I’m taking a risk here. The risk of sounding clichéd. Like starting a speech with “Thank you very much for the chance. Perhaps just to add something small to what my brother has said..”
When someone starts their speech this way, just know they mean their every word – they have very little to add. You might as well walk out and count your eyelashes. It could prove a worthier exercise. Or you could chuck your phone and respond to your mum’s message. The one in which she was asking how screenshots are taken. The problem with this question though, is that you can’t screenshot the response. You just have to type it out. Something like: Mum, just check hapo kwa sides za phone. You’ll see some two buttons. Press them at once, you’ll hear some sound like a camera shot. Then next she will ask, “Where do I find the photo, inaenda wapi?” And you will shake your head.
The other risk I’ll be taking is that of sounding selfish: talking about myself. When there are other more pertinent things I could speak about. At a time when I could speak of COVID, the way it’s affected the economy. Why should I choose to talk about myself? About my writing. Why I do it.
And so if you are one of those people who don’t quite like hearing people talking about themselves, I’ll cut to the chase. You can go here instead and read something less personal. There, I spoke about another man, Malcolm X. You know him? I talked about what I think of his place in the history of the civil rights movement. Notably, as chronicled in his autobiography, a book well written and billed by the Times as one of the most important books of the 20th century. You should check it out.
You could also check what I did here. This could be the longest advert you are going to have to read this year. After reading it, you may wonder why I had to do it. Like why I couldn’t just tell you of this hustle. You know of friends who could need this house. You could have told me and spared your time. And I could have saved my ink.
What exactly does it mean for a writer to write about why they write? So many a writer has written something on this topic. George Orwell. Joan Didion. Writers, both known and unknown, small and great. And this makes it so cliché. So bland and trite. But it is one thing that if an audience understands, then they will be in the best position to put a writer’s oeuvre in its rightful place. It gives them a common thread upon which they can hang a writer’s works. It enables them to see the writer from a focal point, from their point of motivation. Money, fame, validation?
For one, I write simply because I love it. I love the thought of playing around with words. In my earlier years, I remember writing on manuscripts, on real paper, then just putting them somewhere under my bed, quite literally. But then I thought, trees were cut down so we could have these papers. It would be unfair that these papers end up nowhere, under some bed. Gathering dust. How about I send them out there. Perhaps the world could love these ideas therein. And that way, I began my public display of writing (PDW). [That’s a weapon, not an acronym. Don’t google it]
And so it is in a sense, someone good at something choosing to turn it into something more visible that with time could perhaps bring them some validation and even money.
This may be hard to admit, but writing gives me a sense of validation. Because I appreciate how terrible I am at doing other stuff. And whatever I think I can do really well, I will overdo it if that will mean recognition. For me, it is like that question you find in exams which you had just revised the previous night and so you choose to ignore the fact that the lecturer is only awarding ten marks for it. You fill it with all the content you have. Then you walk to the next question and wonder how idle this guy who came up with this education thing must have been. But then, you convince yourself that maybe the lecturer could just add you some five marks on the merit of that elaborate answer.
I’m terrible at certain things. Like singing. Well, who can’t sing? Even babies can sing. But I can’t just do it. How I knew this? My own sister told me. She mentioned that I didn’t look particularly good singing. [I’m avoiding using her exact words] But that’s not all. One time during a training session, this guy just came behind me. I couldn’t tell for how long he had been listening to me sing, in a voice that I personally couldn’t put a finger to. But it was long enough to know that someone here was not doing it right. So he just asked me, “Dude, which voice is that you are singing?” I won’t divulge much, apart from mentioning that I threw my lyrics notebook that night and from then, I’ve always known that whatever it is I was meant to do in this world, singing is just not one of them.
Even in congregational singing, I still fear that this guy could be lurking close. Like a shadow, behind my ears, listening to me singing. Trying in vain to place my voice with known voices. Acceptable voices. Tenor. Bass. And whatnot. And then he will fail to match it. He will ask me if I know anything about music. And so I mostly choose to wait when the masses have gathered an impenetrable pitch. Then like a cat, I sneak my miscast voice notes, putting them at the threshold of just being heard to be singing. My voice, yet, not being discernible. Watching out for those abrupt stops, those grand pauses, lest I be exposed for the intruder I am in the world of singing.
I choose to write to compensate for these lapses, to make up for such failures.
This is not to say that I write for fame. I don’t. Something I have come to appreciate as a writer is that the larger your audience, the less the chances they even know you. They simply know about you. A smaller audience will mainly be made up of friends. Who will probably ask you next time you meet why you chose to write what you wrote. Who will message and tell you that your article was all good apart from some misplaced comma. I have also come to realize that no one even cares that you write. If you cannot find the satisfaction from writing and stowing your manuscript below your bed, you will never find it even from being published by the New York Times. It will only bring you emptiness.
I don’t write for fame. To borrow from Ngugi wa Thiong’o, I don’t write for sentimental heroism. Those who want to be famous are on Tik-Tok.
I also write because it is the language I am most fluent in. The way you would only expect one to speak Kiswahili if that is what comes easily for them. It is my way of communicating. Speaking does not come so naturally for me. I have to think of what I’ll be saying beforehand. And so I choose writing, where the varying wind of extemporization cannot blow away my thoughts. Because in writing, one can recognize a malformed idea and correct them before they are seen by an audience. One can return that young fish, their nets have caught, back to the waters to come for them another day when they have fully grown.
I started off writing on politics. I started writing from the point of ideals. A score of anger for the mess in which our society, as my small eyes saw it, was in. But with time, I realized how angry this made me. I realized how little my writing was ever going to change things. Not that I underestimate the power of writing. I don’t. But for some reason, I don’t think I want to write about politics again, about ideas and change. Maybe mix it with satire. Because I have outgrown that anger.
A writer must abandon the emotions that jolted them into writing. If you started off writing stuff on feminism, you have to outgrow this anger. It means growth. It means you’ve gained newer perspectives. Because you soon realize that the world is not all about feminism. The world is not all about politics. There are other more pressing needs that you have to take care of. One realizes that having politics for breakfast and supper would most likely choke them, even to death.
But this anger must not be lost entirely. It must only be toned down. Scaled-down to more reasonable levels. Because when you completely lose it, you lose your voice, you drop your pen. You end up disillusioned. This anger is useful – some of it. This impetus. Because it is what gave you a voice. It is what showed you how well you could play around with words. These humble beginnings must be appreciated.
Writing is not all that fancy as we sometimes want to make people think. One starts from the point of enjoyment and fun but soon realizes this is a duty they are obliged to perform. You realize that perhaps it is one of the few things that you may have, anyway, to offer the world and so you are in a sense compelled to do it well. You write the night away. Just to deliver something to the world, as musicians deliver us music. Sometimes you get it right, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes, a guy will whisper behind your ears, asking you what voice that was that you used. Because they couldn’t map it with any voice they know in writing, telling you are hitting the wrong notes. But it is all these that add up to make you the excellent writer you hope to become.
Like a relationship that starts with so much craze and fad, one soon realizes that it will take deliberate effort to write if they have to be a writer. That it will take a conscious effort to keep the relationship. Because no one writes successfully on mere whims. There are moments the lady may seem unworthy of love. When one feels this may not be what they signed up for. But it is such moments that will test one’s true dedication. It is these moments that will separate the boys from the men. These moments, separate the writers from the rest. Because everyone experiences a moment of creativity at some point. Everyone is smitten by a lady at some point in their lives.
But not everyone chooses to still pursue a lady when everyone else thinks their breasts have shrugged. When they have lost the beauty and charm they once exuded.■