I found one, I would retreat into a quiet place to scribble down my thoughts on sheets of paper. Due to my limitation of not owning a computer set, my writings were first typed as notes on Facebook, depending on the word count. Afterwards, I would visit a cyber café, pay for an internet connection, and copy all the notes from my Facebook page to Ms. Word. I would then edit the work into a presentable format before submitting it to the organizers.

In my first attempt to participate in an online essay competition, I was slapped with a rejection email. I continued, however, but still got loads of rejection mails. Due to multiple messages of failure in my inbox, I adopted the habit of deleting rejection emails for my writing. While I was about to delete a rejection email one day, a thought flashed across my mind. “You have been deleting loads of rejection emails without count. Why can’t you keep them as a testament for the future? At least you will be able to track your writing journey and growth through them. The email will also serve as motivation for future writing mentees who may face the same challenge.” As these thoughts crystallized in my subconscious being, I stopped deleting my rejection emails. As I look back after several years of writing, I fault the younger me for not having a writing mentor early in life. If I had one, many of the mistakes I made would have been avoided. As rejection emails littered the corridors of my inbox, I developed the habit of voracious reading. This exercise helped me to expand my vocabulary and build my creative writing skills.

In a bid to meet up with my equals globally, I began cultivating the habit of reading winning articles from writing competitions. Immediately after a story, essay, poem, or prose is released as the winning entry of a competition, I would download it and spend time internalising it. Sometimes, I would read them over five times to become acquainted with the literary tricks and skills used by the writer. Soon, my writings too began to command some forms of technical acuity.

After writing my Jamb examination in 2012, I was employed at a bakery for 6 months before gaining admission into the university. The stressful nature of the job squeezed out my writing interest as I was then expected to resume as early as 7 am and close sometimes by midnight. Things, however, took a new turn when I honoured my admission to study plant breeding and seed science at the Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi in 2013. This relieved me a bit and helped me refocus on my writing development. In my second year, I got a laptop, which eased me from the stress of typing with a phone and visiting the café.

One of the remarkable things that helped me on my writing journey was the discovery of a writing niche. Prior to this period, I was a jack of all trades but master of none. After evaluating my writing, I discovered that my strength aligned with essay and research writing.

In the year 2020, I continued practicing within my writing niche until the COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to a halt. The lockdown period was a blessing in disguise for me because it allowed me to block out distractions and fully focus on developing my writing skills. While surfing the internet one fateful morning during the pandemic, I came across an essay competition organized by the Alfred Agunbiade Foundation with the topic “The Nigeria of my dream”. After reading the rules and requirements, I set out to conduct extensive research before scribbling down my essay draft. An effort was then made to reread my essay and make corrections where necessary. With this done, I carefully typed my essay before submitting it to the organizers. On the 1st of October, when Nigeria was to celebrate her 60th independence anniversary, the foundation announced my name as one of the winners of her maiden essay competition. This was followed by the presentation of a 20,000-naira cash prize. My spirit was inspired to keep working on the path to my niche.

In 2021, I again participated in another international essay competition organized by the International Justice Initiative. The topic of the essay was “Holocaust: How have understandings of genocide and human liberties progressed since and do modern policies and social structures reflect these changes?” Being an empathetic writer, I employed my pen to write on behalf of the oppressed globally. After evaluation by the organizers, I was declared the winner of the competition globally.

In June of the same year, the International Atomic Energy Agency organized a global essay-writing contest for young professionals globally. The focus was on raising youth awareness of the opportunities available in the nuclear industry. Despite having a vague knowledge of the industry, I conducted extensive research to come up with a compelling essay. About a month later, I was notified that my essay had been shortlisted as one of the 30 best essays globally. This feat won for me the role of a panellist at her annual conference in Austria. After processing my passport and informing the Nigerian government of my achievement for the nation, I was denied a sponsored trip to Vienna for the conference. Though it was a bitter experience for me, I never allowed it to impede my writing journey.

I have gone on to get a finalist award in the Food For Thought essay, a runner up award in tripartite agro enterprise, a finalist award in the MANI essay competition about the relationship between poverty and mental health, an honourable mention award in nature writing contest and an honourable mention award in the Wise Ink writing contest.

In 2022, I noticed the need to oil my writing wheel because of the frictional pebbles that were clogging my writing wheels and impeding my progress. I started watching writing tutorials on YouTube, participating in online writing courses, and listening to tips from writing coaches. My quest further helped me to come across the cmonionline writing community. I was encouraged to continue writing through her weekly writing prompts. One feature that amazed me about Cmonionline was the use of peer review, online defence, and feedback from the judges. All these provisions helped me to adjust my writing lapses to be well grounded in the art of writing. I also remember learning about the use of Grammarly, an online tool that helps writer’s correct grammatical errors in a piece of writing.

Being a self-taught creative writer, I went further to pass this knowledge on to my pupils through the organization of intra-school essay competitions on topical issues like corruption, insecurity, and education.

Fortunately, this effort paid off when two female pupils of mine got honourable mention awards for their essays in the 2022 TSL international essay on the topic, “How would combating inequality help in fighting climate change.” Another male pupil also won the 2022 national children’s day essay competition organized by Classic FM after reeling out his manifesto for Nigeria.

Presently, I am working on a story titled “Sugar Quest” for conveying a message about the slave trade to the millennia generation, who are often starved of historical knowledge. Some of my writing works can be accessed here.

Common mistakes new writers tend to make:

From my observation, I noticed that new writers, in a bid to get the fame of “I am a published writer,” always jump the learning and skill-sharpening processes. This leaves them destitute with a pocket of deficiencies. As a new writer, please incubate properly before going out.

My advice to new writers starting out:

  • Get a niche that complements your strength and talent.
  • Read, read and read the work of others.
  • Leverage technology to learn.
  • Network with other writers.
  • Write patiently every day to build capacity.
  • Do not forget to commit all to God’s hand.

 

 

About the Writer

Ekoja Solomon

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