An intimate and personal look into the big question that all creatives have – if not already – faced in their lifetime: their inspiration. If you have any thoughts about this piece, feel free to hit the comments section. Thank you.
I hold myself in high regard when it comes to banking on my memory and it never fails me. Well, at least it doesn’t when I need it to bail me out, like in an exam or when someone familiar bumps into me across the street.
Let’s take a step back
So stretching it as far back as when I began writing should not be a big deal. It must have been when I joined Class 8 (grade 8) in 2012 but the idea of it sparked earlier. I have been an avid reader for long and the Famous Five book series was my first favorite back in Class 5. There’s something about being engrossed by a book at such a young age that got me excited every time my parents brought another addition to my collection. I mean, apart from cartoons, video games and the occasional neighborhood hide-and-seek, there was nothing else that quite caught my full ten-year-old attention than books.
As you would imagine, it’s a huge deal moving from reading books to wanting to write them! Save for the schoolbooks I had and a few short storybooks, I had never encountered a book written by someone with a name close to mine or anyone I personally knew.
Once I was in Class 8, I began writing short stories which were reserved in a personal notepad and only for my eyes. These stories loosely borrowed their frameworks from the many suspense and crime novels that endeared to me while in primary school and also from an overactive tween imagination. I had neither built an identity nor a niche for myself.
Perhaps it was also because I didn’t feel too confident to share them out because of how vulnerable I would feel afterward. Creatives know all too well the amount of courage and selflessness it takes to let the world into your little universe of creativity
So for a while I kept on writing and stocking the stories up, throwing away some of them and filing some too. This was a secret I kept up for a term or so.
The turning point came later when I shared my stories to my closest friends. I begged them to go easy on me as I was only trying it out, not auditioning to be J.K. Rowling’s prodigy. Gladly, they did. I didn’t know why it was so important for me to ask them of that, then, but I now see it as the reason to finally let them know that it was not just a stint. I wanted to be a writer.
My inner voice
I graduated from primary school having proclaimed myself a writer. The few friends and classmates that managed to flip through my notepad of stories and whom I have maintained contact with to date are never surprised that I ended up immersing myself into the world of writing. I was really inspired by their comments, critical or not, and it got me thinking how I would ride on this wave of positivity to something even bigger.
I have always had a very loud inner voice. I usually find myself mumbling to myself, or flipping thoughts in my mind in silence. I don’t let these thoughts or mumbles dissolve in thin air though – I usually weave them into words, sometimes literally or subtly.
This inner voice has never let me down, and I can attribute most of my writing decisions to it. The first decision I made after self-proclamation as a writer was getting a laptop. At this point in my life, this was a definite step-up, a victory. My thoughts and mumbles were getting too copious for my little notepad – I needed an endless canvas of white. As I look back at it, I really relished having a keyboard and a screen in front of me. It was akin to a musician’s headphones and recording mic – it stirs you up, challenging you even.
Every single time I have my laptop with me in good working condition is a time to write. Do you have an object that sparks your creativity?
A meeting with the greats
I have been very fortunate to have met two colossal forces in the writing industry in Kenya during my days in high-school. To think that I would even cross paths with them let alone listen to their words of encouragement and motivation was beyond belief.
The late Binyavanga Wainaina and the veteran Ngugi wa Thiongo’ happened to grace occasions in my high-school and hold conversation about their careers as seasoned writers. Now, for a young and impressionable kid, this was what heaven probably felt like. Did they even know that their words were literally like manna to a wannabe writer somewhere in the audience? Would they believe that they were akin to national heroes to a budding writer like me?
I believe hearing from them at that juncture in my life when I was still struggling to put out my content was a notable milestone in my journey. Coming to the realization that it is not all smooth sailing to land your first publisher or to get your niche audience or to stand out from a multitude of writers with your own identity was the eye-opener I never knew I needed then. I was exposed to the bare truths of the craft and I taught myself to accept and reorient my focus accordingly.
I had finally met writers with local names and who were enjoying the fruit of their labor. I took it as a sign.
Is it enough?
Now that I have established myself as a writer, I know that a lot of responsibility falls on my shoulders to ensure I improve daily and that I find happiness in it. I have met a couple of naysayers along the way who discard the idea of doing what you are passionate about as being irrational. How will you make money off of it? What if your passion fades? Don’t you think it’s too early to know what your passion is? Will it be your full-time job?
All these questions are valid to ask, but not necessary to answer in a flash. I toss and turn thinking about the path I have chosen and whether it is really what I want. What if I jumped the gun? What will be the next draft, idea, move? Am I really that good at it? Self-doubt is such a crippling feeling and it can shatter the confidence you have invested in your craft. However, it is normal to feel this way for a time. The difference is how you react to it – will you crumble under its weight or will you use it to fuel yourself to do better?
I have deleted entire manuscripts that I took months to write because of self-doubt. I never beat myself down about it because I often get revelations of how I can set the scene better, or bring out a certain character in a different manner, or how to build up the climax of the story in a unique way. I usually resolve the self-doubt with doing it even better than I did, thereby not allowing myself to feel like a failure at that split moment.
It would be impossible to narrow down inspiration into one word because inspiration cannot be nailed down to one person, place, situation, experience or time. It shows up everyday, everywhere. For me, it’s a constant battle of trying to one-up myself and do a better job than I did before and fulfilling what I feel is my heart’s desire. Suppressing either of those options would leave me feeling as lost as I did before I started writing.
Having friends who are readers and who enjoy reading the content I put out has always driven me forward. There’s nothing more important than a support group that stands by you, even when you are going through a retched writer’s block!
Seeing my friends and acquaintances who are also channeling their creativity in different fields such as music, art, beauty, entertainment, food, nature and many others excel and find their identity within these fields has served as a major inspiration as well. It goes without saying that moving in a motivated pack makes you go farther.
I appreciate that we all have stories to be told using the many diverse avenues that best make us feel fulfilled. I wish you all the best as you constantly strive for excellence, purpose and identity.
There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside youMaya Angelou