For My Favourite Artist(s)

My baby,

I know you are scared
to put your words on the page because how do you top your past laurels?
Forget that. Just know, I am here waiting for what you write next
and for me you are always everything.

No one is perfect, but do you know how much dies every time you shut up the wells of your soul?

Deserts are made of the dust that piles down the way waiting for you to write again.

So, please don’t close your spring, break your pen, kill your gift, muffle your voice and bury your words.

Bring them: boring and plain, imperfect and frayed, flawed and promising,
We are waiting.

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Ten Times To Totally Write For Free (& A Million Not To)

Everyone knows I am a #NoFreeWriting Ambassador. I believe you should get paid for your work, your intellectual property, your blood and tears. It took a while for me to navigate the literary landscape and arrive at my current position. I don’t regret the days I wrote for free or was swindled of work but I like where I am now and I am not going back.

So why in the world am I still considering writing for free? It is wrong. It is exploitative. It is thoroughly discouraging the emergence of talent and the development of the craft. Yes it is, but sometimes writing for free can be a good thing. Here are ten occasions you should write for free and feel absolutely no guilt.

1. Your Private Diary/ Journal/Blog

Everything seems to be documented in the public domain these days with social media being the preferred means of sharing experiences, thoughts and feelings. Some things are however too controversial, painful, raw or private for the whole world to see. Writing in a journal or diary can help you:

gather your thoughts without any performance pressure

experiment with style and form

leave a record for yourself and posterity

dabble and brainstorm.

Whatever your reasons, this is one time where you should not feel guilty about time spent versus money-made. Who knows? Your journal could even be optioned and published someday.

2. Your Public Blog/Website/Project

It can be hard to churn out content data after day without any compensation or remuneration. All the hard work that goes into creating work just ignored like a kitten fart. But don’t despair. Writing for your personal blog might not pay immediately but it can be immensely rewarding. It can grow your readership and fans; help you understand your work better; serve as clips for future jobs; be a 24-hour advert to head hunters, agents, editors and publishers; and if you are lucky, advertisers who like what you do can support you. Then Boom! You are the next Linda Ikeji

3. For The Blogs Of Friends/Family

Good writing is hard. It is valuable: made from blood, sweat and tears. It can be frustrating to create without any tangible value received in return but writing for family and friends is different. Just the way you would share your food, home or money with them you can also gladly and proudly lend your words to boost their site or blog without any guilt. Think of it as having each other’s back. Hopefully, it will be a mutually beneficial experience where you get more readers, they get more traffic and everyone gains. Even if it doesn’t work that way, it will be another deposit in your love bank and writers need all the love they get.

4. For a Cause You Care About

Some of the most needy causes are some of the most overlooked. Editors will often commission features that have been flogged to death while important topics languish from neglect. That is where you come in. You can ride in on your white horse (or pink or green or black) and save the day. With your words you can help create awareness for important neglected topics like: mental health, autism, poverty, child’s rights, the environment, wild life and more. With your pen/pad/laptop you can save the world one piece/poem at a time. No one might pay you but that is what heroes love for. And writers are heroes. Yup, that is what you are.

5.For Church/Mosque/Shrine/Temple

If you have been saved, then the least you can do is to save someone else. If you belong to any place that provides nourishment and salvation, eternal life and peace then you shouldn’t let worldly things like money stop you from being a blessing. Many religious publications struggle to find good content. That content can be difference between who is reached and who is unreached. So the next time you come across a tweet asking for help that you give in this domain please give it a thought.

6. For a Fun Free Project You Believe in

Many people charge writers to submit; sell their work and don’t give them a penny back; rogues and robbers. That isn’t what I am talking about. I am talking about projects that collate writing by people you believe in, charities you support, topics that fascinate you or all three for that matter. Like the anthology call for writers of your demographic by that passionate broke editor that will edit you till you shine or that mad call for stories with sex in the air. Anything, quirky, genuine and fun that matters to you? Write for yourself, no one can afford you anyway.

7. For a Byline

A byline is a place that has published your work in the past. Now, you don’t need to have written for over a day to know that non-paying places outnumber the paying about 1000 to 1, and it gets worse if you write fiction, or poetry, or write from sub-Saharan Africa or are a new, unknown writer.The problem is, when a writing job — that scarce precious resource– does come, the first thing they will look at is your byline. Where have you been published before? Who else has liked your work? And believe it or not, something is (mostly) better than nothing. So when you have an offer to write for a place that will improve your writing credentials, consider it.

Side note: do this with an eye on the clock. Besides, you only need to do it once for it to count.

8. For Growth & Opportunity 

Every 1000 years (just kidding) there comes a chance to work with a talented editor, a gifted translator, a revered mentor, a dream team that will make you more than you could be on your own; but they have no money. They however value your work and want to make it the best it can be. Take it. Think of it as trade by batter or training or ‘getting your work out in the world’. Such opportunities are few in today’s world, recognize that and act accordingly.

9. When You Want To

You are a writer, a creator, a god. And it is the right of every god to do as they please (within limits).  So, if the fancy strikes you, to share your divinity with mortality, then by all means do so. Grace this world with your light and love and language. Bequeath it your goodness. Gift it your unique, inimitable voice. After all, time is running out and you only get one chance on this orb.

10. For eXpOSuRe

I don’t know where this word came from but I know exposure can make you fall ill and catch a cold (Saint face).

Anyway, this means writing for a publication/site/company/blog/individual that solicited your magic for a paying concern but somehow managed to ‘have no budget for writers’. Really? (Yes, dem pleeeeenty) I have said a lot about how I feel about this. In summary: giving your blood and sweat over to a merchant to hawk, profit and not pay you is a no; the promise that you will get eXpOSuRe is a scam. A gamble, that your name on their site will magically pay your rent or school fees or grocery bill. We all know that (almost) never happens. But if the spirit has spoken to you, the burning bush has called your name, you have seen the fleece and you think it is the right thing to do,or you believe the hype will be worth it, your gut says go, your head doesn’t say no; then flourish.

 

So there it is folks. All the reasons to sit over a blank page bleeding without a dime in sight. The one million reasons not to? Ah. You have to like this and share it and follow the blog so you don’t miss it when it is out. That is the currency here, beloved, you can call it SaintCoin.

*****
Thank you for reading this. Do you ever write for free? Did I miss anything? You are welcome to comment.

This blog is kept alive by your generous donations and tireless support.

Please do not hesitate to share this, reblog, part-post, excerpt and pass it along on Telegram/WhatsApp etc.

We value your input and presence. All this is wasted without you.

 

Can You Tell A Story In A Sentence?

Storytelling is hard, or easy, depending on who you ask. Traditionally stories were told by mouth, around a fire, by the moonlight or on the way back from the farm. The average folk tale would be the length of today’s short story, approximately 1500 words or less. With the advent of printers and the pay per word culture, story telling exploded into long epic tales with many chapters and even volumes. The average novel is about 70-80,000 words long. For some stories, a single book is not enough, volumes and sequels are needed– Harry Potter, Song of Fire and Ice (Or Game of Thrones Series).

But while stories have grown longer, they have grown shorter too. The Internet and the use of phones as e-readers have provided an opportunity for people to read things ‘on the go’, in the time it takes to finish a drink, wait for a train or ride to a bus stop, one can read and enjoy a complete tale.

These ‘shorter short’ stories have gone by many names, but the most common one seems to be flash fiction. Flash fiction is said to be any story 1000 words or less. Within this class there are many other shorter/smaller stories still:  there is short flash usually between 300-500 words, micro-fiction below 300, drabbles at 100 words, 50 word stories, and any number of words below.

( I have seen calls for 17 word memoirs, 10 word stories, six word stories and even four word stories)

Some other people classify their flash fiction by characters, so there are 280 character stories, 160 and even 140 characters. These were designed to take advantage of the character limits on SMS and Twitter, while giving a satisfying flash fiction experience. The emphasis being brevity and completeness.

The one sentence story is a twist on the theme. Can a story be told not only with a few words but with a single sentence?

A literary magazine, The Monkey Bicycle, is exploring this space. The magazine is currently taking submissions for their ‘One Sentence’ category which they hope to post every week.

A few stories are already up and the possibilities hinted at are endless. While some stories there are less than 17 words, others extend beyond 50 words. The test is in being able to keep the story going for as long as possible while delivering a pleasant reading experience.

Since I saw the challenge, I have been thinking about one sentence stories a lot. What can be done with the form? What sort of stories would flourish best in it? How can I use the form to create a pleasant experience?

I don’t have all the answers yet, but I will definitely explore the possibilities. For now, enjoy today’s offering

 

Village Rendevous

When Abel promised to show us a good time in the village we believed him, it would be a weekend filled with palmwine, bushmeat, and beautiful women, we thought; we weren’t ready for the gunshots that rang out that night and sent us running into the bush, or the severe malaria, diarrhea and rashes we had, in the days that followed.

 

Hope you liked my one sentence story. Now share yours in the comments or send to me via mail or send it to The Monkey Bicycle for a chance to be published.

Letter To An ‘Aspiring’ Writer

Fellow writer,

Do not aspire, write.

Aspiring work does not exist, only written work does.

When you are starting and dabbling you can call your self ‘amateur’ but don’t expect anyone to ever pay you if you do.

When you have spent enough time on your craft, writing for friends and family and for free, then you must decide if that is enough or if you want more.

Writing contests are a good way to get your work recognized and to finally see a cheque, some cash or a credit alert.

So look for contests that interest you and enter all that are free. You will only gain by so doing: fame, fortune and joy or at least a finished piece.

Set your writing goals be as lofty as you please then set your targets: little things you can control and guarantee.

Value editing and the voice of your beta-readers, remember no one can see his back except through a glass.

Most advice is false but the ones that are meant for you will look you in the eye and you will quiver with recognition. Four of these are however universal: read, read, read, write, read, read, edit, and submit/ publish.

Iron sharpens iron so find the literati and sit with them. Many good things have happened to me this way: contests, calls for submissions, anthology invitations, submission fee grants, free books and so much more. The child by the pot is fed before those outside the hut.

Find those whose work you deeply admire: people and journals. Study them, mimic them and maybe find your calling.

Be consistent, time flies and you can lose much by simply watching the days and deadlines flash by. Know all the time sensitive parts of your goals: the Under 18, 21, 30,35,40 and so on.

Don’t be too full of yourself or your art, make friends, appreciate your readers and fans.
Remember the tripod of writing success: read with purpose, write with passion and build your community.

Support the work of others but don’t be afraid to disagree.

Don’t let anyone put you on a hole, write anything you want to write, use pseudonyms if you must.

Don’t quit your job (if you have one).

Don’t publish first drafts. Don’t be distracted by sub-plot. Don’t pretend to be what/ who you are not.

Commit to being your best self. Send your work to people who can tell you the truth about it (hard and painful and cruel) before you send it to the world.

Lastly, stop aspiring my friend, this is writing not a presidential election.

Yours in the fellowship of the pen,
N.M.

 

•••

To help writers who want to achieve more with their work but aren’t sure how to do this, we are starting a writing group called Eagle’s Crest.

To Join, send an email to Stnaija at gmail

dot com.

Thank you for reading the NaijaWriter.

Things The Book You Don’t Write Will Never Do

I don’t know
what the book you write will do
but I know the book you do not write
will never win a Man Booker, a Baileys, a Kirkus or a 9Mobile
will never top a list or close a list
will never be a book club rave
kindling debate and speculation the world over
will never have a sequel
never be a movie
or a series
or a franchise
It will make you no millions
earn you no fans
birth you no rivals
It will not make a reviewer shudder with delight
or squirm in pain
it will never be quoted
book-spine story stacked
photographed, venerated, or vilified
It will never gladden a heart or fill one with rage
It will cause no laughter, awe, anguish or shame
It won’t spark friendships between strangers
build bridges between daughter and father
create kinship between old and young
It will do none of these things
That I guarantee.

Conversations: Like A Heartbeat

What are you waiting for?

I don’t know.

Are you scared?

Yea, a lot.

Of what?

Everything. I am scared of success and scared of failure. Scared of being inadequate, scared of being too much. Scared of making the wrong choices and scared of trusting the wrong people. I am not just scared , I am terrified.

Aha! Then you have no problem. If fear is all that is holding you back, you must go ahead. You must do it afraid.

What if I fail?

What if you succeed?

What if I can’t finish?

What if you can?

People will laugh at me. They’ll tear my work to shreds!

Maybe. And maybe some will love you. Maybe you will reach those fpr whom your gift was meant.

It is useless. The world is strewn with the bones of dreamers, failures and wannabees.

It is also full of success stories, if you only look out for them.

But the world doesn’t need another piece of “African Art”

If it doesn’t, then why is the need to make some surging in you as strong as your heartbeat?

Open Letter To Pa Ikhide

Pa,

I trust this meets you well, and happy. Permit me to send my love to Ma, Omi,Fefe and other members of your constituency. Ke du? How is the white-man’s land? I hear it is Autumn there: the season of shedding, harvests, falling leaves and rebirth. Here it is rainy season 2. The august break is over and the rains have resumed in earnest: waking us with the sweet petrichor of drenched clay, lulling us with rhythmic beats on the rooftop….

In other words we are fine. (Fine is such a lifeless word. Maybe I should say we are alive. But are we? The way many of us drift through the day? Hmm. I trust that you will understand though, you are an elder. Elders know these things.)

I am tempted to meander. It is easier, to beat around the bush, than confront a spitting cobra face first. This is different though, I am writing to you in faith. Faith that you will understand. Faith that you will sift my chaff for seeds. I am a soul that needs an ear, not a belly dance. So I will be straightforward– Pa,I need your help.

I can’t pinpoint the time and place, of this problem’s birth. Maybe it has always been there. Maybe I have always harboured a thirst for writing that lifts. Maybe it is something that was just waiting for the right conditions. Maybe not.

But from the minute I heard about blogging the Caine Prize, something in me changed. For the first time I read a creative piece with the frown of a sceptic not a reader’s smile of bliss. It didn’t stop there. I found myself writing about it, in two blogposts over two days. I thought I was free then. Alas, the torture had just begun.

After that, everything I have read has been with the critic’s stance: pen in hand, frown on face, and a resolve to kiss or kick.

Reading for fun is hard now. In the first sentence or two I am thrown off never to be seen again. I mope over things other people can’t see. People rave about Americanah’s realness, I count the -nesses and the -ilys.

Friends have become foes. My amateur attempts at trying to kick their work into shape is seen as a mini assassination attempt. I feel lonely Pa, and alone.

Worse still, the books and stories that leave people giddy with glee, make me scratch my head and squint. People enthuse about a story’s perfection, I wonder about its loose ends. I am worried Pa, I am, I don’t want to look ninety when I am twenty-nine.

I love words. I love Literature. I have loved her my whole life. Drama,poetry, fiction or non-fiction, I love them all. This metamorphosis of mine is something I don’t understand. If I become a critic, won’t that take all the joy out of my life?

I want my innocence back, that, and the feeling of naivete. I want to read through work without looking for rapture and find the little bright spots within. I want to be insulated from bad writing with the soft safe cushion that Ignorance is. I want to be happy again, to read freely again, to believe the best of everything and be blind to mistakes.

Besides, I am also a writer. I want my work to be appreciated, doing hatchet jobs is dreadful Karma. A peep at Michiko Kakutani’s GoodReads page confirmed my suspicions: critics get no love. Despite having worked in the ‘Industry’ for twenty-five years and winning a Pulitzer, Ms Kakutani had just seven GoodReads fans. Ouch.

It is probably late for me to restore my critique virginity. But, I still hope something can be done: tightening jellies, soap, anything. There has to be a way. There has to be a balance. There has to be a way to read, write and critique without becoming a killjoy or a charlatan.

So, Pa, please tell me what I must do. I want to read with reckless abandon, write with courage and passion, critique with the impartiality of the surgeon’s scalpel: keeping the good and carving up the bad. I want to tell the truth and keep my friends. I want good Karma, for when my own imperfect work hits shelves or mailboxes or blog’s pages. I want to make an important difference, in a good way, for my readers.

Show me how Pa, I know you can. Thank you for reading this far.

Eagerly waiting,
Nta Bassey