My journey as a writer began pretty recently, on Friday, August 30th, 2019. As usual, I was in my room binge watching YouTube videos—a favourite pastime of mine. This was during the three-month break from school. I had always had it at the back of my mind that I wanted to be a profound writer someday, but I kept it at that—just a mere thought. I have always been drawn to books for as long as I can remember; I would read almost anything and everything as a child, and get fascinated by the characters in the books I read. Most at times, I lived those characters in my privacy. I got angry if a character in a book I read was bad, and got away with doing bad stuff, the same way I jubilated when a good character succeeded or emerged hero.
My childhood friend, Ewoenam, —we live in the same neighborhood and I frequented her house as a child, first for storybooks, then later for Korean dramas as we grew older—had this wonderful collection of storybooks in her shelf, and was always more than willing to lend me a book or two, which I’d make sure to diligently return unscathed after reading, in exchange for another set. She, being a lover of books herself, made it easier for me, because I had someone to discuss the books I read with. We argued about bad characters and good ones, the plot twists that surprised us the most, and the endings we did not appreciate, in almost all of the books we read. And occasionally, we would hold fun reading competitions, to see who finished their book first. To put it simply, I just loved getting lost in the amazing world of stories and books, and its accompanying fantasies.
Over the years, consistently, English Language has been one of my highest scoring subjects throughout school, although I consider it my second or third language (I speak three languages in total;two local and an international). All my English teachers adored the essays I wrote, right from my primary school days through to the senior high level. There are significant times I vividly remember in my school life, where I’ve been complimented for my writing many times, but didn’t think much of it myself—sincerely, I thought my teachers were just exaggerating. Looking back now, I realize they saw in me something, a potential maybe, that I’d never realize personally, until so much later. I’ll tell you about three of those significant moments.
The first time ever I recall getting complimented for my writing was in primary six. I remember my English teacher at the time—whom we all called Sir Ben—asking me to explain certain words I had used in an essay I had written for him. Later, he read portions of my essay to the class and said he was very impressed. He had asked me to explain those words because he hadn’t expected that I would even know them, let alone use them, and so he thought maybe, I had not written the essay myself, he later said. I still remember that particular essay topic till date; ‘The need for every girl child to be educated.’
The second time I was acknowledged for my writing was not far-fetched from the first; it happened in my first year of Junior High School (JHS 1). Now this incident is kind of amusing whenever I think back to it. What had happened was after our first few weeks in JHS 1, our current English teacher at the time, Mr Opoku, was replaced with a new one. Right from the word go, we did not establish a good relationship with this new teacher as a class—him, we will call Sir John for the purpose of this write up. On his first day, he asked the whole class to stand up because he claimed, we were making noise and didn’t get up to greet him when he entered the class. Truthfully, nobody had seen him enter, till the time he asked us to get up. Something was bothering me—an insect or so, I don’t really remember what it was—and annoyed by it, I chuckled. It came out loud enough, for him and some of those around me to hear, but I had not intended it to. That was how I instantly registered in the bad books of this teacher and he hurled at me all kinds of derailing words that day, from stupid, to unmannered, to disrespectful and many others. I was extremely sad, and everything I said to my defense just angered him more, so I resolved to keep quiet and swore quietly never to like him.
The next day after the incident, we had another English class,—which he commenced by asking the whereabouts of the bad girl from yesterday, which everyone knew was referring to me and said he was looking forward to my essay. He then gave us an hour or two, I think, to write out a story on an unforgettable incident we had either read or heard of. It was after I’d written my story titled, ‘Ebony’s Halloween Birthday Party’ that this teacher’s impression of me changed completely—he would even apologize to me later for misunderstanding me during our first encounter. I became his friend and he treated me with respect from then on, sometimes borrowing my notes and essays for his other classes, but I still never liked him in return. Not that I’d tell him that at my young age, I just kept it in my heart. Yeah, because I’m a person who holds unto grudges for a long time.
The third time my writing gained attention, was in Senior high school, right from my first year through to my final year. My English teacher then, Mr Collins Boateng, popularly known as Sir Cee, was the one who made such big deals out of my essays. The very first essay I wrote, on my first exam, in my first year—it was on the prompt, “Write a story that ends with the words; ‘…what a dream!’”—is what caught his attention. He brought the essay to class, called out my name, and asked the whole class to clap for me—something I didn’t find enjoyable at the time, all because, I so hated the attention it brought me. He said it was one of the best essays he had read in almost 8 years of his English-teaching career. I remember sitting there and thinking, ‘Okay really?, this man is exaggerating’, because that essay had been a modification of my Halloween story from JHS, into the dream format required by the prompt, since I hadn’t gotten enough time to think of another story, after wasting so much time on the other areas—the grammar and comprehension part. But in subsequent years, I would come to gain significant recognition for my writing, from both known and unknown teachers and students alike, in my secondary school. I was a very timid and shy girl then—to a certain degree, I still am—so the fame didn’t go down well with me.
About some few months to my final exam (WASSCE), Sir Cee presented me with this flyer, about a National essay competition and said he was confident I could win if I tried. I must admit I wasn’t into the idea at all—at the time, I just was so keen on making the grades for medical school, I couldn’t afford any distractions (yeah, the Medico or suicide gang, I greet you all.) I put the contest off, till he literally forced me to write the thing, at the eleventh hour. I didn’t think that much of it, so I didn’t even tell my parents or anyone about the contest, when I came home for the midterm break. In fact, I had forgotten about the whole thing myself, so it came to me as a complete shock when I got picked as one of the twelve finalists. Until then, I never considered myself good enough to be qualified for anything, outside the walls of my school. I didn’t win the overall thing, but I did earn for myself, a brand new laptop and a plaque with my name on it, as certificate of participation.
It was the first time I had accomplished anything else in my life, as in outside of my usual academic terrain like good report cards, or good scores on a test, and also the first time, I sat in an airplane—it felt truly good and I had Sir Cee to thank for that. He believed in me, even when I did not. He’s still a good friend, an advisor, and more like a father to me, even now as I’m in the university.
That competition heightened my fame among juniors and colleagues altogether, students were coming to me for advise on how to improve their English essays and stuff, I didn’t know what to tell them. There were various times I would be sought out by strangers, to either review for them a writing, or write something for them. I remember being asked to write debates for the debater’s club, for my house, and for my class and also manifestos for people who’d come to me, because I was too polite to refuse, even when I didn’t want to do it. This is exactly why I had wanted to dodge the fame; you suddenly become this sort of benchmark, and while it may feel good to be acknowledged and respected for something, there’s no denying the pressure that comes with it, with not being able to live up to your name, not to to talk of the fear of disappointing those who look up to you now, like you are some genius. There were times I’d hear people’s description of me, in the most interesting of ways, and wonder if it’s really me they are talking of.
One particular instance was very hilarious but eye-opening for me though. It was one afternoon, after class, and I decided to wash some few dirty clothes, quickly under the dry lines before dining time arrived. I went there to meet two junior girls, probably in their second year, washing too and I joined them. No sooner had I started my washing than I heard them talking about me; at first I didn’t know it was about me, until one of them mentioned my full name and claimed fiercely that she knew me, talking of my outstanding achievements in the field of English, in a way I didn’t even know myself. She talked of my glorious academic prowess, in not only the English language, but other areas of my academic life too, and how I was so serious, always carrying books around, and blah blah blah to this other girl with her, I’d suppose was her friend.
And I was sitting there getting scared, thinking they’d turn and realize I was sitting right behind them, and I’d feel embarrassed and not know how to act, since the bar had been set so high for me. Her friend consented to her every word till she claimed I was dark. The second girl objected to that; ‘No, I haven’t met her but I heard she’s fair,’ she said. First girl now insisted vigorously, ‘No, I know her. I’ve seen her before and she’s dark,’ causing Second Girl to be confused. That’s when I realized none of them knew me. I swear I’d have believed First Girl too, if I wasn’t the subject in question: the fierceness with which she told her story would not make anyone question her facts. The argument continued till they turned to me for confirmation, First Girl asking if I was a senior, to which I said, ‘Yes’. Then she asked me, if I knew me, and I said, ‘No, I’ve only heard about her too. I don’t even know what she looks like.’ I wasn’t about to be like, ‘Yes, I do. Of course I’ve been sitting right here the whole time listening to you guys.’ That’d have been way weird. I couldn’t resist laughing when I returned to my dormitory that afternoon. But that incident also made me realize that I might have become more in the eyes of others than I gave myself credit for.
You’d think having gone through all this, I would have been able to connect the dots early on in life and start to pursue a career path or a program pertaining to writing or English, but the irony is that I never considered my writing as a thing I could build up on, or even work at to become a writer. I was in the Science class in SHS, relentlessly studying to become a doctor, because in Africa, if you are a good student, you are immediately adorned with the task of either becoming the family lawyer or doctor or engineer or something considered a job and ‘writing’ is not on that list. My simple answer to people who asked me if ever I was going to consider writing was, ‘I don’t know, maybe someday. Right now, I need to focus on my grades because I have to get into medical school.’
I’m in medical school now, third year, and until recently, when I started feeling empty on the inside, feeling as though I had made the wrong choice, feeling that there was something I was supposed to be doing that I wasn’t, did I seek out writing. I had become pretty depressed and unhappy, the work load was overwhelming and it was difficult to catch up. I became less and less interested in class and my academic work suffered. That’s when I rekindled my storyreading habit; a habit I had long dropped in SHS because I didn’t want anything to distract my studies. Then, I would read something and be like, ‘I can write that too’. I would rephrase the stories I read in my mind and imagine new lives for the characters—just like I used to do in childhood. Then I started dreaming of writing but never did, satisfying myself with the same old excuse of not having enough time, and needing to focus on my schoolwork.
I liked to think of myself as an aspiring writer, until I stumbled upon a particular video of my mentor, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, during one of my usual YouTube tours. It was a talk show, in which she was asked by the host, to give a word of advice to aspiring writers out there who look up to her. Her answer is what moved me to start writing from that very day onwards.
She said, ‘First of all, there’s no such thing as an aspiring writer. It is either you are a writer or you are not. The problem with so many people is that they nurse the desire to write in their hearts but then never actually do because of fear and procrastination. If you want to be a writer, just write! Don’t just sit and think about it. Write everyday. Write about everything; whether it’s about an event that happened during the day or an experience you went through. You don’t have to show it to anybody but just make sure you’re writing something. Don’t expect to be perfect the very first time you try, but the good news is that you can only get better, never worse. But in order to get better, you must first allow yourself to write as badly as possible, so you can see your mistakes and work on them. That’s the only way to become a good writer.’
Her words sparked a fire in my soul instantly, and I acted upon them that very day. I realized that for so long I had been romanticizing the idea of wanting to write, but never for once doing so, because I think I was afraid of failing, and I was using time as an excuse and procrastinating. I had had enough of the excuses! I picked up my little notebook and pen later that day to write and couldn’t get anything down. My mind went blank the whole time and I was a little sad.
I sought solace from an older friend, Degraft, also a very good writer and a medical student as well, who encouraged me to keep on trying.
‘Writing is different for everybody so you must know yourself well—what you enjoy writing about and what comes to you easily. You don’t have to be an exact copy of your mentors. You can learn from them, but make sure to tell your own story. I believe in you Liz, I think you can do this. You never know, you might even surprise yourself’ is what he said to me, during one of our many conversations. I must say that it was very good advice—one that I’ll continue to hold unto dearly in this journey of writing.
It brings me immense joy to say I’ve been happily writing for about four months now, although not continuously, but it is an accomplishment I take extensive pride in. My first story came as a surprise to many because a lot of those who know me now didn’t know I could write. It did so well and the comments I got after sharing it was amazing—those comments motivate me to do better, although they are not my reason for writing. The feeling I get whenever people compliment my writing never gets old. It feels like I was born to do this. I’m at my happiest, mostly, when I’m writing and when a story doesn’t go the way I had wanted it to, I become very disturbed. Thankfully, I haven’t experienced many of that since I started. But it’s all part of the craft, and I’ve learned to be more patient with myself.
The fulfillment I feel within is overwhelming and I keep discovering myself, the more I write. Also having created this blog, where I share my writings of creative fiction and nonfiction with you, my cherished readers, is a greater achievement for me as well. There’s still so much I don’t know about blogging and it is difficult to post daily because of my circumstances, but I always try to do my best.
I will forever remain grateful to Chimamanda and DeGraft for their generous words which inspired in me the courage to get started, and everybody who has played a role, in my discovering myself. I started last year, 2019, as this ordinary, tired-of-my-life-girl and ended it, a writer and a blogger. Whoa! The right decisions can indeed move us into greater and different territories. I have so much optimism towards this new year, than I’ve had for any of the years before, because I finally found my passion. I know I still have a long way to becoming the acclaimed and renowned author of the many bestsellers that I dream of, but I pray to God, to help me in this newly-found path for surely, it is the beginning of great things yet to come.
Thanks for reading this unnecessarily long piece but I hope you can forgive me for that because I wrote it with good intentions—hoping it could inspire you to also connect the dots in your life or act on that dream you’ve been putting off for a while now.
Happy new year🎉😊