One of the things that has made humans successful as a species is our ability to learn. We learn to walk, talk, run and write. Most of this by watching how others do it. Whatever your thoughts about Americanah might be, it is a book you can learn from; what works, and what doesn’t.
I read the book and these are some of the things I learnt:
1. Stories Are All Around Us.
As a child I thought every great story had to be set in the Land of Oz or in cottage on a hill where it snowed. I was wrong. Americanah showed me that stories are everywhere. They are in your pain when PHCN leaves you in the dark for hours. They are in that lovely chat you had with your online lover. They are in the anecdotes of your high school days. They are everywhere.
Caveat: only the keen, curious writer will see them. And only the smart will take the pains to polish them till they are marketable. Forget writer’s block , there is a gush. Fresh, tales and chronicles waiting to be told.
2. Keep A Journal
A book that encompasses 3 different continents tips the balance for book sales. To do this convincingly, you should have been to these places. The problem with most of us is we trivialise our travels. 3 months later we struggle to remember the little details that would give your writing that sweet spark of honesty. It is all fuzzy. Prevent that.
Keep a journal of all the new places and people you meet. Even if it is a trip to a part of town you have never been to. Open your eyes. Be genuinely interested. It might be the seed of your international best seller. 😉
3. Tell Your Story
This might sound cliché but it is true. Ifemelu’s experience with race as a ‘Non-American Black’ was a fairly common one if the reception of the book is anything to go by, but before this, no one really talked about it. There are things about your reality that need to be told. Guess what? No one is going to tell your story. You are the only one that can. And you should, while you still have time.
There’s a growing number of readers hungry for stories with authenticity, honesty and depth. They want to about you. What you call boring and everyday is their fascinating and foreign. Don’t disappoint. Tell your story.
4. Build A Good Beta Reading Team.
There are some simple observations by readers that could easily have been
Fixed if they were pointed out earlier.
Well, I guess that is what second editions are for. The epilogue of Americanah thanks a lot of people for reading the early manuscript. I can’t help feeling most of them were too soft on some issues e.g. the blogposts. A more objective set of beta readers might have noticed that.
There is also the matter of copy editing. 125 words in a sentence is not cool. Neither is overt reliance on a magic suffix. All writers are infected with crutch words and phrases, a good cop edit is the cure.
5. Listen To People.
If all you want to write is a memoir, then I suppose you can just consult your memories. To build worlds and people that readers will love and trust you have to pay attention. You have to ask questions and listen to other people.
Talk to bloggers and ask them how what their blog stats where in their first 3 months.
Speak with asthmatic patiens and ask them if they’ve ever attempted shooting slow intravenous aminophyline solo.
Listen to believers and understand why they are convinced that God exists. Why they would give their entire earnings and go through a waiting patch.
Listen to a lady that is sleeping with men she isn’t married to even though it makes her feel dirty and guilty.
Listen, and learn.
6. Build On Your Strengths
Ms Adichie had already published snippets of Americanah. Never mind that the book took 7 years to write, Ifemelu and Obinze had starred in her short stories before e.g. Ceiling in Best American Short Stories and Miracle in Per Contra.
There are things about your writing that might not be fantastic but there are things that work. Work with what works. Pay attention to your strengths. Take note of the posts/stories/poems that get rave reviews. Sail with the wind. Let your strengths tell you where your diligence should be applied.
Good luck or as we say, God be with you.
Have you read the book? What did you learn from it? 🙂