Six African writers talk about their books and what works for them while writing. And of course, share some writing tips for the aspiring author. Enjoy this last feature from Toni Kan!
Read, read and read – Toni Kan
Writing a novel is a difficult endeavour. I have 3 unpublished and unfinished novels all at about 30,000 words each. What that piece of information means is that I have wasted 360 days of my life, assuming I wrote at the rate of 500 words a day. That is one full year wasted.
I am not sure how it works for other writers but the moment I sit down to write, the first impulse is to get up and do something else. It takes enormous will power to sit my butt down and write. So, imagine how much will power is required to put down 64,000 words, which is the word count for my latest novel, The Carnivorous City.
You can liken a novel to building a house. You know you want to build a 4-bedroom house but at the moment you start piling block upon block, you do not know for sure whether you are going to use pink or red tiles in the bathroom. You are not sure what colour light fixtures to buy and all those details.
That, in many ways, is what writing a novel is. You know you want to write about a missing man whose brother and wife are frantically searching for him. That is the premise but how do you flesh it out? Will the characters be tall or short, will someone have a stutter or talk fast? Will there be a bad cousin or a scheming house help?
These are the things that define novels, that give it a peculiar nature. That, in many ways, is the hard work and that which makes a novel fly or tank.
So, in many ways, novels end up writing the author. You have the basic idea, but the story ultimately compels you to trace a particular course like the sea would a man afloat on a raft.
The ‘writing’ for me is usually easy because I like to write in the gush which is why I am grateful for all the writing residencies that have given me a space to be creative; The Heinrich Boll Stiftung where I wrote my novella, Ballad of Rage as well as the Civitella Ranieri foundation and Yadoo which provided me space to write and re-write The Carnivorous City respectively.
So, if writing is easy, where is the hard work? The hard work lies in re-writing. Looking over what you have poured out can be a sobering experience because much of what you poured out can look like shit when you start re-writing.
For The Carnivorous City, I cut off 4 chapters and some more. That’s almost 20,000 words. They didn’t fit so they had to go. As I have matured as a writer and editor, I have become more brutal with myself with regard to re-reading and re-writing but you can see the effect when the reviews start coming in.
So for aspiring writers, I say two things; read, read and read. That sounds like three things, right? Reading is the best way to become a writer because it exposes you to different writers and different styles and different genres. From reading those you like their works you can evolve your own peculiar style.
Then be self-critical. Don’t give yourself a quarter. Make sure you like what you have written before you send it out into the world. A badly written work is akin to a mother sending her child out to a birthday party in dirty wrinkled clothes.
Don’t be that mother.
Toni Kan, the author of The Carnivorous City, holds both M.A and B.A degrees in English Literature from the universities of Lagos and Jos respectively. A magazine editor at 26, he left journalism to pursue a career in Communications and Public Relations working in banking and telecoms before returning to publishing as Director of Marketing & Strategy at NEXT. An award winning writer with over 6 published books including the award winning and bestselling short story collection, Nights of the Creaking Bed, he is an ideas man and change agent with vast connections in the media and corporate Nigeria. He is contributor, guest writer and former editor for diverse publications from Thisday to The Guardian, eleveneleven to agni, Flair West Africa to Wasafiri as well as Salthill and Sunday Sun amongst others.
Toni Kan, who is publisher of sabinews.com, an online magazine and co- founder of Radi8, an Ideas and PR/Communications company is currently Deputy General Manager at ntel, Nigeria’s first 4G/LTE Advanced network.