A Note For Writers by Chinelo Onwualu[ Cassava Republic Press]
Nigeria has a well-developed self-publishing scene, but it suffers from a lack of quality because too many writers spend more time on promotion, marketing and printing than on their writing.
You may be able to get people to buy your book at its launch and maybe even get it into a few bookshops, but a book is like any other product; no one will read it if the quality is poor.
So, if you’re going to take the plunge and write, then do your best to avoid these common mistakes that new writers often make.
Not reading enough (or at all)
Writing is more than an art form; it is a craft – like carpentry or basket weaving. In order to do it well, writers must learn the basic rules. And the only way to do that is to read widely and constantly. As an editor, 99% of the manuscripts I get rejected because the writers clearly don’t read enough. Instead, their novels read like Nollywood movies with clichéd stories, convoluted plots, flat characters, and flowery, unrealistic dialogue.
Creating a habit of reading can be a problem here because many of us did not grow up with books in our homes. We may never have had a lesson in basic grammar or ever read a novel for our English class. But that is not an excuse.
Make it a point to read one book every month. Go to the market and buy cheap paperback novels or go online and download free e-books – there are tons of books out there. If you like the book, try to figure out what the author did and replicate in your work. You’ll be entertained and inspired – and you will learn a thing or two about writing along the way.
Not writing enough
There is a myth that writers sit around waiting for inspiration, then when the idea strikes them, they blaze off a novel in a few weeks or months. While this can happen, it is rare. Most writers slave away for months, even years, on their work. And every professional writer I know says the same thing: You have to sit down and write every day.
There is no rule for how much you ought to write every day, just that you instil in yourself the discipline to do so. Writing is a lot like playing a musical instrument – the more you practice, the better you will become at it.
Not seeking (or taking) advice
Unless you plan on taking your work to your grave, other people will have to see it – and they will have something to say. But when you put your best effort into a thing, it can be hard to stand by and watch as someone else tears it apart.
But as a writer, criticism is vital. It exposes your weaknesses and gives you an opportunity to improve. You don’t want a situation where no one has laid eyes on your written work except you and the potential publisher or the final reader. Nor do you want a situation where the only people who have read your work are family and friends who had nothing but praise for it.
Get honest and constructive criticism from a trusted source or a number of sources. Hire an editor, if you need to. Set your ego aside, listen and evaluate your work with an objective eye.
Not editing or revising
When everyone has said what they have to say about your work, do your best to take their advice. Make sure you go back and thoroughly review your work. Reviewing is not just re-reading for spelling and grammar mistakes.
The best works go through several drafts – that is re-writing from scratch – before they ever see the light of day. Be willing to dump that beloved character, scrap that line of dialogue and change the plot entirely – if it becomes necessary. This is the toughest part of writing and the willingness to do this distinguishes good writers from the bad and the hobbyists.
Regardless of their subject, style or motivation, our nation’s best writers are all people who were more concerned with making sure their work was as good as it could be than in printing. Anyone can produce a book, it takes the disciplined and dedicated to produce a good book.