Here are the two states in which you may exist: person who writes, or person who does not. If you write: you are a writer. If you do not write: you are not. Aspiring is a meaningless null state that romanticizes Not Writing.
– Chuck Wending (Terrible Minds)
There I am, sitting in the back row of a cramped meeting room on the upper floor of the Panafric Hotel in Nairobi with a group of young Kenyans, their faces full of enthusiasm, their bodies pulsating with vibrant energy. The ideas are not in short supply. They range from the ambitious ‘change-the mainstream-thinking’ to the usual ‘I just want to tell people about what makes me tick’. Some have discovered curious treasures, archives just waiting to be burst open to take the public on mystical journeys to the past. No, there is no shortage of ideas. There I sit, in the back row, next to the window, hoping that I, and my jaded and uninspired soul, can take flight when the opportunity presents itself.
We are one of the cohorts of the Writing Masterclass, offered by yours truly, Jackson Biko, an iconic figure in Kenya and a master of creative non-fiction. I’ve been waiting a long time to come here, my last booking having been cancelled because I had to attend a funeral (I could write at least 3,000 words about that dramatic event). I’m here to get inspired. I’m apprehensive, because I think this pen monkey is broken beyond repair.
Who’s a writer anyway?
It’s funny how people’s perception of what we do colours our own. I don’t fit in a neat box. My mother once said, almost apologetically to an old acquaintance, “She’s a journalist I think, or she writes, or something like that, but she is a trained teacher.” I helped her by saying, “I tell stories for a living.” That’s not even complete though, is it? I should just say, “I’m a writer.” I checked it out. A writer is a person who uses written words in various styles and techniques to communicate ideas. Writers produce various forms of literary art and creative writing such as novels, short stories, poetry, plays, screenplays, and essays as well as various utilitarian forms such as reports and news articles. That’s what Wikipedia says.
Aspiring, uninspired or intimidated?
The noise in my head is killing me. There’s that report I have to get in before the deadline. The wild idea I now know will never turn into a bestselling novel haunts me day and night – each character fighting with the other for my attention. The article I planned to write for the local newspaper has been overtaken by events, yet I can still see the headline. I should have created the time to write it. Oh, and the essay… and my blog post that I have to refine before I hit publish…
It’s exhausting on the brain. I should just go ahead and do it all. It would be death to the fingers, maybe even the brain. But then again, the brain is going deaf.
That word ‘discipline’
I’ve always thought that I’m incapable of maintaining a routine. My perception is that I go a zig-zag path that turns into a circle and then a straight line and before I know it I’m walking right back to the start point. That’s not true at all, or else I would have been fired from my job a long time ago. The only question I have to resolve is, how do I reconcile the multifaceted types of writer I am? After churning away hundreds of pages of technical content, can I dedicate myself with the same enthusiasm to my creative writing? Can I nurture my imagination in the face of so much prescription?
Back to the Masterclass: I attended the entire one-week course. I even started writing regular flash fiction again. At first, I worried that Biko got bored to death by our stories, and then I figured – teaching was never for the fainthearted. He could take it. I didn’t even jump through the window (the participants were very nice to hang around). It paid off.
It’s been a couple of months since that class, and I’m figuring a few things out. I want to do it all, and I should. In the words of the first Kenyan to win an Oscar (Google that), my dreams are valid. And if my limited numerical skills allow me to add in some probability, then the more dreams I have, the higher the likelihood that I’ll achieve some of them (Is that how probability works?)