On 25 April 2010, I was priviledged to be interviewed with Alba K Sumprim, author of ‘The Imported Ghanaian’, on Springboard, a program on Joy FM by Legacy and Legacy, hosted by Albert Ocran, himself an author of about 13 books, including ‘The Lord, Madiba and the Eagle’. Herein are some notes I put down and shared on the program. Hope something in here helps you to encourage you on your journey of literary creativity. We need more African writers, writing for Africa and the world, telling our own stories.
Literary career journey
– Started acting and reciting poems in preparatory school.
– Joined Burning Fire, in Ghana National, mainly to act. Featured in a couple of plays.
– Started writing in sixth form, in 92 thereabouts, aged about 17. My first piece was on how to study effectively, titled ‘Do this and you will be on top’.
– First short story titled ‘The Showdown’ was published in ‘The Mirror’ in 1995. More stories were published in this newspaper and also in ‘The Spectator’.
– Won the first prize in the Step Magazine Story writing competition in 1997.
– Joined the Literary Wing of IHCF in second year (1996) till 2000. Great experience of honing my skills as a poet and actor in Literary.
– Wrote and recited poems in PENSA UST. Also published poems in IHCF magazines on campus.
– Started writing ‘Excursions in my mind’ series in October 2004 and circulating to friends via email.
– Started keeping blogs of my writings, especially Excursions in my mind (www.excursionsinmymind.blogspot.com).
– First book of reflective articles and poems published in October 2008. Launched at the British council hall, Accra, on 18 December 2008. Second book ‘Through the Gates of Thought’ due to be released online in May 2010.
– Contributing author to online Afrocentric ezine (A web site or email in the style of a magazine, http://www.publishyourstory.blogspot.com) in 2009. Story entitled ‘Truth floats’ part of ‘African Roar’, published by Lion Press UK due to be released in April 2010.
Food for Thought
– The secret of our success is found in our daily agenda.” – Tag Short
– A writer is in the broadest sense a spokesman of his community. Through him that community comes to know its heart. Without such knowledge, how long can it survive? – Saul Bellow
– Putting pen to paper lights more fire than matches ever will. – Malcom Forbes
– Your manuscript is both good and original, but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good. – Samuel Johnson
– Looking back, I imagine I was always writing. Twaddle it was too. But far better write twaddle or anything, anything, than nothing at all. – Katherine Mansfield
– Writing, when properly managed, is but a different name for conversation. – Laurence Sterne
– A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading it. – William Styron
Are they different types of authors?
– Yes, authors and by extension their literary compositions can be classified by the genres they focus on, their target audience (age category) or even format.
– Genre (zhaanu): defined by literary technique, tone, content or even (in the case of fiction) length.
Most general genres are: epic/poetry, tragedy, comedy, novel, short story, creative non-fiction.
Additionally, a genre such as satire can be in any of the above genres or a combination.
– There are a number of criteria that can be used to categorize literary genres. These include:
Truth of main story (fiction – semi-fiction – non-fiction)
Truth of general setting (speculative fiction – historical fiction – non-fiction)
Occupation of a major character (medical fiction, legal thriller, slave narrative, musical fiction, sports fiction)
Worldview of narrator (Christian fiction, philosophical novel)
Focus of interest:
Plot: adventure novel, thriller
Character: psychological novel, spiritual autobiography
Other: romance fiction, horror fiction, imaginary voyage, Outdoor literature
Setting (Westerns, other historical fiction)
Target audience (Chick lit, airport novel, Young Adult fiction)
Age of the author (juvenilia)
Literary Genres (another take)
A genre is a group or collection of books with a similar theme or style. Following are descriptions of various genres.
Picture Books are stories written around one or two themes with the illustrations being an integral part of the book.
Easy To Read books are fiction stories that are written at a level for beginning readers.
Fantasy books are a type of fiction that contain elements such as characters or settings that could not exist in life as we know it today. Examples include characters such as dragons or animals with human characteristics. Settings might be magical or other-world.
Historical fiction books are those that give a historically accurate portrayal of life during a particular time in history. They have a strong sense of place and time.
Mystery books are stories that involve a suspenseful event (often a crime of some type). The reader uses clues from the story and gradually discovers who has committed the crime to solve the mystery by the end of the story.
Realistic fiction books are those set in present-day. Characters encounter modern day difficulties and dilemmas. Realistic fiction includes mysteries, adventure stories, humorous stories, etc.
Nonfiction books are informational books written by credible authors. Nonfiction books explain how things work, tell facts about many different topics, and show us how to do various things.
Folktales are stories that have been passed down to us over the years by real people. There are many types of folktales, including fables, tall tales, myths, and fairy tales.
Poetry books are those that include verses or poems. Poems may be humorous, serious, lyrical, or narrative (tells a story). Many poems have a rhythm and meter. Poems create imagery.
Biographies are histories of a person’s life or parts of his/her life. A biography that is written by a person about his/her own life is called an autobiography.
Three best pieces of advice to new/potential author
Get into the habit of writing every day: Work out the time of day when you’re at your most creative. For many writers, this is first thing in the morning – before all the demands of the day jostle for attention. Others write well late at night, after the rest of the family have gone to bed. Don’t be afraid to experiment! But write regularly: “It is by sitting down to write every morning that one becomes a writer. Those who do not do this remain amateurs.” – Gerald Brenan. Get into the habit of writing (or reading) every day, even if it is just for ten minutes. A writer is entitled to that name only when he keeps on writing. A writer does not retire
Don’t agonize over getting it right, start small, move fast, don’t stop. All writers have to revise and edit their work – it’s rare that a story, scene or even a sentence comes out perfectly the first time. Once you’ve completed the initial draft, leave the piece for a few days – then come back to it fresh, with a red pen in hand. If you know there are problems with your story but can’t pinpoint them, ask a fellow writer to read through it and give feedback. Lawrence Dramani of Step Magazine taught me in 1992 that there is nothing like good writing, only good re-writing. Then post the story on your blog or Facebook and invite comments from the world! If you start with the dream of a novel, take up the chapters as short stories. Alba and I compiled our articles. There is only one way of eating an elephant: one chunk at a time.
Get published, even if on a blog; Harness the power of the internet: Find way of getting published. Try the Mirror, Spectator, magazines, keep a blog, use Facebook notes, send writings to friends via email. My Excursions series started in 2004, via email to friends. I still do this.
HAVE FUN! Sometimes, we writers can end up feeling that our writing is a chore, something that “must” be done, or something to procrastinate over for as long as possible. If your plot seems wildly far-fetched, your characters bore you to tears and you’re convinced that a five-year old with a crayon could write better prose … take a break. Start a completely new project, something which is purely for fun. Write a poem. Just completing a small finished piece can help if you’re bogged down in a longer story.
General writing tips
Make use of word pictures.
The man came towards me with demonic energy.
Kweku came walking towards us, his head dancing to and fro like a pendulum, the back of head resembling that of a yawning bird.
Use words that dance, that jump from the sheet at you, action words.
‘Araba gave him a blow on his oblong head,’ instead of ‘He was given a blow on his head by Araba.”
Let the sun go down on your writing. Think, think, think; make your writing as interesting as a good speech.
Many books require no thought from those who read them, and for a very simple reason – they made no such demand upon those who wrote them. – Charles Colton
Be a reader, if you would be a writer. Research and fill your head with knowledge of where to get what. Learn from the masters.
Knowledge does not consist of knowing everything; most importantly, it consists of knowing where to find knowledge when you need it.
Improve your diction as a writer (with notes from Dale Carnegie’s ‘How to develop self-confidence and Influence people by public speaking’)
Your diction is largely a reflection of the company you keep, so spend time with the masters of literature.
Spend time reading more books than the newspaper!
Read with a dictionary by your side. Look up the unfamiliar word. Try to find a use for it so it can be fixed in your memory.
Never write without the use of a thesaurus (incorporated in MS Word).
Don’t use threadbare words. Be precise, exact, in your meaning. Don’t qualify as beautiful everything that is appealing to your eye. What other words could you use?
Shun the use of hackneyed or worn-out expressions. ‘Cold as salt’, instead of ‘cold as cucumber’. Strive for freshness. Create similes of your own. Have the courage to be distinctive.
Keep on writing!!
Notes from a Master
Notes taken on 14 August 1992 in my first Writers’ Workshop facilitated by Lawrence Dramani (Step Magazine).
There is nothing like good writing – only good re-writing.
Write from your experiences – start with true stories – so others can be helped by them.
Never depend only on inspiration for writing; inspiration is only 1%. Rather depend on perspiration, which will contribute 99% of your success as a writer.
When you stop what you are doing, you will have time [to write].
Find a way to get published – use notice boards in school, send to the newspapers (Mirror, Spectator) and magazines.
Never submit your first draft; read through it, correct mistakes, change paragraphs, and re-shape it.
You should never ‘love’ your writing so much as not to cancel or alter it.
My personal experience as a writer
I write down the outlines of my stories, articles in my diary, notebook, etc as I go through the day or as they occur to me. My literary antennae is always up!
Sometimes I get up in the night to record some ideas that come in dreams!
Some articles took me years of reflection to finalise, some took one day. It depends.
For articles, I research for quotations to support and these enrich the articles.
I use the MS Word Thesaurus to modify (alter, vary, transform, adjust, adapt) the words and find more interesting ones.
Writing at dawn works very well for me. When the world is at peace, my thinking is clearer.
I use humorous stuff about my past and my own life to infuse into my writing.
I circulate my writing to friends by email, been doing this since October 2004. Direct circulation is over 700 people.
I keep three blogs of my work, and also post my writing on Facebook.
I am always find avenues to contribute my writing. Latest was StoryTime (www.publishyourstory.blogspot.com). My last publication with weekly ‘Mirror’ was June 2009, the story run for three weeks. I now have a weekly column (every Friday) – Excursions in my mind – in the Business and Financial Times Lifestyle newspaper.
I am always reading to improve. I have recently read Chinua Achibe’s ‘Things fall apart’ and ‘No Longer at Ease’ to check out his style again. Now reading ‘The Arrow of God’. Read from the masters of literature.
What skills do a writer need to excel?
Real writers write.
What makes great writers great is their education (whether formal or informal), insight, and most of all, their dedication to the craft.
Diction, judicious and economic use of words. Practical knowledge of one’s language and the ability to express one’s self effectively to one’s target audience. Some have a natural talent for effective communication, while others have to study language and communication in order to convey their ideas sufficiently.
Ability to research and even for fiction, to root in reality. “Fiction is not a dream. Nor is it guesswork. It is imagining based on facts, and the facts must be accurate or the work of imagining will not stand up.” – Margaret C Banning
The power of observation – insight.
The power of reasoning.
Educate yourself on the technical and stylistic qualities of any genre as well as the expectations and intellect of your target audience. This can be achieved through either formal or independent study; however, the necessity of this knowledge is absolute.
Hardwork and dogged determination. Practice writing often. Most writers encourage those who wish to be writers to write every single day. Just because you envision a literary masterpiece in you mind, that does not mean that you possess the fortitude to produce it at a whim. Even the best of writers lack such superior talent.
Good writers are avid readers. Reading often helps you to understand grammar, style, dialect, and other aspects of literature more intuitively. You also become more aware of which writing techniques are effective and which are not by simply reading the writing of others.
Good writers, as any other artists or professionals, immerse themselves in their craft, both in study and practice.
Continuous learning and improvement.
Business skills, networking.
Going forward/next steps
Start writing now – I wrote in my lecture room, whilst waiting for a bus, in my exercise books, etc. Just start writing. Think big, start small, move fast – every tree was once a seed, a seedling.
Write about your experiences; write notes of your lessons from the Bible; when moved in worship, try your hands at a poem in praise of God.
Join a literary club if there is one or an online forum of writers.
Circulate your writing to friends by email. Kill that habit of forwarding internet junk! Be creative!
Keep a blog of your writing (www.blogger.com) is a good one.
Post your pieces on Facebook – your friends will comment and that will increase your confidence.
As with everything, practice makes perfect. Try writing every day, or thinking about your ideas each day. Also try reading every day.
Start reading good literature to improve your style and also your diction.
Purchase a dictionary and thesaurus now.
Send your pieces (short stories, articles, poems) to magazines and newspapers (eg. Mirror, Spectator, Campus publications, Faculty/Departmental notice boards, Hall magazines).
Don’t give up at all on your writing; I see my writing as a ministry and yours can be too.
We need to reach more people beyond the walls of church and our writing can help achieve that.
Approach your dream of writing a book as one approaches eating an elephant – one chunk at a time. – Nana A Damoah
One of the things a writer is for is to say the unsayable, speak the unspeakable and ask difficult questions. – Salman Rushdie
A writer is in the broadest sense a spokesman of his community. Through him that community comes to know its heart. Without such knowledge, how long can it survive? – Saul Bellow
What is conceived well is expressed clearly, and the words to say it will arrive with ease. – Nicolas Boileau
The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes. – Agatha Christie
It takes a great deal of history to produce a little literature. – Henry James
There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. – Somerset Maugham
If, at the close of business each evening, I myself can understand what I’ve written, I feel the day hasn’t been totally wasted. – S J Perelman
Writing, when properly managed, is but a different name for conversation. – Laurence Sterne
Adam was the only man who, when he said a good thing, knew that nobody had said it before him. – Mark Twain