I once came across a feature story on a famous American writer. The feature made good reading, but I differed with the writer when he said he followed rules when writing. As far as I was concerned, writing did not have rules. I remember even when I was at University with Chenjerai Hove as the Writer-in-Residence that, besides helping us with our poetry and prose, he never told us to follow any specific rules when writing. But, I now wish to revise my line of thinking and agree with the American writer. Writing, especially if it is to be good writing should follow or observe certain rules.
Of course, it is up to a writer to start his/her work with a description of the weather, it doesn’t kill a story because I know great writers who have done it well and successfully. However, the only reservation I have with starting a novel or a story with the weather is that it has been over-used and has made books, especially Shona and Ndebele novels very predictable and sometimes dull.
Here, I want to share some common problems I came across when I assessed some BWAZ members’ poetry, short stories, plays, novels and folktales. I decided to write something so as to help other budding writers with ideas of how it can be done. I am not saying these ideas will turn one into a Charles Mungoshi overnight, no. Writing needs patience and it is a very lonely and at times even sad business.
I will write my observations in point form, as rules to be followed if one wants to succeed in writing, or at least to present manuscripts with less work for the editor.
A writer should have time to proof-read his/her work to make sure there are no silly and unnecessary mistakes that can easily put off whoever it is who is reading their work. A clean manuscript, with well written and readable lines does not put off.
One does not need to be complicated to tell a good story. There is a problem with the majority of budding writers. They believe that being sophisticated, abstract and flamboyant is the way to write/communicate. Such thinking certainly causes problems. It shows that a writer is making an effort to tell his story or express his feelings. Stories, as well as poetry should be allowed to choose their own language, their own style and develop themselves. The basic idea when writing is to try and communicate, make sense – and that should be sustained throughout a novel or poem. Being complicated is not communicating, it puts off readers and defeats the objectives of communicating.
Linked to the point above, is the language issue. One must choose a language they know they are comfortable using. It does not make sense to use English because that is the language ‘everybody’ is using. Great writers like Charles Mungosi have successfully and beautifully used Shona to write novels. There is a tendency to just use English as the language to write in, yet in the end, a story or poem is consumed in a quandary of grammatical mistakes which include even spelling problems.
For one to be a good writer, it is important to read widely and wildly. Reading works by other writers helps one get inspiration, broaden horizons, improve style as well as discover what writing is all about. A writer who does not read other people’s works risks nipping his talent in the bud. Even if most writers are creatures of spontaneity, still, within that spur of the moment, there are traces of being shaped by other writers. Yet, having said this, I am not encouraging people to go and plagiarise. It is very important to find your own voice, your own style. If you have nothing to write, then don’t write. After all, one can go for weeks, months or even years without finding any inspiration. Reading other people’s works also helps one avoid flogging dead horses, i.e writing on subjects that have been exhausted by other writers.
I hope these points will help you in your efforts as you work towards becoming writers. Keep writing and reading, and remember Rome was not built in a day and so are novels, they are not written in a day.
Copyright © Ignatius Mabasa, Harare, Zimbabwe