Regularly, people say to me, “Azuka, I love the way you write, and would like you to teach me how to write.” I notice that after undertaking the training session and carrying out prescribed directives, the person usually becomes a better writer.
That buttresses my view that writers are made, not born. However, for a person to become a great writer, the person has to, first of all, have the proclivity or flair for writing. Based on my observation, all human beings can be placed into three groups: those who think in figures, those who think in words, and those who think in pictures.
Those who think in figures prefer mathematical and scientific matters. Those who think in words love to string words together to create essays and stories. Those who think in pictures love to create designs and artworks.
If someone prefers to think in words, it is easier for the person to become a great writer. However, unless the person consciously decides to learn how to write, the proclivity to write will either die or continue to smoulder.
The first thing one who wants to write well needs to do is to read and read. Whoever wants to write well must read voraciously. The basic tool of the writer is word. These words need to be combined in an appealing way to create meaning and beauty in addition to impact. The only way a writer can acquire words as well as the skill to combine these words effectively to achieve the desired effect is through reading what others have written. Therefore, anyone who wants to write well must first of all read well.
It is said that you cannot give what you don’t have. A writer cannot give out anything if he has not read anything. It is from the pool of all a person has read that writing springs forth. To write, a person starts by imitating – consciously or unconsciously – some of the writers he has read. From imitating the writers he has read, the person starts developing a style that is unique. However, when X-rayed, that unique style is usually a hybrid of the styles of different writers.
Reading books is good for a person who wants to write well, but reading novels is better. Why novels? Novels have what other books don’t have. Novels have in abundance the two types of speech: direct speech and indirect speech. In addition, novels have all forms of writing: narration, description, exposition, and argumentation. Other non-fictional books are usually filled with exposition, description and argumentation with little or no narration or story-telling. That is why most readers tend to doze off after reading non-fictional books for a while, but can stay awake all night to read novels. The novel is all about narration or story-telling. In story-telling, the listener or reader is eager to know what happens next, while in other forms of writing, the reader or listener usually decides to stop at a stage and continue another time.
While reading novels, therefore, a person reads effortlessly and joyously. It does not seem like punishment or hard work. Unconsciously, the reader is expanding his vocabulary, learning new expressions, acquiring a writing style, and sharpening his imaginative power.
As stated earlier, it is only in novels that a reader has the opportunity of reading direct and indirect speeches in large proportion. There are times when the novelist describes or narrates incidents; there are times when the novelist allows the characters to speak to each other. The reader reads all this. The speeches made by the characters not only help the reader’s writing skills but also his speaking skills. He learns what is correct and what is not.
He also learns how to punctuate. Because the novelist interlaces conversations with narration, the reader learns how to punctuate when only narration is involved and also when it is alternated with conversation.
In addition, there is nowhere else a reader can learn the power of suspense than in novels. Suspense is what keeps a person reading a novel all day and all night without caring about eating or attending to important duties. It is the recreation of such suspense in one’s essays that will make a writer hold their readers captive and make them read from beginning to end and take the expected action.
While reading is foundational to writing, writing is the key to writing well. A person who does not write regularly cannot be a good writer. In other words, practice makes perfect. At first, one may be afraid that whatever one writes can never be as good as that from the masters. But not everybody can be a William Shakespeare or Chinua Achebe. Even Shakespeare never became the Shakespeare that we know the day he began to write. Initially, his contemporaries mocked him as an “upstart crow.” But he was not discouraged. A writer just has to write and continue writing.
Importantly, what will propel a writer to greater heights is the spirit of excellence in him. A writer should never be satisfied with whatever he has written. The first task is to write down what one has in mind. But that is the beginning of the writing experience rather than the end. Those who write and immediately send such writing out are unserious writers. A first draft needs to be revised, rewritten, reworked, proofread, and edited many times before being certified fit for the public to see. Every word must be checked to see if it is the most appropriate and most effective. Every sentence must be weighed to see its strength and impact. Only the best must be published. A work is not judged by how fast it was produced but by how impactful it is.
That is why a writer who consults their dictionary once a month is a joker. A good dictionary should be on a writer’s office desk as well as the home desk. In this age of the internet, a writer should regularly check the meaning and usage of words and expressions on the internet via their phone. The pronunciation of words is also necessary, because a writer also needs to speak well if invited to give a speech. There are times a writer will open the dictionary, not check for any particular word or phrase, but to scan it as a matter of habit. There is no time one opens the dictionary without learning something new. And whoever opens the dictionary more has a deeper and richer vocabulary.
Sometimes, a work is written in the mind for five years before being put in black and white. While it is in the mind, it is constantly being worked upon. The day it is poured out on paper, it comes out almost good to be published, because almost all the salient issues have been addressed.
That also brings us to the issue of passion. Whenever a person writes about something one is not passionate about, it is obvious to the reader. Passion is infectious. The passion of the writer reflects on the work and infects the reader. Passion adds power to a work. It breathes life into a piece of work. The more passionate a person is about an issue, the more they research into that issue to get more information. And when a work is filled with expert and valuable information, the reader feels happy reading it, because it enriches their knowledge base.
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