The Writer’s Block

Writer's Block_Mind

I.

“What exactly do you want?”

“To write.” The words carry an intensity about them, enough to have her wrap her fingers around me and smile.

“You can write,” she says. “I’ve read your works and… they are beautiful.” She stares into my eyes. “And you know it.”

“Yes, yes, I do.” I drift my gaze away. “That’s the past. A writer’s worst enemy is his last story.”

“Did you steal that?”

“Did I?”

“That line – your worst enemy is your last success.” She breaks our hold. “You stole it. Plagiarism. You just stole that line.”

I’m smiling now. “It’s not so bad a thing.”

“Oh, it is.” She sidesteps to allow a student go into the hostel. “A writer’s not supposed to steal a line.”

“Hence the word, modify.”

She slaps my hand. “That’s not fair. You being a writer doesn’t mean you can just bamboozle me with words.” Her lips are twisted in a funny grin. “Bamboozle.”

“A big word,’ I say.

She nods. Our eyes are trained on each other. She spreads her arms. I sneak in. She pats me, working her hands towards my back, like a masseuse taking the pain of a day’s labor away. I feel my heartbeat steady, my blood thin. The stone that’s been tied to my chest slips off.

“Thank you,” I say.

I hear her nod. The sun begins to settle.

“You will write,” she says. “You will write many beautiful stories for me. And for…”

Then she lets go and walks in.

II.

The class isn’t holding. I idle at the second of many steps ascending up the lecture theatre and sweep my eyes along the rows of foldable seats. The students disappear few minutes later, leaving a handful of zealots perched on seat, textbooks before their faces. I unzip my bag and walk towards the socket.

It takes seconds to set up, and I’m entering my fear landscape again. The blank screen. It’s been blank for nineteen days now. Every morning, I wake and only manage to say, “Thank You Lord” before I repeat the I-will-write-today mantra. Every night, just before I say, “Thank You for today, Lord,” my mind sniggers, “You did not write today.”

I position my fingers on the keypad and stare at the white board at the theatre’s frontage as if my muse is tied to it. Nothing comes. My head is blanker than the page before me. I tap a word. Two words. Many words. A paragraph shapes. A scene. Then, before I can process, I wipe everything off.

I stare at the blank page again and nurse how easy it is to destroy. And the pain of creation.

My gaze flips to the top left corner of the screen. Half past 10. One and a half hours before she comes – not adding the minutes she’d expend trekking from LT1 to Bancroft LT. I consider the students lost in different worlds – Physics, Organic Chem., Logic and Philosophy. Their faces are grim, sober, in the way an employee gets when her buddy is handed the thank-you-for-your-services letter. I identify with them, with the staidness.

If someone came into scene now, he might comment, “The boy behind a laptop must be very serious with his work, considering he didn’t spend up to a minute ambling his eyes before refocusing his attention.” But if he leapt to the laptop, he would say, “Oh, he’s just lazing about.”

It is so easy to switch opinions.

III.

“What did you write?”

“Nothing.”

She doesn’t stare with wide eyes. She simply nods and maintains her pace. “You just sat for two hours and wrote nothing.”

“Not really.”

“Okay.”

We trek in silence. Silence has been a fragrance in our relationship. The night I asked if my friend, Dave, was her boyfriend, she was silent for a minute before she said no. When I suggested we take permission from Dave before we proceeded, and Dave in turn shook his head, it was his quiet laugh that let me know he was joking. The previous semester result had me doing 120mph, but it was her silence and her warm fingers that kick-started the miraculous.

The silence this time feels different. It’s like what’s exists when two friends visit with each other a day after one was raped while the other was flogged, like what happens when your ex’s partner dies and you pay the obligatory condolence visit.

It’s dangerous. It smells like fire.

IV.

“That’s it?”

“Yes,” the other girl says. We met her outside the lodge. She was wearing a skirt, her hair packed in a bun.

“Is that why you dressed to the nines?” I ask.

The girl smirks and runs in, leaving us alone.

“So…”

I turn and face her.

“What are you gonna do about it?’

“Nothing,” she says.

“Nothing? Your mum’s sick.”

“I heard the first time.”

My lips part in reflex. I stutter steps backward and eye her. I want to yell at her for being so passive, for not considering her friend who was waiting for her return.

“I should go,” she says.

I say nothing. She draws near and hugs me. Her body is stiff, as if enclosed in a transparent glass box.

“I’m sorry,” I say.

“Say it,” she says.

“It just feels like I wasn’t made for this. Like all I learnt about writing and storytelling has been vacuumed. Like I don’t know how to show again, and all I can do is tell. I read a book last year about writerly expressions. How you’re supposed to spin some sentences only writers are capable of. I hate my mother, but I would kill my father before laying a hand on her. That’s writerly. These days, writerly expressions evade me like I’m contraband. And… and…”

She sniffs the air on my neck, till my breathing matches her. The air begins to get cold.

 

V.

I call her before bed.

“I’m going home tomorrow,” she says. “I should be back in time for 207.”

“How’s mum?”

“She would be well.”

“Okay.” The walls of the room are festooned with words. I find a suitable sentence and read to her.

“Sometimes, silence is golden,” she replies. “Failure too. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight,” I say.

 

P.S: It’s been a long time since I blogged. In the period of hiatus, I’ve been learning design. Do you see the fading ‘block’ in that image, replaced with mind? That’s the motivation. Positive words. Thanks for reading.

Imagine That. Now,.. Imagine This. 

​”As a writer, you read all books – good and bad. You learn what works from the good ones. You know the pits to avoid from the bad ‘uns.” – Stephen King (paraphrase)
First, in my opinion, there are no bad books. Badly written ones, maybe. There are books poorly crafted, books with a plot that has been fleshed in exactly the same manner a thousand times, books with grammar so poor you’d think they jumped from first draft to printing press. But there are no bad books. You, of course, are welcome to disagree. 
But that quote did factor into my decision not to read Imagine This by Sade Adeniran as I thumbed through the first pages. 
“It’s a diary?”
My host looked up and shook his head. “Written like one,” he said, and I knew it never would make my reading list. No amount of persuasion, not even having the novel in proximity for two weeks could change that. 


So, one night, when I walked in and spotted the book in a closet, the you-should-read-all-books guy in me said, “You are reading that book.” Sixteen hours on (plus sleeping and eating and tackling a few chores), I closed the last page and sighed; an interesting read. Here goes the review. 
I learned this week that reviews are intellectual and emotional. The intellectual considers the structure – grammar, flow, pace, setting, redundancies, cartoonist characters… The emotional delves into the emotions. Hence, I’d be dividing this in two parts. 
ONE

The best worst thing that could befall a writer is… not writers’ block. It is having to develop a novel through the lenses of one character, that is, one point of view. The author not only did it well, she made it enjoyable. There were instances where I longed to peek at the mind of another character – Lola’s father mostly – but the denial is why people read fiction. They want something. They don’t get it, and neither does the hero –  Lola. 
Lola starts the book at nine, ends at nineteen. She’s the typical I-was-born-in-England-but-returned-home-due-to-some-unpleasant-situations girl, save she doesn’t live with her father on arrival. She’s sent to fourth-finger-related relatives (uncles and aunts from my mother’s brother’s family). She starts the journey with a father and brother and an absconded mother and ends with no father, no brother, and a mother she speaks to in the last chapter. Amazing story. Plot, pace, style, voice, all awesome. I got reminded of some words – asinine, affable, sagacious, antepenultimate – because the hero had to learn new words. Maybe a few cliched events, but heck, there’s nothing new under the fireball that lights the day. 
I have a few issues, however. There are a bit too many deaths, the type allowed in thrillers and horrors but not Nigerian literature – except there’s a war, which wasn’t recorded. Two, as a result of one of the deaths, twelve or fourteen year old Lola fasts forty days and nights, drinking water for the first 23 or so days. Who does that? It isn’t impossible, yeah, but these are spiritual things, not what you do because you want your bro resurrected. And she did pull through. And she did get her wish. 
I’m not saying it’s unrealistic – emotions do get the better of us, but then, hmm… 
TWO
Now, my name is Michael. To be clearer, I’m a Christian. So, when I began to read serious fiction, I steered clear of anything not Christian fiction – Nigerian lit, genre fiction, cross-genre fiction, classics. Only John Grisham squeezed himself to my reading list, and I jumped over every sentence that started with ‘He smoke a pack of Marlboro’ and ‘The beach was warm and swarmed with bikini-clad women’.
Naturally, Nigerian/African lit was the last thing I opened up to. This is why: they have a way of leaving me cracked up. Fiction is supposed to answer questions, yes, but also give hope, joy, gratitude, excitement, encouragement, relief, maybe a little sadness. But if everytime you do something, you feel like you’re at the edge of a cliff and all you see are tracks of tears and you can’t just resist shedding them, you should be careful. 
It didn’t catch me as a surprise when I experienced the same emotions when I finished Imagine This. The character felt like me, too much like me, and she wasn’t exactly happy throughout the story. 
This got me the most – she let her boyfriend explore her for the first time the night before she broke up with him. Twas bad. Looking back, I see it was a literary pun, not to the girl’s life alone, but to the whole script. She gave up what she treasured most and got what she desired the most, albeit in totally different ways. 
Got me shaking my head pitifully. 
But that’s it. I’m done. I’m reading more genre fiction in the coming weeks. Now I can go back to The War is Over by Andrew Wommack and be my good self. Till we exchange again, keep reading. And yeah, there’s an excerpt:
11th August 1979

Dear Jupiter, 

Ronke and I got into a fight and I broke a bottle of ice water on her head. There was blood and water everywhere and Father and her mother have taken her to the hospital. I’ve locked myself in the room… (Page 96.)

… For the Craftsman in Us

Thinking back, that thought came not because the story was fascinating (it kinda was, but the plot had enough holes it’d house a dinosaur) but because I enjoyed wasting so much minutes.

​”This day would come. You’d complete a task and slouch in the seat and consider how soggy the task seems, yet, you would be powerless to ignore the fluttering of your heart, the aches in your finger, and the numbing feeling that you enjoyed what you did. The day you feel this way about any craft, it is then that you’ve found what to do” – Michael Emmanuel. 
I remember with stunning clarity the morning I knew I would be a writer. It came like every other sunrise. Dawn broke at 6:15am. A soft wind swept our compound, and by the next hour, there was a thousand chores to tackle. The sink stunk of unwashed dishes, crumbs of spaghetti dotting its interior. Two mugs lay face-down, butts smeared with liquid soap. A row of ants crept in and out, having a fill.
In the bathroom, half a dozen round-necks were stacked against the walls. The tiles could use a scrubbing. A broom, parted at the middle, stood at the entrance, considering the mess and making mental notes. It would file a complaint with the chief.
Question was, how? How would it reach the chief but through me?
Oblivious to the discontent, I sat by the window and chewed a pen cover, suddenly feeling dumped. Before me was a new note, one page filled. As I stared at the tree behind the fence, I concluded I had judged wrong. Perhaps everyone could write, so long I wasn’t a part of everyone. 

Thing was, I wasn’t green in the field of writing. My first original story was an assignment. I got nine of ten marks with a ‘See me’ addendum. The examiner wanted to be assured the story was my brainchild. Yes, I said, flushing. Two years later, I found a small note and wrote three – or two – pages of an intriguing novel and forgot all about it. Three years from that first submission, and with age beginning to chisel my face, I learnt how to write a story that wouldn’t have you puking. My resolve lasted a week 

In fact, I grew certain it was my last try… 
… Until this awkward morning. Watching the trees and wind, I felt I could do it. So, I wrote. And wrote. And wrote, till my fingers stiffed. A bucket of relief soaked me when I let the pen rest. Finally, the bestseller had come. 
Thinking back, that thought came not because the story was fascinating (it kinda was, but the plot had enough holes it’d house a dinosaur) but because I enjoyed wasting so much minutes. 
The clothes still hadn’t been washed. One row of ants had become a thick black mass attacking the kitchen. The sun had reached its peak. My stomach was groaned and growled. I borrowed comfort in the hope that the story would make gazillions of crisp notes. 
It obviously didn’t. I’m clueless as to the location of the aforementioned note. But one thing has remained – my fingers still ache from writing. 

Writers don’t put up this type of posts till they are well grounded (that is, sold respectable copies of books, snagged a few awards, spoken at a busload of events, etc…). I did this because, 1) it didn’t feel wrong and 2) my next birthday is under my nose and 3) someone needs to see this.
That person may be me. 
Since that Monday two years back, I’ve studied a couple books on writing, read novels till my eyeballs shrunk, typed and typed, dug up story ideas and flipped them out, followed some blogs and opened one, applied for a handful competitions, grown up, gotten this disturbing beard, made new friends, and written…
Summary: Being a craftsman is unlike planting. If a woman drops six seeds of maize in the ground, she expects a matured plant half a year later. Anything else and she’d get on her prayer gears. Writing, like singing, like painting, like photography or designing, doesn’t work that way. Some achieve success quickly. Others learn to queue. 
But, if we do it right, and do it well, and do it with intent, we won’t always remain unknown. This, I firmly believe. 

P.S: I’m nursing the thought of putting fiction here for the next few posts. Thinking of consistency. Pray for me, reader. I’m entering a new age. 

Knowledge,… Huh,… Fear 

Walk to a library or bookshop. Skim a section you wouldn’t stumble upon if you were in blindfolds. Pick a book. Read in a posture unfamiliar to you.

​”He who reads lives a thousand times. The non-reader lives a measly one.” – Paraphrase of a famous quote. 

Today, I called at the library. It was not a first.  The sun had resumed and a passive wind blew about. Outside, students wandered in flocks, throats gurgling with anticipation, with zeal, with a certain fear of the unknown.

Two buildings towered opposite the library – a techie theatre and a computer center. (Notice the alliteration)? The theatre, a gray edifice seated on an uneven patch of grass, drew few heads. The center did. Once a while, a pinch of undergrads would trip out from the north side and would immediately be buried in a sea of students-turned-reporters. The question? “What came out in your exam?”
Can we ever avoid fear? Not all the inquisitive students were unprepared. I can testify of a twin who read till they misplaced each other. Yet, they panicked. Noticing the unpleasant trend, I slipped into the library. 


Nothing had changed since the last time. Not the porter’s desk that curved like a sharp arrow. Not the male cloakroom littered with a gob of black bags as if they contained secret documents. The man behind the desk was bent on a recent newspaper. He acknowledged me and… 
I was in. The air in the general reading room was redolent of a ghostly silence, like God demanded it. I paused for seconds, then ventured in, two steps, before veering left. A leather chair smiled at me and I smiled back. “No, thank you. I would not be tempted to sit and doze away while my mates are writing exams.” The space allotted for books were stuffed with mahogany shelves, the distance between each allowing room for one athletic body to weave his way. I went past the first two as if they did not exist. Then, on the fifth, and with a lot of zigzag motion, I discovered a treasure. 
Are your eyes popping? They should. The treasure was not the typical chestnut gleaming with coins, but a paperback coated with Spring dust. I walked to the carrel and picked a specific chapter. And my brain opened as if in a cooling system. I read about genes. I saw the 46 chromosomes in every human. I studied the soft blue eyes of a patient suffering Downs Syndrome. I exchanged words with Genghis Khan, the famous – maybe infamous – Indian warrior. 

If you haven’t attempted this, do. Walk to a library or bookshop. Skim a section you wouldn’t stumble upon if you were in blindfolds. Pick a book. Read in a posture unfamiliar to you. Read, letting each letter bloom, as if you don’t need the knowledge. What happens is that your head and heart synchronize like you’re witnessing the rapture, and your eyes soak in data at a rate the fastest computer can’t match. Don’t think about the subject being absorbed. Try to yield to those unexpected burps. Laugh and shriek like Brad Pitt stopped by your house. 
It was awesome. It was riveting. Really, we’ve deprived ourselves of so much by turning away from books, or grabbing them for the sake of examinations. While I boast many more e-books than the printed stuffs, nothing matches the pleasure of holding a book. 
I would eventually leave, but those moments are wedged in the unknown places of my subconscious. I returned two hours later and surveyed three chapters of No-Tech Hacking by Johnny Long. The information would come in handy, I know. 
It’s evening as I punch these words. An uncertain, calming breeze lifts nylons on a baked pavement. I concluded the rereading of Divergent (e-book, as hoped) some minutes back. I still have exams this week, and I’m not in the top ten Dazzling Minds yet. 
However, this I’ve learned – we can not avoid fear. But we can overcome it. It’s a running theme in the Divergent series. And besides, we can do this in Christ. It’s always a simple step of coming to Him. 
P.S: I intended writing about knowledge, but, huh, fear poked its face. So, it’s two tastes in one serving. Think about knowledge. Think about conquering your fear. 

My phone didn’t tag along, so the picture credit goes to Ted Dekker’s Facebook page. Thank you for reading.