The business of  writing

The business of writing

From the page to the eye, to the brain, to the mind, to the thought, to the hand, and back to the page again as written work to be read by the audiences that come across the work one has writ: thus is the cycle of learning and acting out reading and writing.

The movement is always a cycle if one is to consider that what one writes actually comes from somewhere, for the act of writing is largely influenced by what one has seen, heard, felt, smelt, or tasted. There is just no middle ground of nothingness in this episode that we call writing and reading, one influences the other and serves to complement the continuation of the cycle.
It means in short that one will read before they write, and the stilted assumption that there is some phenomenon called ‘creativity’ or ‘genius’ actually does not wash if one is to delve into the nitty gritty of the act of writing.

You have to have been influenced by some writer to become the writer that you are, listen not to the assumption presented in exclamations from the wowed bands of groupies that, “wow, you are so talented!” made without actually bothering to find out what went on before the work you pen actually came into existence.
Rested and non-weary for the moment, I have pondered on my own exactly what it is that makes a good piece of writing, that is, a work so good that any reader that comes across it actually comes back from the world portrayed in the work a richer individual and human being in terms of knowledge and understanding.
This is the type of work that suffices on its own, even without due accolade and respect given, a work so good that generations garner enough courage decades or centuries later to grant it endless posthumous awards.

The question comes: what makes a book or piece of writing so good that everyone can actually declare it a timeless classic? I think it should portray a sense of closeness real enough to the actual experiences of everyman in every era ignorant of the time it was written.

The Bible is actually one such work, for in it, the recordings of the events as scripted by the prophets and the apostles actually remain relevant with the passage of every era.
This is one of the reasons why it remains a close companion of every writer or exceptional individual that has lived. Such a book is the ‘Word’ because the words written in it actually never age, and the wise writer actually keeps it a close companion for reference on how to live and how to act out.

When the Stoic writer, Persius Flaccus, wrote the words, “Omne verum vero consonat (every truth rhymes/is constant with every other truth)” he was making an indirect reference into the actual nature of that which we often term as timeless. What gives an entity the quality of timelessness is its ability to remain constant (or so one should think… there may be more opinions on the fact) despite the changes in time.

Anything that behaves in a manner contrary is what we term as fickle, that is, it is inconsistent both in its power to stay in place and expression. The inconstant changes frequently without reason, and sometimes does not change even when changes are necessary to serve the demands of the moment.
The constant act in a manner that is regular, cogent, and actually sticks to the rote, meaning that what has been memorised is adhered to most of the time, and if there are slight changes, those are soon corrected because the new condition feels abnormal.

There are instances where the constant will self-correct based on its nature to stick to the pattern and the manner it is designed for, and should anyone try and change it, then the results may not be the desired due to the fact that the constant is being forced to do what it is not used to doing like it always does.
The really good writers of the ages often draw their examples and proverbs from the simple life around them, from the changes in the seasons, to animals that travel the physical and metaphysical highways of the world. This is due to the simple reason that the change in the seasons is a constant affair which no one human actually has an influence upon (except the negative kind of influence modern-day scientists term as ‘global warming’).

This means that the truly timeless writer bases their work on what is in reality constant and do not follow fashion. As taught before, one has to read or observe before taking the leap to write because it is out of those observations or readings that one finds the basis of their work, that is, the plot and the theme for the work to be penned.
Feeding on fashion to pen a work is similar to gaining influence from what is passing and will soon be forgotten (and we have seen many such types of writings that disappear as morning mist soon as the season/era passes), losing its relevance soon as the influence goes out of fashion. One should always set out to write what will remain relevant to different audiences as the years pass and ages fade into another. It does not however mean that those depeche mode/Fast fashion types of works are not necessary, for even nature has its mayflies that live only for the briefest of moments before they die out.

I have read Sekese, Mangoaela, Matšela, Bereng, Solzhenitsyn, Kafka, Camus, Gibran, and others over the years, and one thing renders them timeless: all of them explore the issue of the human condition in their works, and they draw their inspiration from actual events in the everyday lives of the communities within which they live.
By so doing, they make their works relevant to the local that is given new insight into the lives they live in their communities and the foreign reader is granted a glimpse into how communities different from his or hers live their lives and is therefore afforded a point of comparison on how they should act should they ever visit.

Writing is in itself a journey from the real to the imaginary, and sometimes, from the imaginary to the real, but even the imaginary gains its influence in the real everyday lives of the world.
There is just no imaginary entity that does not have its roots in the real, for one should think that what is imagined is actually a mental twist of the picture one is looking at for the moment.
This therefore means that what the writer sees in the imagined is actually a personal interpretation of what they (the writer/s) may deem the world to be in a different and individual perspective.
The work the writer pens is an individual perspective on the lives of the community or the opinion of the writer on the life of himself or herself. Communication means that we share the ideas and the opinions and the perspectives of the world to find the constant, the common points of agreement that render day to day living an experience geared more towards harmony than discord because the former (harmony) grants us enough peace to function at our optimal level.

Sometimes we do not speak, and even if we do, cannot go far enough to flesh out issues that affect us as a community or individuals. This is where the writer comes in to flesh out those issues salient to the aspect of harmonious living. Harmonious living means that one’s engagement with others leaves one enriched in terms of communication and cooperation with others.
One may on their own really not know how to interact with other individuals that are existent in their society, but a reading of a work that touches on these aspects informs them how to deal with the realities of living in a community or society.

That we shall have to share the common spaces existent in different communities across the world is a constant reality that shall never change, and we first have to know how to do it to render us competent members in a given community.
On the issue of how we shall be able to discern that which is good and that which is bad in the life of a community Kahlil Gibran gives the picture:

Go to your fields and your gardens, and you shall learn that it is the pleasure of the bee to gather honey of the flower. But it is also the pleasure of the flower to yield its honey to the bee. For to the bee a flower is a fountain of life, and to the flower a bee is a messenger of love, and to both, bee and flower, the giving and the receiving of pleasure is a need and an ecstasy.

We have heard of the term, Ubuntu that in its simplest form means I am because you are. This is the universal constant that has seen the worldly race survive to the present day where there seems to be a slight change in the pattern, with one side thinking it can gain without returning the favour.
This affects the point of balance, the constant that tells one they should return the favour after receiving some form of grace. This is the mentality of the age, and it can only go away if the world were not so focused on personal glory and self-aggrandisement.

The writer of the day should therefore be focused more on teaching on virtuous living than the debauchery we see flashing on our screens. The language used means that we have somehow lost the plot and also that somehow, we have forgotten the simple reality that we need each other to live in this world.
The reality on the African continent is that the languages we read and use are not of the aborigine and this poses a problem to whoever wants to communicate effectively in them, because their grammatical rules are not familiar. Those few that master the foreign tongue use it as an ornament of status and not as a tool of communication to better the lives of those around them.
This is one of the reasons that have led to the erroneous assumption on the part of the colonist that those indigenous languages of Africa can be phased out of school and a foreign language can be used in its place (because the children are taught that it is better to master English than their own mother tongue).

I have always wondered why I should master someone’s tongue without them bothering to understand mine, and the answer I always get is: don’t bother to learn someone’s language if they consider yours a non-entity in terms of usage in communication. Your language is the constant that guides your writing and should never be sacrificed for any other. Venturing out into other tongues for the sake of being understood or considered renders you the fool that thought they could be seen as intelligent on someone’s turf which they do not know.
Ngugi once said:

If you know all the languages of the world and you don’t know your mother tongue or the language of the culture of the community into which you are born, that is enslavement. But if you know your language and add all the languages of the world to it, that is empowerment.

The choice for us is between intellectual enslavement and intellectual empowerment and of course I hope we choose the path of empowerment.
I first learnt to read in my home language, and making the shift to other languages became a simple affair because my mother tongue became the point of reference when it came to the translation and interpretation of what I was reading and writing in those tongues foreign to me.

It meant that I could read from the point of view of the local into the lives of the foreign. Who reads into a foreign language using another foreign language stands a little chance of really understanding what is being really said, and this means that they shall always lag behind in terms of understanding. Africa lags behind because Africa reads more in English than it does in the mother tongue. China and Japan and Russia are ahead because they read in their own tongues penned in their own type of script.
Read in your mother tongue for it is constant, then you can write in another comfortably for the constant (the mother tongue) shall actually sustain your writing to the end of the book you pen.

By: Tšepiso S Mothibi

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