Letters to my protege: seminal thoughts on the art of writing (2)

Dear Babatunde,

You’re the next best thing in writing not because you wish it or because earthlings stroke your sensibilities with two slippery tunes christened “Talented” and “Promising”. On the contrary, you will ascend your desired and destined pinnacle because you will embrace the demands of the journey. You will not happen upon literary success; you must pick up your tools and unearth it, as you would hidden treasures, through literary rigour.

The accomplished writer you’re aspiring to is like the prodigious instrumentalist and you, a greenhorn. You must sit and study the style and patterns of your illustrious progenitors, studying and learning how they play their instruments. You must also strive to adopt and adapt the various elements that add up to the whole as the essence of their performance does not lie in the performance itself but in the exercises, activities, experiences, sacrifices, rigours, devotions and commitments that resulted in the performance. These, the eyes do not readily see. Avail yourself of information on their travails and triumphs, for there’s none so mighty a writer without his own portion of pain. Then, daily, you must spare ample time to learn to play your instrument – the knowledge and memories of your mentors’ glorious art serving as a guiding light while you labour through the darkness of literary obscurity.

Let me here slip you a note of caution. The fame that accompanies your inherent brilliance which manifestation approaches should scarcely, if not never, be your drive. Put in proper perspective, it is but a tool for the extension and expansion of your influence and relevance.

Remember that your words will connect to your audiences in different astonishing ways. In those profound words and expressions, comfort and hope will be found, inspiration cultivated, pleasure derived, callings located, questions answered, relevance found by critics and for some readers, closure. The meaning your works will assume to different minds will confer upon you the divine knighthood of Providence’s Missionary.
Also know, that the ‘becoming’ is inextricably linked with the ‘doing’ and the doing is sacrifice. Although writing is the writer’s most patent talent, there are toils, tears, tests and tales that translate into the stories he tells. Therefore, you must arm yourself for the sacrifices that precede the praises. You cannot claim to be a writer and not be reading the standard-bearers in the vanguard of writing. It is as you connect to their essence which is often conveyed, revealed or portrayed in their works that your own literary identity begins to take shape. A little from here, a little from there, complementing and shaping your innate essence, mutate into the literary genius you aspire to be.

Besides, you can’t build from the top. You cannot succeed at writing what others will delight in reading without first reading those delightsome works that others have written. You must lay for yourself firm foundations in the works of others. Carving your path pleasurably and arduously through the fruitful fields of their seminal thoughts and ideas, you glean inspiration and even catch a fire that sets you well on your course to literary success. There’s a level where you must need write as much as you read but I fancy that there would never be a time when you write more than you read. This I strongly believe and this I will write to you on in the days ahead.

Remember that the world you live in is a garden of inspiration bristling with tales that are begging to be told. Open your eyes and your heart and let your mind lend itself as a fertile ground upon which the story seeds will take root and find nourishment. There, let them receive the sunshine of reflection, meditation and illumination. The water and nutrients of constant study, observation and research will nourish the story ideas and see them bloom in ways that will amaze you.

Let me also tell you this: there will be times of hopelessness when your little light fades into insignificance in the brilliant glow of your more illustrious counterparts – times when your knowledge and ability pale in comparison to the effortless mastery that your forbears demonstrate.

If you find yourself feeling this way often and you do not mask your inadequacies, but rather acknowledge them and admit that there is work to be done every time you encounter such rude awakenings, and set out to do the needful to bridge the obvious gap, then you, my friend, are on the right path. So, do not despair.

I myself have found, as I hear and read others, that the more I learn and am enamoured by the trappings of new truths and new knowledge – new in the distinct sense of my encounter with them- encounters which are sometimes belated – the more my ignorance stares me in the face perfidiously. Then I realise how little I know and humbly admit how much more I need to learn. It keeps in check so you do not think you have arrived because the peak of your literary ability is the base of another’s.

However, at such points of untold misery, I find measured relief in the comforting knowledge that even though I am not where I long to be – yet, I am certainly not where I used to be. You should measure your progress and observe that you’re covering new ground and doing things which formerly seemed unapproachable.

Know this however, that losing is an unavoidable part of winning just like failure is undivorceable from its aeonian betrothal to success. Learn to fail forward. Fall, Learn, Rise, Proceed, Succeed, Fall, Learn, Rise, Proceed, Succeed.

And as I have told you before, believe in your rubbish, for we are told, that the earth, charming in so many ways as it is not, was fashioned out of chaos. Know that where you are today is not your destination – it is merely a stop on a journey. Your “rubbish” like a diamond in the rough, is destined to one day evolve into the glistening jewellery that hugs the fingers, wrists and breasts of royalty.

It may seen cumbersome to you that I had to repeat this last counsel, but it is for me, an expedient task that I cannot shy away from, for many beautiful endings you see and have read about, had ashes for their overtures.

Keep writing

Your fellow traveller

Bamidele Salako

(C) 2014

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