What We Read

For many writers what we do not read when we are writing can be as important as what we do read.

 

What I absolutely do not read when starting something new is anything even remotely related to whatever I am working on. If there are things I need to research before I write about a particular subject matter, I try to do the research long before I begin to write.

 

Reading the latest best-selling book on prayer while trying to write a book about prayer is not easy for me. Writing poetry while reading Rilke will undoubtedly end with my making no poetry at all. If I ever take a chance on writing the two novels I have been carrying around in my head for years, I anticipate a five-year hiatus from Le Carré and Greene and O’Brian will be necessary.

 

Day in and day out, at least for this writer, approaching original proves difficult. It is hard enough to keep piling one sentence on another without the added burden of feeling as though I must measure up to a passage clearly superior to what I am trying to make.

 

I think I agree with the critic Clive Barnes: “The job’s impossible, and one must pray that one will be only moderately incompetent.”

 

Reading work that constantly reminds me I will never measure up discourages me when I am trying to make something new.

 

Reading great work in the field in which I am working can end up skewing the sound of my voice, twisting it ever so slightly into what sounds like a poor echo of the voice of someone whose work I admire. Reading such work at the wrong time can make it hard for me to make work of my own.

 

To be a writer and not be under the influence of other writers is impossible. But I recommend you go carefully. Pay attention to who you read when you are writing. Pay attention to how the light in the hallway falls upon them and how it falls upon you.

 

– Robert Benson, from “Dancing on the Head of a Pen”

“Selfie” Writing

– by Leona Choy

 

I’ve never taken a “selfie” picture with my smart phone camera. One of my grandsons showed me how easily it’s done, but it just isn’t my thing. I’m self-conscious by nature.

Writing and publishing one’s memoir or autobiography, however, is a selfie on paper with indelible ink with which I agree. It isn’t conceited or prideful to write one’s own story, to deliberately turn up the kleig lights on the stage where you are performing your life drama. After all, what is one of the first actions of a president vacating the White House? He writes his memoirs. He wants to have some control over his legacy before it slips out of his hands into the hands of someone else who may think otherwise about him and his accomplishments during his time in office.

One doesn’t have to be a celebrity with name or face recognition. So if I dare to write my memoirs, do I think that I am somebody? Of course I am. Every person is somebody special and important to God and to one’s family and friends and to the larger orbit of his influence. Since God gave me life and invested decades in my learning experiences and polishing my rough edges, wouldn’t He expect me to be a good steward by passing on to others an account of my life? I too want to have some control over my legacy.

I got my start in publishing by ghostwriting selfies for prominent people who were not writers. That led to writing biographies, both historical and current. Then followed a number of “with” and “as told to” biographies. In my capacity as an editor I walked about a dozen non-writers through the arduous task of turning their dreams into their published life story. I wrote my late husband’s biography. I taught workshops on the how-to of writing one’s story. I published a book based on those workshops titled This is Your Life—Write It! Leave Legacy Footprints which has gone through several printings.

While doing all the above, I still didn’t get around to write my own autobiography until I turned 77!

I thought that might be my final book, given my age and the fact that I already had over thirty books in print. Perhaps it was time to retire. It turned out that my auto-bio, Czeching My Roots: A Heritage Saga, was only a launching pad for much more writing ahead. A lot more was still to happen: cancer, widowhood, more world travel for research, adventure and ministry. Little did I know that I would write and publish more than a dozen books yet. These included a couple of auto-bio sequels, the most recent of them, Writing for the Supreme Editor: My Wordsmithing Life, just off the press. Having been blessed and surprised with longevity, I keep living out the sayings, The Best is Yet to Come and It’s Always Too Soon to Quit.

I invest my time currently coaching emerging writers, whether they are youthful wanna-bes or seasoned seniors, aspiring or expert. I affirm them in their dream to write to publish, to try their wings by writing a selfie in some form. They know themselves better than anyone.

Whether or not a memoir is destined for wide publication is not the primary reason to write one’s life. The writer of a selfie stands to benefit the most from the exercise.  While sharpening his writing skills, he gains perspective on his own life. He creates an extension of himself that has some permanency. He exposes his real self, imperfect as he is, to his family first of all—if they ever get around to reading his book. Jesus stated it realistically: a prophet is not without honor except in his own country. As writers, let’s face it—we might not receive our loudest applause from family.

A selfie gives the writer the opportunity to express what might otherwise be difficult face to face before those closest to us. It is a legacy thing. My descendants generations removed won’t be able to know me in person, but by reading my selfie they will understand my dreams, hopes, feelings, needs, loves, hurts, struggles and joys and compare them with theirs. We need to own our shortcomings while not dwelling on them. If we have acquired wisdom and enjoyed successes, we don’t profit our readers by down-playing them with false modesty.

Writing a selfie is like looking at our lives in the rear view mirror from whatever season of life we find ourselves. We have a chance to trace with gratitude the loving hand of God even in the ups and downs of our life journey. Writing a memoir is a fascinating scenic drive to look all the way back to the foothills of our childhood and even underground to the history of our forefathers.

Discovery is Half the Fun

There will always be mystery in the creative process, and we would be disappointed if it became a science we could sketch out in detail. Discovery is half the fun. But you can learn a lot about how the process works for you-and then work with it.

 

– from “The Soul Tells a Story: Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life” by Vinita Hampton Wright Loyola Press

Writer: Creator or Scribe?

–  by Joshua Kalu Ephraim

I am a writer. What does this mean? For everyone writes. School kids of age 6 and above write- even if only three letter words on a notebook. Are they thus writers also? A housewife/Homemaker writes: a grocery list on the back of a newspaper or via an App on her phone. Is she or he (sometimes today) a writer too? What about a teacher who spends 7 hours each week day writing something- something on that board? What really distinguishes mine from theirs? They from me? Why am I a writer, while they are not considered so?

It must be then not that I write, but what I write that awards this distinction. And how I write it: meaning Choice and Style. And in acknowledging these same, I am led to recognize the role of the writer, and further guided to understand that role as it pertains to gate keeping. This what rather than the how of it, is the breathing soul and essence of the writer. This task of choosing what to write about is what it’s all about.

Now the how; the frills, technique, all the permutations of style, are important of course. As important as dressing on salad. It makes the dish more palatable no doubt but doubt is absent as to which is substance and which is vinaigrette.  The choice therefore is the sacred duty. It is the one reason why I may in truth intone: I am a Writer.

Society herself concedes the fundamental part this plays in her structuring. Which is why she many times reluctantly, yet thoroughly, assures the freedom of the press: not to write, but to choose that which it writes. And that woebegone people which has not done this, which turns a blind, timid eye whilst others decide for the writer; well, its rewards lie in the very act it condones. It has chosen ignorance and not illumination, stagnation rather than progress.

So a writer selects- on behalf of society. And this is the crux of the revered creative process.

Thus, is the writer truly then a creator as popular thought caresses his vanity by so labeling him or her?  To create is to bring forth something, only from your being. It is not to form something from nothing as some in error hold as belief. This is an elemental impossibility.  However to birth from pre-existing matter- yourself; to further shape and modify it, that certainly is creation in its simplest sense. This is basically what the Divine CREATOR does; and many assert this is what a writer does also; create. As do all Artists: a sculptor, a painter, perhaps even a dressmaker.

This is a noble sentiment. Is it also nobly deserved? To borrow the very title of GOD is no small undertaking. So once more, does the writer create? Or… does he only look (at his world, a newspaper, a book or film), choose (a story, an issue, a point of view, a theme), and chronicle (organize and write) that which in essence already exists.

A finger now points out the creativity inherent in the vagaries of plot, the adroitness of dialogue, clarity of prose, the meandering double speak of poetry, in fact in the making of that one choice of many. Surely these count for something? Surely, at the very least, creativity of some kind or level only, could account for these?

Or again, by the simple act of so functional an action as the choosing of subject, or situation, or character, does not the writer thus irrevocably commit to the path of the story? And thereafter needs only follow the natural progression of the line, making additional selections in alternatives offered him at literary intervals. After all we do say “a good story writes itself.” Why then are we so swift to seize the credit and glory for its very creation?

A writer’s duty is sacred. The above do not demean or diminish this.  It is enough to be keeper of the gate. Mediation alone is sufficient.

The writer today needs to pause. He and she need to consider and realize that the real stories are out there, not born in him. If they are in his head, they are projected there. Consequently he needs to always face outward. His innate brilliance is of no essential consequence. His imagination is but a clearing house, fed constantly by the stimuli of everyday happenings around him. His lot is to be the mirror of his world. The Monitor to the CPU of society. Her constantly in use selfie-camera. The sooner he/she comes to terms with this, the more efficiently he can function in his or her GOD appointed calling.

And this calling becomes more crucial each day. For as no man may see himself without the use of a reflector, so it is impossible for society to truly know who she is save by the reflection of a writer’s pen, or his keyboard, or her film camera.

Hence, Writer, do not seek to create. Only diligently gaze, responsibly select, and faithfully record. GOD and all men of goodwill will hold you thereafter acquitted.

 

ABOUT THE WRITER

Joshua-Philip Okeafor writes as Joshua Kalu Ephraim from Lagos. Joshua describes himself as a GOD lover, a husband, a father, a writer and a Film director.

Joshua began his writing career at age 18 when an older brother gave him a four page outline of a children novel. That outline later became the manuscript “Gemini Predators”, a riveting tale of teen twin detectives on the hunt for a Military trained killer. A number of other novels followed as well as a book of short stories “Akuko Ndi Ala: Stories depicting Nigerian 90’s Society”.

The national publishing landscape in the middle 1990s was anything but conducive and Joshua veered into the more active field of screen writing. He has since written several films and TV Serials, amongst them “Rough Edges”, a TV serial syndicated on 8 channels nationwide,  “A Dangerous Love”, a film starring Ramsey Nouah, and “Spirit of the Assassin”, perhaps Nigeria’s most ambitious film till date.

Joshua intends to keep writing and directing. His screen name is sometimes Joshua Kalu Ephraim (Writing), and sometimes Joshua KK (directing).

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