By Raymond Tuvi
Aimed at sustaining the writer’s career and help make him a good writer, motive is principal among reasons why people write: Whether he is writing for the love of it, to essentially share his story with the world, or, the motivation is to make money. Some writers can succeed in making a decent living off writing. However, most writers don’t achieve the financial success they imagine or expect at the outset of their writing careers. It would be better to buy and sell instead, if money is the motive, someone has put it plainly. Furthermore, because writing has been described as “back-breaking, brain-breaking, lonely work” – and it is! –, it takes a great deal of devotion right from start, to make a success of it.
This view of writing should make a budding writer see it as a vocation. He should be so passionate about his writing as to say, the world of letters is impoverished and will remain impoverished unless and until it receives his own offering and addition to the great history of writings that have come down to us throughout the ages. That ought to be the fundamental motivation of any writer.
So how can one add his name to the roll call of great writers of any tradition? Or how can one, simply, be a good writer?
A common maxim about becoming a writer is, “Just do it! Just write. And keep writing!” This is sound advice because writing is one of the few occupations whose name is synonymous with its essential activity. The advice is made sounder because it accords with a more famous saying that applies to every area of human endeavour, that is, “Practice makes one perfect.”
But the journey to becoming a good writer starts – or should start – much earlier in life, before one starts writing as a craft or occupation. This, the aspiring writer does by being an avid reader, from the onset and throughout his career. (It’s true we have some little prodigies who start writing just when they begin to master the rudiments of reading, though). But why is wide reading crucial to good writing?
First, it is for ethical reasons: You’ll expect someone else to read your works if you do read others’ works. It works on a principle of give-and-take and fair play…But on a more practical note, writers ought to read wide to have a feel of what good writing looks like – the “competition”, if you like. They can then try to equal those standards prevailing in the writing world, or strive to exceed them with their own work. Nigerian writer, journalist and scholar, Prof. Okey Ndibe, says, “You can’t distinguish yourself at any rate as a writer unless you read.” According to him, reading, in a lot of ways, is part of the raw material that you use. Stories are composed of words which are constructed into sentences which are also then crafted into stories. So, it goes without saying that, the more of words a writer is exposed to through reading, the better he is able to construct a wider variety of sentences as building blocks of story ideas and stories, ultimately.
Next, the writing process or putting story together, must be done carefully to achieve best writing outcome. You must not settle for the first sentence that comes to mind because what you ultimately do with stories begins at that level, at that granular level of the sentence. Crafting sentences is the bolts and nuts of the writing process, be it fiction or non-fiction. There is a chiseling that has to happen. So, you chisel the sentence so that it acquires resonance, it becomes poetry, it begins to “sing”, then you go to the next. This same kind of wrestling with the sentence material is what you do with the entire story; and it’s part of what you get when read a lot.
It’s more like the process of induction or osmosis: As an aspirational writer, you sort of imbibe the technique that great writers have used to tell their stories. So, these two factors are important to make one a good writer: To read a lot and also when one writes, not to settle for the first mediocre sentence that comes. This caution also goes for the first, perhaps merely competent draft of the entire story that you are able to do. Because, as Harvard-trained prolific writer of numerous bestsellers, including “Jurassic Park” and the “The Lost World”, Michael Crichton, says, “Books aren’t written. They are rewritten.” So, you have to believe your story is important enough to share. Then put in the toil to bring it up to scratch. When you write with such conviction, you write at your best level, and the works you churn out can only make for a good and successful writer. Success in this regard will either be measured by the production of works that make you a lot of money, crafting scripts that win you many awards and prizes or writing stories that stand the test of time as literary classics or masterpieces of the written word. Or, better still, doing all three, whether together in this life, or recognition for your talent in the years to come.