Becoming a writer: the X stages of grief

It has been a little over two months since I got into writing full-time and none of my stories have been published yet. I realize now that writing is only a slice of the trouble.  The other many and unforeseen troubles unfold in stages.

Before we get into it, do you know how long it took me to believe I was a writer? Let alone write this belief down? Eight months. Eight months before I got here. It took me eight months to believe then confess I was a writer. The declaration in the first line of the ‘About the author’ page carry more weight than all posts thus far combined. Writing those words – I am a writer – is a culmination of stages that starts with wanting to write.

I wanted to write. I knew I could write. So I wrote something, anything.

After that, came the stage of seeking approval from others for what I’d written. I sought it from my baby brother and one, two other writers. I would send emails with the title ‘What do you think about this?’ Then refresh my inbox constantly with batted breath. My brother would respond always. He was gentle and generous with his comments, nothing heavy-handed or thoughtless. Nothing vindictive (I owe you big time for this brah’). The writers, some were gracious enough to respond. Others never did. Anyone of those writers whose response was silence felt like a stab to my fragile ego. Down in the mouth, I would catch feelings and describe them as ‘unprofessional’ and ‘rude’.

This fragile approval stage lasted one month, an equivalent of four pieces. It lasted until I got my big break (or so I thought it was at the time). My big break was an Editor’s personal invite to write for his publication. He had picked one of my pieces from a slush pile somewhere. A diamond in the rough. This big break meant I could do away with the middlemen; with the critique emails and the desperate need for a stamp of approval. Contact with the Editor felt like a direct line to God Himself; salvation was nigh.

But, an Editor only gives you hope that your writing isn’t so far out there. It was I to take the reins and put in the hard work. The hard work is not in writing, it is in writing acceptably well.  One can only get better through the habit and practice of writing every day and reading as much. So I started to write. My goal: one thousand words per day. Free writing. It did not matter what I wrote about. No. All that mattered was that I wrote. The easiest things to write about were the things I liked. The hardest times to write were when I was bored or tired. The interesting things to write were about the oddities of people.

Writing one thousand words a day accumulates ramble. Page after page of sheer nonsense. It is all quantity not quality; a runaway horse because of the zeal without the knowledge. The thing is, writing is not about spewing words and filling up the pages. It is an art of using words to create stories that not only inform or entertain, but also move its readers. Stories tick because beneath the words, there lies an invisible machinery of skill and grammar that grinds to push the story gracefully forward. So, I started to study this ‘machinery’. I studied word placement. I studied words as nouns and verbs, as adjectives and adverbs. I studied sentences – their length; how to piece words to build strong sentences that beget strong paragraphs that beget strong stories. I studied tenses. I studied devices used to tell stories. I studied English as a language. I studied punctuation. Books on writing recommended from accomplished writers, I bought some, others I downloaded. And when there was need to ‘use your old work’ to illustrate a writing tool, I had plenty of mine ready at hand. I tell you, I made so many of those mistakes with the innocence of an ignorant bastard. When I wanted to learn from others’ mistakes, I would turn to mostly personal blogs.

The reading was selective; out of preference and relevance. I read with a conscious aim to get into the stride of the tasteful writers with their poise, fluency and originality. I read for the amusement of the stories sometimes, other times it was for the study of the craft. Most times, it was for both. Indeed I had always loved to read, but I read now mindful I was contributing to something greater than me.

This study, this build-up of knowledge and skill, this desire and discipline to read and write, this fulfillment – it is not a stage of writing; it is the art of writing.

So there I was, writing every day. Reading every day. Writing became somewhat easier at this stage because I learnt also how to come up with ideas. Ideas would find me often, and the words shaping the ideas would flood my mind without apology. The trick was to piece up bits of the story, and draft them before they became stale, or worse still, disappeared. Sometimes, these bits would easily came together to bear some semblance of writers’ work, other times they sat there on the page immobile and helpless like an ovum waiting to be fertilized.
I also stopped being affectionate with my words and would cut the unnecessary ‘darlings’ out of a piece ruthless. Writing and rewriting. It was telling what I read before I started to write because I had inevitably copied another writers’ style. Young writers do that a lot – we copy a writer’s style we admire. It is neither forbidden nor discouraged as it is a necessary part of developing your own style.

The beauty about being at this stage was the confidence I carried. My worry was no longer whether I could write something meaningful or not. My worry was how well I could write it. This need for refinement had me gliding back and forth between the reading, the studying and the writing. Turns out, the self-improvement never ends.

Now – and this is the hardest part so far – it is getting published. Getting someone to buy the words I am selling. This desire to see my words on a platform other than MS Word pages drove me to start a blog. Blogging is in essence self-publishing. It is beating a self-imposed Wednesday deadline. It is a last resort to having my work read.
Blogging aside, this publishing stage is disheartening. Sweet Jesus. I believe sticking this stage out separates the dilettante writers from the true foot soldiers. I don’t know how long this stage will last. I don’t know how far in to it I am. I don’t know if I am moving, or moving in the right direction. I don’t know how many more hurdles I have to jump before my work that shall be published without such long waits. And in all honesty, I don’t want to know. I want to jump the hurdles when I get to them, not as I anticipate them. The question to ask is not if I shall get there, it is when. When? Because I get tired sometimes, I do. I want to give it a rest. Not to give up, but to rest if only for a bit. Unfortunately there is no such luxury and no such option, at least not just yet. Persistence now is my only option; to keep writing and keep sending for as long as it takes.

I find comfort knowing that unlike the stages of grief, these stages of writing are not a cycle. You cross the Rubicon each time you complete a stage. So I trudge on hopeful. I pinch myself in reminder not to grieve about it because whatever happens – whatever happens – the stage will always come to an end. Always.

Auditor turned writer: the eventual goodbye
Getting published

Comments (28)

  1. Kamau

    Great piece, keep on keeping on.

  2. Steve Ogolla

    I love the progressive and educative leaps of growth explained therein which I believe is replicate of any life venture. Above else I admire the path of discovery, the injection of belief into it through written confession and the understanding that “that is you to do”. This is an amazing piece and a true Work in Progress that can’t be ignored.

  3. Nicholas Chepkurgor

    Congrats Florence for such a wonderful zeal to follow the uncharted route. Keep and pray you will succeed in your venture!

    • fra

      I pray so too Chep.
      Thanks for dropping by.

  4. jyoki

    And look at you now…
    I remember your post on Biko’s blog,rusty maybe but this is just amazing,and take comfort,you are not alone,same struggle just different places.Good work.

  5. Carola M

    This is a great piece! Am loving every word,every sentence! Encourages me as I struggle to cross my own hurdles. keep at it FC Bett:-)

  6. Wangechi

    always a pleasure to read you piece :-)

  7. Thomas Nderitu Huria

    Whoa! Amazing! Great read Bett. Quite the journey you’ve been on there…the results are definitely worth it!

  8. Eve Moraira

    am wondering can people learn how to write like that or its a talent or gift. keep it up!!

  9. Masha

    Progress has already been achieved and appreciated, sounds cliche to say “only time will tell” but the truth is it has already started telling…Keep up the fire of always aiming to be a better writer!

  10. Judith Ndungu

    Keep up and aim for higher. You sure have the talent

  11. artfullyContrived

    “. . . beneath the words, there lies an invisible machinery of skill and grammar that grinds to push the story gracefully forward.”

    Its a joy reading a skilfully written piece. The words, the flow, the grammar all contribute to a good taste.

    I also got to learn two new words today.

  12. SmileyKimwana

    Saturday Nation, June 15, 2013. Page 22.

    • fra

      The stars finally aligned Kimwana. I hope you read it!

      • SmileyKimwana

        Twas a good read, I must say. The ‘writer’s years’ of practice were clearly evident. That said, I still can’t manage to subscribe to the blog :/

        • fra

          Cheers to that!
          Let me have my Admin look into the subscription. Imma hit you back when he does.

  13. lunette ray ban

    I think that you could do with some pics to drive the message home a little bit, but other than that, this is great blog. A great read. I will certainly be back.

    • fra

      Thanks Lunette.
      I hear you on the suggestion for pics. I hear you.

  14. Tracythedeepone

    This is the best post yet! It comes from a very honest place.
    And I always wanted to use that phrase “cross the Rubicon”. It sounds so dignified.

    All the best in your writing.
    Ps. I found sth the other day that touched a nerve in my brain. Dont jump off your seat yet, its nothing too grand …”its not about being the best, its being better than I were yesterday”. Keep on getting better than you were yesterday and one day, you will be the best. And we might just be there to applaud you.

    • fra

      True. The Monk Ferrari guy said something akin to that: being a better version of your old self.
      Thanks for passing by, and for the wishes.

  15. Double M

    FC Bett,keep writing this is a great blog.

  16. ralph lauren

    Wow that was unusual. I just wrote an incredibly long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Anyway, just wanted to say fantastic blog!

  17. jcpenney

    I was a little nervous about reading this much material, but once I got started I couldn’t stop. Thank you for your very interesting article.

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