On Becoming The Writer


So, this week, I was crowned The Writer at TNC’s Pan-African online writing contest that spanned 4 weeks, writing stories following predetermined themes each week.

Do I feel any different? Yes. And, no.

The contest came at a terrible time for me. I had an exam to write and design classes to keep up with. I was spearheading a major project at work and slush-reading for a smaller competition at WAW. I had orders to see to at my design agency. I read books for review, wrote revisions for a considered story and wrote outlines for upcoming submissions.

Plate. Full.

I almost dropped out. Felt it wasn’t worth the stress. But then TNC moved so fast, put my name up on the site and everything, so I said, Oh well, might as well. Plus, my sister said, Go. If you don’t want the money, win it and give them my account details.

It wasn’t about the money, really. I didn’t even think about what I would spend it on if I won (I’m spending it on fiction writing classes at NYC’s Gotham–take that TNC Ladybot). I think, mostly, I wanted–needed–to remind myself that I was better than I was in 2014, when I was runner up in this same contest.

Oh, I didn’t mention that earlier? My bad.

The Competition

Anyway, so I took on each challenge as it came. Week 1: Romance/love. One of my weakest points because I can almost never write about it in isolation; it’s usually a sub-plot for me. Also because I find it hard to focus on such an emotion that’s so difficult to fit in a box. I had a go at it. It wasn’t perfect, but it was presentable. The judges let me pass.

Week 1 take-away: Some people will hate your story. It will touch and move some. And if your aim is to touch and move some, you’ve succeeded.

By week 2, I was already tired. Too tired to cook up something new for Political Drama. So I took an old story and refurbished it. But with each line I turned inside-out, I discovered how the story could change, become another animal, be better. That these stories were no longer mine, but different entities existing all by themselves, and I, only lucky to have found them.

Week 2 take-away: The story is bigger than you, the author. Do your part and get out of the way.

I had memories of how I failed terribly at comedy in the last competition. So I told myself, “Whatever we’re given this week, I’m writing something fun.” So when Speculative was presented as the theme for week 3, I was like, How on earth am I going to be funny AND speculative? Well, I went for the most obvious thing: being Nigerian. I’ve always agreed that Nigerians are a special breed, so the premise became: Nigerians can survive anywhere, even in outer space.

Week 3 take-away: Don’t make jokes. Show the funny side of an existing situation.

Asking me to dig into my past in Week 4 and unearth something that has changed me was a tad worrisome, a place I didn’t want to go because of the sting of some memories. But when I settled on a choice, it was surprisingly easy because it was the main reason I was in this contest anyway; the one reason why I believe I can only be better, that I can only grow.

Week 4 take-away: If you want (to be) something, go for it. You might not get it the first time. Or the second. Or the tenth. But you will get it, eventually.

That was a fitting end to the contest, as that’s exactly what I take from this whole thing. I’m not really a “competition person”, especially when it comes to the Arts (I mean, no one of us 12 started our writing journeys with the plan to outdo anyone), so I barely saw The Writer as a competition. Through 4 weeks, I swam in the wealth of ideas birthed and wild tangents explored by other contestants. It made me understand that I’m only A Writer, nothing close to The. Or more appropriately, We Are The Writers.

On Authorities

I read once that JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter book got rejected 12 times, before the daughter of a Bloomsbury editor read it, liked it and asked her dad to get it. Said editor told JK: “Get a day job. Children’s books won’t pay your bills.”

The HP books have a combined sales figure of 450m, guys. Fastest-selling book in history.

Thing is, there’s really no authority on what constitutes the best writing. Good enough writing is as far as is allowed. Even better writing is a phrase that makes me cringe, because that insinuates that one artist’s work is more relevant than the other (it never is). By the very nature of art, there is no better or best, just what works for me or for you; what speaks better to my experiences than yours; what touches me in places that another can’t.


Thanks Wale Adetula, Wole Talabi and TNC for the opportunity; to Lauri, Titi and Tendai for your awesome and helpful feedback; to friends and family who carried my matter on their head and peppered my phone with, “How far? You don win? calls, I appreciate it; to all who read my stories and found them worthy enough to vote, danke; to the other 11 contestants, I’m totally indebted to you for giving me reason to push my boundaries. I hope we remain in the loop–the writer is a lonely artist, and one needs all the friends one can get.

To everyone else I’ve forgotten to mention, two fingaz mehn, two fingaz.

Final words

I’ll leave with something JK said once, when asked if she’s afraid to write more novels and send out for acceptance: “Believe me, I don’t walk around thinking I’m fab. I just shoot for writing better than yesterday.”

So it’s back to shooting for me, then.


2 replies added

  1. Hope June 12, 2016 Reply

    Congratulations Suyi

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