I attended a creative writing seminar where our lecturer was an award-winning writer, who felt it was his duty to knock fantasy out of our minds and help us rearrange our aspirations.
“Don’t think you’re going to be the next Shakespeare and write a never-written-before novel. There are no new stories,” he said.
His forehead was wide and shiny and his hairline indicated that baldness waited in his future. He swept through the class with his big eyes letting his words sink in.
Did he imagine that we could not even match his own mild success? I completed my writing exercises on time using the formula he gave us: a story has a beginning, a middle, and an ending. I didn’t care for original ideas. I was involved in a steamy romance with creative non-fiction, the only genre I thought I would ever write. I wrote about my real experiences or that of others, injecting lively words into sentences to transport readers to my world.
When I delved into the world of fiction, I looked for original ideas. Once I found them, I scribbled and scribbled until I perfected my story. After I shared my story with friends, one of them said, “Oh, your story is based on that Nollywood movie . . .” Another said, “You copied so-and-so famous writer’s story.”
But, I hadn’t watched that Nollywood movie and I hadn’t read the famous writer’s book. I had just thought about a story and written my thoughts down! It was then that the lecturer’s words came back to bite me and I bought into the idea that I don’t have any new story to tell.
My imagination is a collection of all I’ve seen, heard, touched, smelt, and tasted, synthesized and served as a ‘new’ dish. So, the more I engage my senses the more my brain has to synthesize and serve as imagination. Then it takes skill to arrange my imagination in a format that others can and want to understand. Enter language or words.
I began to understand why aspiring writers are advised to read and write a lot—to broaden imagination and acquire skill.
When I get good ideas for a story, I don’t google key words to see who else has written about it. I just know for sure that someone else has done so already. However, unless their name is Timi Yeseibo, they have not written it in my voice or through the nuance of my experiences, which help me filter life.
This difference makes me unafraid to write about Romeo and Juliet because in the century in which I live, they would meet via Tinder and their death would be featured on Instagram. The themes of love, faithfulness, betrayal, and death remain timeless and universal. My children after me will also write the same story flavoured by the sights, smells, sounds, tastes, and feelings of their time.
©Timi Yeseibo 2016
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