So, You Believe You Can Write?

As a recently self published author, I have often been asked what it takes to get a book published. It has struck me that there are many of us out there who would like to see our thoughts and ideas in print. I have to admit at the outset that I am not an expert in this field; I am not a publisher and until fairly recently, I did not consider myself a writer. In fact I still use the term ‘writer’ to describe myself rather reluctantly, but I suppose when one has two books in print, one can claim that title. What I am going to share here are some thoughts, based on my own experiences on this journey in the hope that it may encourage or inspire someone who may be a  “literary great” in hiding.

I’ve always had a desire to write well, without ever thinking of myself as a writer; but whether it was at college, University or in my professional carrier, I always enjoyed writing well, which probably stems from extensive reading in the past. It also helped that I seem to have an ability to master languages fairly easily and although I have only ever written in English, I am fluent in all three of Zimbabwe’s dominant languages – Shona, SiNdebele, and English. My comments will, I hope, help prospective writers in whatever language they choose to write.

Zimbabwe – and Africa in general (with a few notable exceptions) – has the distinct disadvantage of not having our history and traditions written down, making it easy for those with traditions of writing things down to foist their ideas and traditions on us and ultimately, dominate us. It may be late in the day but I strongly feel that those with the desire to write should do so, in whatever genre we choose, so that we begin to document our thought, ideas, history, stories and culture, among others.

But, enough of my sermonising.

Until well into my forties, I never really saw myself as a writer. People who wrote books, I thought, were much cleverer than I ever could be! In my late forties, perhaps because the reality of my mortality became clearer; perhaps because I had some stories that I needed to tell; perhaps because life was slowing down and I had time to think – whatever it was, I had this very strong desire to write, without really knowing what I wanted to write about.

After approaching a couple of people in the newspaper industry with a naïve ‘I think I can write’ and getting the rather discouraging response of ‘everybody thinks they can write; it’s not as easy as you think’, I shelved the idea for a short while. But the urge to write had somehow caught my imagination and would not let me rest.

Then life in Zimbabwe became more interesting. As we ushered in a new century, Zimbabwe was going through some upheavals economically, socially and politically. The much maligned Economic Structural adjustment Program (ESAP) had been and gone, an attempt to change the constitution  saw, for the first time in Zimbabwe, an opposition party successfully challenging ZANU-PF’s hitherto undisturbed hegemony; Unemployment, which had always been part of life in Zimbabwe spiraled out of control and so on. Then of course there was the now infamous “Fast Track” land reform  which saw probably the most dramatic change in land ownership in the country’s history. Hyper inflation, shortages of fuel – which let to the appearance of fuel queues and the ‘sociology’ of queuing –  shortages of cash and the resultant bank queues. I for one had never thought of any number greater than a billion, but found myself counting money in trillions, then quadrillions, the quintillions… we had agro checques, then bearer checques and we saw the demise of the purse and wallet as money was carried in trunks, wheelbarrows ….

So much to write about!

So I wrote: about queueing at banks and leaving without any money – or leaving with money that would  not cover the bus fare to the bank and back; queuing all night and still not getting fuel; about empty supermarket shelves and bread queues; about people taking coffins to filling stations so that they could be sure of getting fuel – I could not stop! Fortunately at that time, veteran journalist Geoffrey Nyarota  – who was the first person I believed when he told me that I could write – was running an online newspaper called the Zimbabwe Times and he was happy to take my stories! I was very excited to see my writing in Print – well not quite in print – until someone commented that they enjoyed my writing! That was not the problem. The problem was when someone responded to that comment and called the commenter “a cheerleader for mediocrity”! Ouch! When I finished licking my wounds, I realised that not everyone was going to like what I wrote so as long as I was honest with my opinions, I was happy to carry on writing.

I continued to write and at some point, was writing for a South African magazine called “Succeed”. They paid reasonable rates, but somehow, I did not enjoy writing for them. It felt too much like work!

The turning point came one evening, after one of our ‘intense moments of fellowship’, as my wife calls them these days, and we were not speaking to each other for a few hours as often happens after such moments, I sat with my laptop at our kitchen table and wrote a completely made up story about a guy lost in a thunderstorm. It was probably for release and I finished it and went to bed, surprised that it had been so easy to make up a few pages of pure fiction. When I read it in the morning though, it actually made sense! Fiction was what I wanted to write, and I have not looked back.

If I can find the story in my rather disorganised computer filing system, I will share that story on this platform. But let me end here for now!


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