Creatives, creativity and Salmonella

Creativity can be somewhat bipolar, don’t you think? On one hand, it can be beautiful, expressive and free-spirited and on the other, difficult, mind numbing and depressive. I’m using the term creativity here to refer to the state of being creative and the state of being A creative. In addition to that, with reference to the negative aspects associated with being creative, I find myself getting rather interested in finding out why what makes us so great, what makes us tick, also seems to have the potential of destroying us or turning us into the worst versions of ourselves.

In my ongoing journey as a creative, I have been on that dark side. You know it. The one accompanied by loud voices in your head telling you that you are terrible at whatever it is you believe to be your life’s work, your best work is behind you, no one will pay for your art, just STOP! The chicken from your lunch will probably give you Salmonella… That voice gets pretty busy.

I’m not here to give any answers. Don’t you just hate it when people say that after introducing some deep topic? I digress. I’d like to share a TED Talk by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, which has greatly inspired me during one of many dark moments.

What she said about creativity was very timely and helpful to me in my struggle with creativity. I believe it’s applicable to pretty much anyone creating anything. I believe that all my creativity comes from God, the Creator, and listening to Elizabeth (given the number of times I’ve watched this, I think we’re on a first name basis) say all these interesting things about creativity helped me somewhat snap out of that downward spiral of creative depression and self-loathing if I may call it that. I hope that you find this as inspiring as I did. Do your job. Keep showing up. Keep creating.

They’re calling me ‘author’

It was a brief, polite email. One sentence long. “Kindly let me know when you will come over to our offices to sign your contract for the above book as you pick your author copies.” ‘Author copies’. I smiled when I read that. They’re calling me an author now. And a contract, how adult!

I never anticipated any of this when I walked in late for a writing workshop that was part of the Storymoja Festival in 2013. Storymoja was holding some of their September festival events that had been interrupted by the tragic events of Westgate over several weekends in November. I had signed up for this writing workshop thinking it would be a one-time here-are-several-tips-to-make-your-writing-better sort of thing. It wasn’t. We were learning how to write fiction for an adolescent audience. Everyone was seated in front of a laptop or tablet or iPad looking oh so serious and writerly, quite unlike me, scribbling in my palm-sized notebook with a pencil.

The workshop carried on for two more weekends. We learned about plotting, character development, dialogue, descriptions… the works. The end goal was that we would all produce creative fiction that would impart life skills to an adolescent audience. Such lofty goals, I thought. I couldn’t possibly do that. I would attend the workshops and all but I probably wouldn’t end up with a written book. At least not now. I have a job, internships and a Master’s degree to think about. Also, procrastination, among other creative problems. It couldn’t be done by me.

December 2013. First draft done. 4338 words. I receive great feedback and promise to refine my work.

January 2014. Half of second draft done. The deadline for our final drafts is almost up, they say. Pretty sure I will not meet it. Could I defer my work to the next publishing year? I’m not even sure I’m on the right track. You’re on the right track, keep going, they say.

March 2014. My second draft hasn’t budged. They’re extending the final drafts deadline to sometime in April. I think I can make that. I’m about to finish my second internship. I might have some time to work on it. I could actually do this!

May 2014. A few additions and revisions to the second draft that’s about half-way done. The editor is hoping I can make the 2014 publishing year (wow, I’m beginning to sound like a real author). I may have given up on that but I won’t tell her this.

26.5. 2014. The editor is getting concerned. My manuscript is due for KICD (Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development) submission (so it can be used in schools) on July 17 and it needs to be reviewed, copy edited and illustrated. Do I still expect to send it in? She asks. Sigh. Why did I commit to this? I don’t say this. You will have it by tomorrow. I say this.

29.5.2014. 1.21 a.m. I email my second draft.

1.56 a.m. Thank you, she replies. Editors don’t sleep, do they?

9.6.2014. My final draft is ready after incorporating the editors’ recommendations on my manuscript.

24.10.2014. They’re asking for a dedication and author bio. Whoa! This is big. “To my dear parents… who have always believed in me.” Too cliché? I don’t care. It’s true.

17.12.2014. I email next of kin details. Serious stuff.

17.3.2015. 1 p.m. I’m battling the afternoon heat and my limited lunch hour to rush to the Storymoja office to pick my author copies and sign my contract. Minutes later, I’m smiling to myself as I exit their office, author copies and a copy of my contract in hand. I have a published book. I can’t believe it! I keep looking at my name on the cover. It doesn’t feel real. I’m smiling at the illustrations. Even better looking than the characters in my head.

“Every story of success is a story of community,” said Jeff Goins, a writer I look up to. I obviously did not do this on my own. Many thanks to Juliet Maruru, the ever patient, ever gracious editor, Ian Arunga and Mellitus Ogana Ogana for the design, layout and illustrations which I love, Muthoni Garland who was such a great teacher during the workshops, and Storymoja at large for this wonderful opportunity to do something I never thought I could. Thank you to my fellow workshopmates for their support and encouragement, and everyone who read my drafts and urged me on or gave me feedback. Most of all, I’m unashamed to say that I could not have done any of this without God, my dear heavenly father without whom I am nothing.

If you’d like a copy of the book, please email me – egicovi@gmail.com – and I’ll be happy to arrange for you to get one or three. The bookshops listed here should also be stocking it by now.

There she is! Mwende. 🙂

I seem to have lost it

Recently, someone asked me what my passion was. I was about to say writing, then stopped before the words escaped my mouth. I felt I wasn’t as passionate about writing anymore. I thought I would not be at all genuine by saying that but would only be doing so for the sake of conversation. So I risked appearing boring and unfulfilled and said that I was yet to find my real passion.

I scarcely touched my phone on my journey home that evening, something very uncharacteristic of me, I might add. I stared out the window the whole way, not seeing the familiar trees, buildings and places but thinking, worrying that I didn’t have a passion, which made for a rather sad existence. I’m turning 25 soon. I should have found that by now, right? What is it about turning 25 that makes that need to have everything figured out so urgent? I worried that I had very few things figured out. I got off the matatu and walked the short distance home, deep in thought, replaying various conversations I’d had that day regarding life, in my head. I’d had interviews for two of my articles with individuals not much older than myself who oozed passion for what they did. These left me challenged to find my own passion yet rather sad about the stark realization that I lacked this fountain of seemingly everlasting zeal for life.

Enter a chicken sandwich and two episodes of Suits and all these important life questions were neatly folded and stacked in a far corner of my mind. I never cease to be amazed about how easily distracted I am. Food and hours of mindless TV are the epitome of distraction in my books.

Image from http://authorashleysanders.blogspot.com/2011/04/burning-passion-to-write.html
Image from http://authorashleysanders.blogspot.com/

These thoughts were revisited about a week later, interestingly after yet another interview. My interviewee that day was a lesson in humility, calmness, fulfilment and other great qualities I hope Future Me will possess. A very accomplished man, yet painstakingly humble, gracious, and generally unrushed by that hustle and bustle synonymous with our Nairobi. How does he do that peaceful monk thing? I kept asking myself, but I digress. The man spoke wisdom of the ages. Well-thought out sentences laden with great wisdom about life and living. No wasted words. It was one of the most illuminating interviews I’ve done to date.

It also turned out to be one of the shortest interviews I’ve done to date. I kept going over my notebook to see if I had missed any questions I intended to ask. We had covered everything in less than hour, with 10 minutes to spare, in an interview that usually took me close to two hours at times. I was enjoying myself, in the moment, hanging on his every word. Taking it all in, more for myself than for the story I was going to write. Then it dawned on me, the reason (rather, some of the reasons) I do this writing thing.

It’s these rare inspiring conversations, life lessons and experiences I get to live through, vicariously nonetheless. The frequent chance to evaluate myself triggered by these encounters, the excitement of meeting new people and making new connections. The incomparable honour of telling someone’s story.

I do have a passion after all. I had just stopped feeding it. Nurturing it. I expected it to always be there no matter what. I needed to remind myself every so often why I write. I had stopped seeking to learn as much as I could about the craft.

I’d like to tell you that I regained my zest for writing, that I’m back on track, and can’t wait for the magic that will happen once I put finger to keyboard and eye to white screen, but that would be a falsehood. I am getting there nevertheless. I’m taking steps to get that fire burning once more. More of fanning the dying embers of a fire that once was, at this point.

I’m trying to learn new things about writing, seeking to mentor others younger than me who may be interested in writing, finding new ways of writing, breaking away from the mundaneness of routine, et cetera. These are just a few examples I found after reading and researching on ‘how to regain lost passion.’ I never thought this would be a Google search I’d find myself doing one day. I suppose I thought my passion would always be there, but evidently that isn’t the case.

Now I feel like a pseudo Thought Catalog. This is what happens when you turn 25. 🙂

What are you passionate about? How do you keep your fire burning?

How do I love writing? Let me write the ways.

I fear I’m losing my ability to write; the same way one loses an ability they don’t use. I’m afraid I’m out of practice. Several people have asked me, “Hey Edna, when is the next riveting blog entry filled with your delightful writing coming up? It has been a really long while. We just cannot wait!” To which I say, “Fear not loyal followers! Your noble concerns shall be addressed before you can say ‘web log’. For I have an entry in the offing. Your loyalty compels me…”

Ok, I lie. They just ask, “What happened to your blog?” Also, I don’t talk like that and most people don’t even call me Edna. About my ability to write, I fear it’s slipping away. In helpless little squirts. I have not been writing as much as I should. See, I am a writer by profession, so I’ve just been doing the bare minimum. Writing for my job. Never writing for myself, which is criminal for a writer, might I add.

So is this an attempt to validate my aptitude for writing? To have you tell me that I can write and that I should keep writing? Maybe. Probably. Tell me I can write dammit! 😦

Au contraire, this is actually a post to tell the world why I love writing. I will refrain from complaining about the craft. I think we writers tend to complain about writing, writer’s block, and other unpleasant things we have encountered in the course of our writing one too many times

Why do I love to write?

 1. Ease of self-expression. I find there are a lot of things I have the boldness to say on paper that I may probably never say. Also, some things sound better written, than said (hence, Unsaid But Written 🙂 ). Maybe it’s a personality thing that I, being introverted for the most part, find easier to do. Speaking of which, I still owe you a post on one of my favourite subjects – temperaments. But I digress; writing knows no bounds when it comes to self-expression for me. There are probably very few emotions that I cannot express in writing.

2. A chance to speak to the world. Most of us want to be published and read. Widely read if we’re lucky. I want to be known for my writing. I want to influence, motivate, provoke thought, and inspire emotion. I want to make you laugh! I may never get to travel the whole world and meet millions of its citizens but I’d like to reach the world through my writing. Another thing, I’m not much of a public speaker, though it’s a skill I’m trying to learn, so writing gives me this chance to speak to many, without necessarily physically addressing them.

3. A love for words. Words are just wonderful! Some roll off your tongue with such ease and elegance. Some are music to the ears! Some have a taste, smell or particular look or feel to them. I love these little critters we call words. I love learning the correct pronunciation and spelling of each. I love the way they join to form beautiful phrases and sentences. I love how they give meaning to communication. The words I love at the moment include schadenfreude, chutzpah, and pizzazz. Words are just delightful! I’ve been using that word – delightful- a lot in recent times.

4. Narcissistic tendencies with delusions of grandeur. I cannot begin to explain to you how big of narcissists writers are! I think every writer has to admit to being a little self-absorbed. Yes, you journal-keeping, blog-post writing, note-scribbling writer you! Part of me lives in my own little world where my life is being filmed, documented and watched by an imaginary audience that laughs (like in comedies) when I do or say funny things, says “Ooohhh.” or cries with me when I’m sad and rejoices with me when I’m happy. They’ve actually been watching the show that is my life since I was a child (like in the movie ‘The Truman Show’). As a child I, at times, addressed this audience. *Crickets* Erm…I think I’ve said too much.

Moving along swiftly… I feel this is the same drive that usually makes you want to document your thoughts/life in a journal, blog or autobiography. A lot of times, your writing is about you. Your writing is coloured and shaped by how YOU see the world. It’s rather difficult to write from another’s point of view, so mostly, I’ll write about what I am most familiar with – ME. Hey, look at ME writing about why I love to write!

5. Paid to do it. Writing is earning me a living, among other interesting opportunities that cannot be monetarily quantified. I have learnt a lot of new things, and had the privilege of meeting a number of interesting individuals who have both challenged and inspired me. This is actually one of the best things about writing for me. Learning, meeting people and seeing places, which I hope to do a lot more of, God willing.  Not to mention the pride that comes in calling oneself a ‘writer’. *Ahem* Refer to reason number four.

Do you love to write? Tell me the ways.

Writing thus far

I’ve been writing for close to four years now and have been published in a few publications here and there, including  good ol’ Unsaid But Written, which is not really a publication but a blog. My blog. 🙂 I’ve made a few observations in the course of my esteemed vocation. It’s interesting that writing does not get easier as time goes by. Neither is it guaranteed that your writing will get better with time. You’re only as good as your last piece in this field. Sadly. Today you’re a star, riding high on that literary wave. Tomorrow, you’re wading in a murky, shallow pool of nonsensical words.

Every time you think you’re used to writing or used to the natural order of things, you encounter Writers Block (which is increasingly being dispelled as a lethargy-induced myth by one of my editors), lack of ideas, lack of motivation, hunger, anger, laziness, Twitter, scones (they’re on my desk as I write this), among many other challenges facing today’s writer. Saying today’s writer may be incorrect. I mean, I cannot imagine the challenges faced by writers of yore. Really, I cannot. My hardships must pale in comparison to theirs.

Writing with feathers must’ve been quite the task. The tip of the feather probably must’ve blunted or broken severally. Not to mention running out of ink. Or chicken, among other poultry or exotic birds that I imagine were the source of these writing implements. Or choking on tiny feathers accidentally ingested. Inspiration doesn’t seem like it was a problem then. Look at history. They’ve probably exhausted all the stuff that could be written about!

Currently, I write for a local family magazine. Some days are good. Sometimes I write stories from what initially seems like NOTHING (and I’m not sure the use of caps here emphasize the nothingness I’m referring to). I end up feeling like superwoman and I resort to using phrases like, “Who’s your daddy? Er…I mean mommy. Who’s your mommy?” Somehow daddy sounds more hard-hitting.

And some days like today, actually right now, I want to yank the wires out of my computer and throw it out the window, which would probably not do much damage seeing as our building is not storied. Sigh. I mean I have a great story sitting on my computer. A great story about a great person. A hero by all means. A great inspiration. Someone who NEEDS to be written about. I have more than enough information to write the said story, yet I cannot. It is an awesome story in my head yet I cannot translate my thoughts into 2,000 words of a great read. Also, the editor is waiting for said story as I blog.

Am I afraid I will not do any justice to this man’s story? Yes. Will I write the story anyway? Again, yes. Will I ask another question for effect, that I will then proceed to answer? Yes.

What is the moral of this blog post? I’m not sure. I haven’t blogged in a while. But that is not why I write this.  Maybe we need the drug they had in the movie Limitless. Maybe we need some sort of inspiration injection. Maybe I need to see something amazing and be infinitely inspired. A talking monkey or an actual pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. I know none of these seem inspiring but none of you should doubt it because you haven’t seen them. I just need some inspiration. Any inspiration.