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Never write to please, let your mind roam free

By Lucas Wafula | November 26th 2016

Last week, I attended a workshop that discussed publishing of non-fiction prose narrative. So many possibilities came up – non-fiction is becoming quite popular.

Thereafter, I joined poetry lovers at the launch of Parliament of Owl, a wonderful poetry book, at the Goethe-Institut. At the launch, I ruminated over a question, which had inconspicuously emerged at the workshop about how we should treat readers of creative works.

Readers are, essentially, customers. Which is why you might be tempted to appease them – please them even. Any scribe worth their pen should not please the readers; they should only write or tell the story, properly.

The most amazing writing is that which comes from an informed and challenged heart.

Now you don’t expect this to please everyone, do you? Wole Soyinka, whom many readers complain is inaccessible, says, “Don’t feel that you have to tailor your literature in a particular way to please any school of ideology.” And he is right.

Writing to please means you won’t be yourself. As it were, you need to be inspired to write and nothing chases the muse away faster than the burden of pleasing. A terrible experience will yield better stimulus than the problem of appeasing your readers. Striving to please readers will not only neuter your imagination but also cause you to lose your voice; you won’t be able to say what you want for fear of offending people. With your voice drowned, you will quickly lose credibility because you will appear to be clutching at straws.

Ideas flow best when you are in charge of your writing. Being in control is as exciting as the vigour of youth in old age – it is literally and literary your spring. With a borrowed personality, you will likely run dry midway.

Once during an interview, Chinua Achebe was asked if he ever showed his raw manuscripts to anyone. He said no. He would keep on writing and when he would finally decide to submit his manuscript to his editor, he believed he would have given out the best. If you are chained to the load of pleasing, the act of writing loses the pleasure that the muse usually generates.

Competition writing

However, as a writer you must be aware of your environment. Be cognisant of the contemporary issues that readers wish to interrogate – your private creativity will eventually be consumed in the public reading square.

There will be occasions when you may write to please a small group of readers or a publisher. It is not wrong. Stephen King says, “You can’t please all the readers all of the time; you can’t please even some of the readers all the time, but you really ought to try to please some readers some of the time.”

An example of this rare occasion is when submitting your work for a competition. In this case, you will be forced to tailor your writing to the requirements of the competition – still, you must endeavour to mark your territory, leave your footprint.

Apart from the rare occasions, write and then put up your umbrella for the ubiquitous criticism to fall off it – it is bound to come from the objective ones and from the ‘deplorables’ too.

Obviously, it takes more than saying to take such a position. It requires you to have deep roots of conviction and passion about what you write about. It also requires you to know that writing, like anything else, is politics and in politics you must learn to advance your argument and support it.

As we slowly draw the curtains on 2016, you must be reviewing your literary resolutions and wondering how many were implemented. There was that poetry collection you kept to yourself, the short story you never submitted for reviewing, and the novel you never finished.

Pleasing your readers could be the reason your literary resolutions were not realised. You can plan to draw from within the inspiration of ‘the original’ to write and be published come 2017. Always remember, it is the light beneath that gives each cloud a silver lining.

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