1 June 2016
‘Learn at the feet of the masters’ most writers would say. In his letters to young writers, Teju Cole also made mention of the widely popular advice to writers.
One can only faithlessly argue that Wole Soyinka isn’t one of Nigeria’s most revered literary figures.
With over 30 works in literature and a Nobel laureate to his name, we would be doing ourselves some good to listen to what he has to say about writing and maybe other aspects of life.
In an interview with Simon Stanford, he spoke about starting out as a writer, external happenings influencing your writing and solitude being key in the craft of writing:
“One thing I am certain of is that it has made me create and recreate different tempo or different tempi of writing. I’ve had to adjust to… I mean, ideally, for instance, I think most writers would like a quiet space, complete isolation, in which they control their own time. Spaces of creativity in which there’s very little interruption. I think that’s the idea and this perhaps is how I began as a writer, finding that space, that intense period in which I’m completely alone, completely alone.
But as you get drawn more and more into other activities, like political activities, very demanding, you have to find different rhythms of writing; I think that’s the word I’m looking for, rhythms of creativity which then, of course, become very intense.
I think your writing then tends to be very intensified simply because there are other demands which seem equally important. You know, if they were just trivial demands and so on then it wouldn’t matter at all, you can hive off a certain section of the mind and deal with that, but if it’s something which consumes you, then there’s a competition which concentrates your writing.”
On learning to let go and not force it on days there are no inspiration:
“I think I’m a very lazy writer and by that I mean that I do not battle, I don’t struggle too hard against it. If I have difficulties in the writing, I just go and do other things. I don’t feel a compulsion to write. Of course, when I start writing then it becomes a compulsive activity, because I’ve begun something and I want to continue, want to finish it.”
On the other hand, he talked about rejection being a normal phenomenon in a writers life:
“I always tell young writers to get ready a basket first of all, in which to collect all your rejection slips and you must continue until that basket is full or your work is accepted. “
He admonishes writers to continue to show up regardless:
“You must continue writing even after all the rejections. I’m not a very good teacher of creative writing and I always warn them about that. What I teach is literary criticism and comparative literature and so on and that’s my function, but from time to time it’s possible for me actually to help a writer. I read something and something strikes me then, I feel I can talk to that writer about it.”
Mostly important, he echoes all writers advice in finding your voice and not be swayed by ideologies and rules set by ‘others’:
“Don’t get carried away by the ideologs. Don’t feel that you have to tailor your literature a particular way to please any school of ideology. Many writers waste their energy and their talent because they want to be ideologically correct and of course all they produced was propaganda.
Absolute tawdry uninteresting, oh, full of excitation, yes, you know, full of ra-ra-ra but they were short changing their own talent and I used to tell them and now that they’ve become ideological orphans, they’re now trying to recover their own true voice and have produced some very good work but they could have produced excellent work and at the same time, you know, be truthful to their ideological convictions if they hadn’t allowed that ideology to take primary place and that’s what I tell all writers.”