What to write, how to write

I am a writer, this is no big secret. I discovered my love for the written word when I was younger, in English class and writing really good compositions (not to toot my own horn or anything). I even got a gold star from our then head master.

After that, I pretty much never looked back. I have started many stories. I haven’t been able to finish all of them because I always face the author’s biggest enemy – writer’s block.

To try and avoid this happening, I summarise my story from start to finish. I write down major plot points and any arising questions I may ask or need to answer and in the end, I have something of a road map I can follow.

This has worked well for me in the past – but not any more.

I can’t speak as a professional author or anything. For all of the stories I’ve written, I’m not thoroughly confident of any of them becoming best sellers. In the end, I feel like a bit of a fraud because, well… my stories seem borrowed and fake.

Let me explain.

Being a bookworm, I love books. I read all sorts of books but my favourites are the romances. I especially love those that have a bit of humour and/or mysticism involved. I can let my imagination run wild and free. The only thing is, I was born and raised in Africa and all the books I like to read are Western. Because I have read so many, they have heavily influenced my view of the world and the quality of the stories I write.

I have read a few books by African Authors and while some of them are interesting, I eventually pick up another book about vampires or 17th century England or both and settle there. I was also born and raised in the city so here is also another thing that influences my writing.

I have been asked a few times why I don’t write “African” stories and here is the long and short of it; I can’t… or I’m not sure how. It would seem that African stories have a traditional feel to them. They embody some things that feel so foreign to me, as a city-born African. They include a lot of imagery I don’t recognise and cannot confidently use in my tales. I can’t relate to my African-ness and this bothers me a lot.

Much as I would like to write how I like to, my writing style and “African stories” don’t seem to mix.

I feel that writing about a girl’s adventures in the city may be bragging about my middle-class status in a third-world country. I feel that writing about Africa is something I want to do but won’t be able to do right. I feel that including Africans in some of my stories may be interesting but not enough to make me happy with any story I come up with.

The result is an unhappy author with major writer’s block and not a few identity issues.

What does it mean to be African? The culture I was raised in has been heavily influenced by the Western world. Unfortunately (or fortunately), that is the culture I know and am most comfortable with – the Pseudo-western-African blend I have grown up with. That is what I want to write about… and that is the culture that receives the most criticism.

I write about snow I have never seen. I write cotton clothes and TVs into my stories, which lots of households in the city have. I write about crushes in high school (which I never had since I was in an all-girls boarding school). I write about catty girls and prince charming because I learned about them from movies and fairy tales.I write about 8-5 jobs and taxes and bills and issues with public transport – which I face as a city girl. But it doesn’t seem “African” enough for the genre.

Perhaps it is my own prejudice that holds me back from truly exploring what it means to be African. Maybe my biggest issue is a lack of willingness to learn. Being “African” doesn’t have to mean one thing. At the moment, it doesn’t seem to mean anything I write. Again, this may just be my interpretation. Or maybe I have no interest in what I write? Maybe in trying so hard to fit into this one mold that I have created of what it means to be “African”, I have forgotten what it means to be myself and to let that come out in my writing.

Maybe that’s why I prefer this new pseudo-cultural genre. I can throw off those inhibitions and run with them as far as I want. And I just have to learn to do that with my “African” stories as well.

Maybe this is worth exploring. Maybe I will fail and just go back to writing stories that aren’t African but aren’t entirely Western either. Maybe they’ll be Western altogether (it’s pretty hard to change a 26-year mindset after all). But at least I have discovered something new about myself as I write this.

Being an author means creating a world in which a reader can explore and get lost (or found) with a story. It means transporting them from their lives and taking them into a world entirely of your own making and making sure that they enjoy what they find there. In the end, I only want to put a smile on someone’s face. I want to return the favour that all those authors whose books I read gave me. I want to write something people will like.

My insecurities are affecting what I write and how I write and the result is a mess I can’t even begin to clear up. Maybe that’s why I’ve abandoned so many stories I’ve started. I’m glad I thought about this. In the end, it comes down to who I am as a person. Everything I’ve experienced, seen, read, heard, felt… all of it has contributed to who I am and consequently, what I put down on paper.

And I shouldn’t apologise for it. I didn’t choose where or how I was born and raised. But I can choose to be happy for the person I have become as a result of it.


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