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Fiction writing is not telling lies or being weird

ARTS & CULTURE
By Lucas Wafula | March 19th 2016

I was speaking to writers last week and an interesting topic came up – the misconceptions about fiction writers and writing fiction. “Everyone thinks I am a teacher,” Muthoni wa Gichuru said. I think this is something that happens to many writers; people imagine that a fiction writer must have studied English and Literature, which translates to being a teacher.

In fact, some people think they can’t write fiction because they do not fall into this category. Certainly, this is not true. Some of the greatest writers are surgeons; others are engineers and so forth.

Yusuf Dawood, for instance, is a surgeon while Anton Chekhov was a medical doctor. Provided you have the knack for writing and you practise and or are trained to write, you should be able to ply the trade of a fiction writer.

Something else came up. That fiction writers are weird, in the same sense we used to imagine professors – bearded fellows, in weather-beaten, ill-fitting suits, driving around in Volkswagen Beatles. An author intimated that some people think writers smoke weed or write while in their birth suits. What! However rich this imagination is, it is very wrong.

Writers do not abuse drugs and anyone who thinks such a retrogressive tendency will enhance his or her writing is totally mistaken. Abusing drugs will destroy your writing. A writer needs to be sober all the time, in order to think clearly and create what other minds have not imagined.

“Some people think we are very lonely, lost in our own world,” Dr Goro wa Kamau said and then broke into a hearty laugh – he is one of the most jovial people I know. This got me thinking – I imagined a budding writer trying hard to be weird and keep to himself or herself in the hope of being a renowned writer

I spend most of my time with writers and I don’t think I would be in any better company. By the way, writers don’t always talk about writing; they live full lives. In fact, it is from their social interactions that they gather material that ends on the pages that we enjoy turning.

They mirror the community

There is a misconception that because fiction is writing based on imaginary characters and events, then fiction writers tell lies.

Can you imagine a young writer trying to perfect the art of lying to become a writer of note? How ridiculous! Writers create situations out of imagination.

Lying, on the other hand, has to do with not telling the truth – intentionally – to deceive someone. Further, anyone who is a keen reader will always note that writers pen what happens around them – they mirror the community regardless of the subject, theme or message they avail to us. Young writers should, therefore, know that practising lying won’t enable them to be writers.

Further, thinking anyone can write is a misconception. This is equal to saying anyone can sing or paint. Writing is an art that takes training and talent – that is why writers take years to be noticed or pen a masterpiece. Anyone who wants to enter this field must be ready to work and survive the writer’s school of hard knocks. Only those who survive live to tell the tale

In addition, I receive many manuscripts with a note that professor so and so or doctor so and so of the department of literature gave the green light to the said manuscripts hence I should publish them.

In other words, if a lecturer of literature approves of a manuscript then it is great. Well, this is not necessarily true. I know a few who add a lot of value not just to raw manuscripts but to development of literature and curriculum material in this country. However, some of these lecturers have no idea what publishing fiction is all about and they completely mislead young writers. The young writer must be careful as they seek advice and or mentorship. It is always good to go approach practising writers instead or editors for advice or mentorship in writing.

Finally, there is a misconception that writing fiction is easy because you can create or kill characters at will. This is akin to saying building a spider’s web is so easy because you can just cut some strands and tie others on the same structure.

The truth is that introducing anything foreign to a well-developed plot always means re-writing a whole book! Any writer of note will confirm this. Only hardworking, diligent writers will become scribes.

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