How are you? How are the kids? They are running you ragged, I bet. I was young once and scared, like you. I had great, young, rambunctious kids like you do.
They say that there is no working manual for being a parent. It is a wondrous thing, parenting, but once you get over the thrill of bringing a child into this world, you are left with chaos and navigating spaces to create your own space to do your thing. The writer who is used to that space for writing might find parenting in the way. This is usually a problem because the writing muse is a jealous companion. You must find space to free the demons in your head and let them play on your writing canvas. It is good that you are writing. As a young parent, writing helped me make sense of my role as a dad, calmed me when things seemed to overwhelm me as a father. Writing created that space to process my space. Writers make bad partners.
You are not alone. When that rush of ideas comes at you, you can’t turn off the spigot and delay the rush of ideas. If you are like me and don’t attend to them immediately, they never come back. Most mornings, I would wake up and my ideas were already awake, tapping their fingers impatiently by my bedside, wanting to talk. But when I was young, they were not the only ones that woke me up. Many times it was the kids waking us up needing something. Kids come first. Always. Your job comes first, if you are not a full-time writer. You must find space.
I have always written long-hand. I have this box of pieces I have written over the years. Perhaps when my ancestors come for me, (I will go before you, don’t worry. I came first, I will leave first. Besides I cannot bear the thought of living out the winter of my life without you), my kids will give you the box of writing. They go back over a decade. I would get bored in meetings, and I would take out my red pen (it was always red, and write, write and write). I killed a lot of trees doing that. They would need to be transcribed into electronic format. My kids seem indifferent to my writing, so I am sure they will bin them right after my funeral. *shrugs* I would love to be more structured, you know, wake up in the morning, like many do and go to my study, with a cup of coffee and write wondrous things on my computer. Life is not that orderly. Not for me anyway. We have a study in the basement. But it sits there like an embarrassed afterthought; the guy we bought the house from was proudly anti-intellectual and he used it as his gym *shudders*. I really don’t do libraries, studies, and formal offices. I am not that structured.
Yes, some people are more structured than others, they require a structured space for writing; a study, a desk, a computer, with a printer and all the knickknacks that go with writing. My life has been quite chaotic, you know that and I have learnt to carry my space with me everywhere life finds me. These days, most of my writing I do on my smartphone. My smartphone is my scratchpad, my computer, my everything. I love the Notes feature on my smartphone. The other day I splurged on a subscription to Evernote. Great app! I write whole essays on my smartphone. This works for me, because it is right by my side, and I can come back to it over and over again in between the interruptions. I have over 700 notes on my smartphone.
I also write to you a lot. It just seems that we are always chatting about life, which to me is literature. I am sure you recognize some of our chats from these “letters.” I sometimes wish I were born at an earlier time before computers. Well, I was, LOL. In those days, we wrote long letters to loved ones and lovers and friends. Long hand. I miss those days, believe it or not. There is something about the rush of love, lust and longing between the hand and paper. Once you find your groove, you don’t want to stop, so addictive, that writing process. Have you ever heard of Bessie Head? She was one of the writers of my generation. Google her. I am reading a book of her letters; A Gesture of Belonging: Letters from Bessie Head, 1965-1979. They are profoundly touching and in their own way, intimate letters to a political and literary friend of hers. You will like them and think of me as you always say. I wonder what will happen to all those texts in our space. There’s a lot of history there, a lot of prose, certainly prose poetry. I hope you find time, one of these seasons, to put them together and make sense of them.
It can’t be easy to be a writer these days. The Internet makes it very easy for anyone to be called a writer. This means that you are competing with seas of hopefuls who want to be heard. It is not enough to have a voice. The voice must be unique. For it to be unique, you require space to let it grow. So I would say the young writer has to find space, space to read, space to write, space to breathe and live in. Many young people I see always tell me that they have no time and space to write, but they don’t realize that everywhere around them is space and time. They are luckier than the writers of my generation. Technology allows them to simply pluck space out of the anxieties of the time and write, write, write away. So, have you eaten…?
“Dear Genevieve” is a writing-advice series. The weekly missive allows Ikhide Ikheloa, one of Africa’s foremost literary critic, to dish our prized advice on various aspects of writing. Stop by next Monday for the next email.
Read more from the series:
About the Author:
Ikhide R. Ikheloa or Pa Ikhide is a social and literary critic who writes non-stop on various online media. He was a columnist with Next Newspaper and the Daily Times, Nigeria, where he held forth and offered unsolicited opinions on any and everything to do with literature and the world. He has been published in books, journals and online magazines and he predicts: ‘The book and the library are dying. Ideas live.” Find him on twitter @ikhide