Practical Tips For Aspiring Writers, By Usman Shamaki
I had initially declined to write about this topic when my cousin Nafisa suggested it to me. Reason being, I started writing about four months ago and I felt I was a novice and thus had no useful tips to offer aspiring writers. Then I reconsidered. Experience is experience and no matter how little it is, it can be shared and can aid others as well. So, to those who love writing and aspire to someday become writers, here are some useful tips to aid you in achieving your dreams.
READ: So you want to be a writer? Yet you do not like reading? Well, I’m sorry to break it to you but your aspirations will hit a brick wall. The fact is you cannot be a writer if you do not like reading. That is the only way you can improve your vocabulary, enhance your knowledge of history, literature and broaden your intellectual capability. Considering the fact that reading a dictionary in the hopes of improving your vocabulary is a boring and burdensome task, your best hope of doing so would be to read books. All the great writers read books. From books on agriculture to books on philosophy, fiction to non-fiction, you need to read if you ever hope to become a writer. If reading a whole book is too cumbersome for you, then at least try reading the daily columns in newspapers. There is a wealth of knowledge to be gained from reading the brilliant articles of the columnists in national dailies.
START WRITING NOW: If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say “I’ll start writing someday” I’d be retired and living in the Bahamas by now. The world is full of people wasting their talents because they are too busy planning the right time to put them to good use rather than just doing so. If you want to be a writer the best time to start is now. Yes, I mean right now. As soon as you’re done reading this, get a notepad, a laptop, an Ipad and just start writing. An Arab proverb says “Procrastination is like a sword. If you are not wary of it you’ll get cut down.”
Don’t waste your time making plans of being a writer while wasting your talents. Take a cue from the Nike slogan; “Just do it.” Believe me, there is nothing as painful as looking back at wasted years and realizing you let your talents slip through your fingers because you were too busy planning rather than taking the step towards your aspirations.
START SMALL: Some aspiring writers start off biting more than they can chew, by expressing an interest to write a book. Granted, some writers may be talented enough to pull this off. The fact is most are not. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Writing a book is no walk in the park. You do not just jump into writing a book as a novice writer. Start with short articles and work your way up. Taking on a big task like writing a book could lead to burnout and frustration. Eventually one may lose an interest in writing altogether.
LEARN FROM THE MASTERS: When one aspires to become a writer, there is usually someone he looks up to and regards as a mentor. Follow your mentors with keen interest. By ‘follow’ I mean reading their articles, following them on twitter and other social networking sites, not in the physical sense of the word. Anything contrary and you could be charged with stalking.
Learn from the greats, read their articles, study their writing style, take notice of their witty use of words and their sarcasm. They have tons of priceless knowledge to offer on economics, good governance, sociology, history, literature, philosophy and comedy. There’s Okey Ndibe, Farook Kperogi, Sonala Olumhense, Mahmud Jega, Adamu Adamu, Mohammed Haruna, Pius Adesanmi, Alkassim Abdulkadir, Hannatu Musawa, Gimba Kakanda, Elnathan John, Segun Adeniyi, Jideofor Adibe and many others. Take your pick. I can guarantee that anyone of these great writers you choose as a mentor is sure to offer you a lot to learn. They are truly masters of their art.
LEARN TO HANDLE CRITICISM: As my mentor, Hannatu Musawa told me when I decided to start writing, “develop a thick skin for criticism”. The moment your writing is available to the public, you need to steel yourself for criticism. You’ll get a lot of it. While some may be constructive, most will not. Not all writers can boast of never having their work criticized. In fact I doubt if any writer can say he/she has ever escaped criticism. Most aspiring writers lose the spark to write simply because their articles and literary work have been subjected to criticism. Criticism in terms of writing should not be seen as a bad thing.
It could improve your clarity. Sometimes it can help you grow and improve as a writer. I would advise you to look forward to it. Besides, it’s a simple fact of life: you cannot satisfy everyone. No matter what you do some people will always find fault. Do not be discouraged because your article(s) got a few bad reviews, it’s no big deal. Get over it. Keep writing.
MAKE TIME FOR WRITING: Most aspiring writers blame their failure to write on not having enough time to sit down to write. There is always time for writing. You just have to manage your time well. If you were to cut down on the numerous times a day in which you check Facebook to update your status, Twitter to tweet and re-tweet comments and Instagram to post pictures, you would have more than enough time to write a lot. Thank God for technology, you don’t have to sit at a desk to write anymore. With cellphones and other handheld devices possessing apps with the capacity to record and store vast amounts of notes, you can write on the go. Writing takes commitment and dedication. If you’re not willing to make time to write then your aspiration isn’t going anywhere.
WRITE CONSTANTLY: An aspiring writer needs to write constantly. Just as an Olympic gymnast trains constantly to stay in shape, so also must a writer write constantly. The brain in its own way is a muscle and like other muscles in the body, it needs to be exercised continuously so that it can get better at what it does. Write constantly. You’ll get better by doing so.
BE FLEXIBLE: Unless your writings deal with research on a specific subject or profession, it is advised that you write on a variety of issues. It’ll enhance your grasp and understanding of a lot of subjects, as well as appeal to a wider demographic of readers. This is especially important when you decide to start a blog. Restricting you writing to one subject could make it boring thereby losing you any readership you may have acquired.
INSPIRATION: Aspiring writers usually complain about lacking the inspiration of what issue or subject to write about. We live in a country with an infinite range of events and issues to discuss. Look around you, there is no short supply of topics. From culture, to politics, to religion, to social issues, you are surrounded by inspiring topics. Events in your home can serve as inspiration. Every day in my home there is so much comedy taking place it could inspire a new sitcom.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE INTERNET AND SOCIAL MEDIA: Back in the day, the best way you could get your article out to the public would be to send it to a national daily that was willing to publish it or print it and hand it out to people or post it on notice boards. With the internet and social media now readily and widely available, your articles can be uploaded on the internet and read by people across the world in a matter of seconds. Take advantage of the internet and social media to circulate your article.
DO NOT BE DISCOURAGED BY WRITERS’ BLOCK: The brain sometimes suffers from an overload of ideas which you may find difficult to articulate into words. At other times it suffers from a total deficiency of ideas thereby stifling your creativity momentarily. This happens to all great writers, so do not be discouraged. When this happens, don’t stress about it. Just take a break from writing and take a walk, watch TV or chat with friends. Return to your writing later when you’re refreshed. Your brain will be at an optimum level of performance and your ideas will flow better.
AVOID PLAGIARISM LIKE THE PLAGUE: This is abhorred and resented in the academic, journalism and writing community with almost the same level of hatred for a serial killer. Award winning, seasoned journalists and writers that have had the lapse of judgment to flout this rule have had a hard time fixing their reputations. The less fortunate ones have never been able to salvage what is left of their scarred reputations. Now, if well-grounded writers can find it difficult to fix their image, what do you imagine would happen to a beginner such as yourself?
Do not ever take credit for someone else’s work. Acknowledge all statements that are not products of your own creative prowess. The source of images or pictures which you may use in your articles must be acknowledged. Plagiarizing someone else’s work is in very bad taste.
As stated earlier I’m still a bit wet behind the ears as far as writing is concerned. However, these tips have gotten me to where I am today. I have no doubt it’ll carry you much further in your quest to become a writer. I wish you all the best.
I wish you all a Happy Eid el Kabir. Go easy on the meat. 🙂
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