The Price of Being a Writer

June 7, 2018 Opinion , OPINION/NEWS

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Abdulyassar Abdulhamid



When I first in January 2018 – as a fresh, hot-headed graduate – decided to put my ambition to be a writer into practice, I suspected that the decision would come with the same easiness as when I resolved to hang up my boots. Howbeit I was not up to the class of professional footballers, I journeyed to different places, I contributed enormously to the team I played for; and did play out of passion and at will. Quite different from what I experienced from that most popular game in the world, writing as an art comes with considerable challenges and responsibilities. It needs a nifty bit of sleight of hand to be accomplished.


Now, apart from being ‘writing, at its best’, a ‘lonely life’ as Ernest Hemingway said in his 1954 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, it is a never-ending tedious work that, may likely, sets a writer against his relations, family and friends. A writer trawls, like chipmunks or squirrels, all the available spaces, digs into books, including his mental reservoir in an attempt to gather information, and delicately moulds them as would a potter to add flesh to his writings. Still the question of where to begin lies in wait for him, whether he has ‘one true sentence’ – which Hemmingway has argued is the solution to the apprehension most of the young writers grapple with – or not.


One common stumbling block about writing is that it creates an artificial distance between a writer and his family. If he is not writing or assuming the role of an educator, informer or sender, he will be at the very gate of reception, taking the role of either a learner or receiver. Such is a continuous process especially at this early stage of watering and nurturing the craft.


If I, as a writer, ‘can never be alone enough to write’ as Susan Sontag observed, what should palliate this loneliness? I often ask. Of course, solitude may be central to many great writers’ daily retinue, even would-be writers; but one good thing about it is, as in a communion, one converses with many great minds; one asks questions and they will owe him no answer. Thanks to books. They solidly widen their readers’ horizons and put them some steps ahead of those who are never acquainted with them.



‘What is expected of a would-be writer’


A moment after sending one clumsy message to one of the leading Nigerian columnists, Muhammad Adamu, on how to go about nourishing the craft, he replied: ‘You can, my brother. You’ve the first thing that it takes – the desire. And I have a feeling you’ve got the second thing that it takes – which is the enthusiasm. The third is the determination. What you do to achieve what you desire will indicate how determined you are.’


Read a lot. Read widely. Read especially great writers. Write frequently. Get those who know to vet and guide you. Be persistent’. It is so strikingly compelling an advice: ‘food for thought’ if there is any glimpse of attention paid to this direction. From that time I have been piloting the street of books, papers and columns and perusing through their pages.



‘Writers’ Temperament’


First of all, there is something much more than knowing how to assemble letters into words or words into sentences. One needs to cultivate writers’ temperament. I still remember a timeless counsel I received. Then I was learning what a writer is and how he functions. After writing one infamous rebuttal against one bad-mouthed politician who is famous for ‘hate speech’, my principal and guide, Yahaya Umar, cautioned: ‘I think you should avoid being carried away by emotions or sentiments in your writings. Be cool-headed, calm and persuasive enough. Concrete facts and not insults or abuse should be your trademarks in order not to fan the embers of hatred in the country. You have the responsibility, as a good citizen, to ensure peace’. I had to, despite the toil of gathering the information I used in that article, discard the write-up. This has led me to some findings of what responsibilities a writer has and must reckon with.



‘Writers Have a Heavy Burden to Bear’


Beside possessing the ability to communicate with clarity or superbly creative mind or having a compelling message to send across one’s readers, Mr. Yahaya would say, ‘you are saddled with enormous responsibilities. Through your writings you can educate, comfort the afflicted and raise alarm where necessary. Writers, if they write with good intention, act as counsellors of minds and souls.’ I know that this his advice has been gleaned from hard-earned experiences and admonitions from some renown writers like E.B White who believes that ‘A writer has the duty to be good, not lousy; true, not false; lively, not dull; accurate, not full of errors. He should tend to lift people up, not lower them down. Writers do not merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape life.’ What exceptional abilities do writers possess to fulfill all the above?


This calls for a dichotomy between a humane writer and an inhumane writer. While the former writes to uplift, educate and caution the latter writes to kill. He is a jackal always at the bidding of the oppressors. His pen is like a sword, not a feather that placates the grieved, that amputates the liberators’ limbs and aids persecutors.


Perhaps one major difference between a humane writer and a fiendish writer is the difference between ‘politics of lucrative power and intellectual courage to revolt’ against injustice, mismanagement and bad governance, as Hamid Dabashi would write.



Will Your Writing Recognize You in the Dark?


Sometimes one feels the urge to quit, for the profession is ‘weighed under conflicting pressures’. On 13th May, 2018, I was at Hadejia Road to buy a copy of the Triumph Newspaper from a very jovial newspaper vendor, Malam Yakubu. I was busy flipping through the pages when one Alhaji, dressed in white and a golden tooth was beaming from his mouth, looked at me disdainfully. ‘What are you searching in there?,’ came his grumpy voice.


‘I am searching for my writing’, I replied without looking up.


‘You mean you can write? How dare you claim an article in the pages of a newspaper?’ came his second question like a prick of a sharp needle upon my skin.


I felt dejected and embarrassed by his impression of me. Perhaps because I am not tall neither big for my age that was why he made that abrupt and wrong assumption. I had to explain in the simplest terms he could understand. But since a writer should, ideally, be obsessed with what he fancies and ‘stirs his heart’ I felt the urge to deal with his parochial perception of what writing or writers should be. Perhaps it was the bicycle I went there on that gave me away. You know we are living a money-grubbing world, where people are judged by their worldly possessions.


Ultimately, despite this costly price a writer has to pay – the challenges associates with writing, especially at this digital age, when the army of falsehood and injustice are ever ready to attack, it comforts me to know that writing is a process of discovery and developing one’s thought. I have unlocked many locks of citadels and ocean of knowledge. From them I have taken some big bites and good sips – the service to humanity in general or to one’s country a writer renders is suffice to be the gain, since everybody can be great, because everybody can serve’, Martin Luther King Jr. concluded.





Abdulyassar Abdulhamid

Abdulyassar Abdulhamid, Kano based, is graduate of B.A English from Bayero University, Kano. He is a budding writer, social analyst, freelancer at Sunrise Language Practitioner (SLP) and regular contributor to Nigerian dailies. 
His writings have appeared in The Communicator, a magazine published by Kano State Polytechnic and in Dailytrust, The Triumph and The cable newspapers. He has a strong interest in literary theory.

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1 Comment

  1. Bello Sagir June 08, at 08:27

    Fantastic! Reading this "masterpiece" has given me an intellectual nourishment, beyond how food nourishes a serious hunger. Mal. Abdulyassar, as I always wish you, you are going far in this sacred intellectual sojourn. Keep moving high, as the "sky is the limit"!. As your writer colleague who, unlike before, writes these days only on and off, you have really inspired me to "ritualize" writing. A handsome thanks to you for the inspiration. more power to your elbow!


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