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 feature from the author of Season of Crimson Blossoms!
A writer must be patient with writing – Abubakar Adam Ibrahim
Often I have been asked what works for me as a writer. The temptation to give a sexy answer is always there, but the reality is that there is no definite answer. What works for you with one story may not work with another. Not to mention working for someone else. Every story is different, is inspired by different circumstances and ultimately tackles different issues. And every writer must reach into himself to find what works for him or her with regards to each story.
When I set out to write Season of Crimson Blossoms, I was clear about the beginning. And after I had started writing, I was clear about the end. What would happen in the middle, however, was entirely a different kettle of fish.
As I wrote, I grew very fond of my characters because even when I wasn’t writing, they were in my head, talking and laughing and crying and goofing around. As they grew, these characters developed minds of their own. I loved this. But sometimes it was annoying as well: when I wanted my characters to go in a particular direction, they resisted and chose their own paths.
Sometimes we had stalemates that lasted days or weeks. If I had forced them to follow my dictates (all the time), the story would have been stilted and conceited and anyone who read it would have known. So I learned to yield to them, handed them the reins and just followed them around, faithfully documenting their words and deeds, letting the story unfold organically.
Sometimes they were loquacious, talk incessantly like children high on sweets, driving me crazy with the sound of their voices in my head. So I sat down and wrote like a demented artist.
Sometimes they grew moody and sulked. They made faces and refused to talk. Or sometimes they just went to sleep – repose that lasted for days or weeks or months. Writers call this snag “writer’s block.”
Whenever that happened, I let them be. I lived my life, read books, watched movies and football, played video games and most importantly interacted with real people, at least the ones who exist outside my mind.
I have learned a long time ago that a writer must be patient with writing. Of course there is an urgency to get the book finished and see it in the readers’ hands. This urgency is most strongly felt when you are writing the final chapters of the manuscript. You can see the finish line already and you are anxious to get there. That is the most dangerous slope. More often than not, it is the ending rather than the beginning, that makes or mars a story for readers. And so in writing the final chapters a writer must remain steady, take a deep breath and craft an ending instead of stumbling to one.
Take a deep breath and do a re-write before sending the manuscript out. Sometimes you have only one chance to impress. Don’t blow it in a hurry.
- Abubakar Adam Ibrahim is a Nigerian novelist and writer. His debut short story collection The Whispering Trees was longlisted for the inaugural Etisalat Prize for Literature in 2014, with the title story shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African Writing. He is a Gabriel Garcia Marquez Fellow (2013), a Civitella Ranieri Fellow (2015) and was included in the Africa39 anthology of the most promising sub-Saharan African writers under the age of 40.His latest novel, Season of Crimson Blossoms won the NLNG Nigeria Prize for Literature in 2016.