ES: What is your writing process? Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

UA: I suppose it is different for every writer. Well, in terms of rhythm, for me the best time is night. The worst time is morning. I never quite know what to do with mornings. If I had my way, I would sleep all mornings, but then again at my parish there is morning Mass and the other priests need a break!

The way I wrote these stories was thinking of large issues that bugged me and creating characters that most dramatized them. It was slow work, and I did not always know that the stories would come together. The most important thing was discovering that I had the gift to write, which basically, I think, is the ability to create a tangible desire/conflict on paper and leading the reader through all the emotions, excitement and heartbreak associated with them. Once I set up this desire/conflict, the rest of the story became trying to resolve or explore or dramatize this desire/conflict.

For example, in "An Ex-Mas Feast," the big desire, I think, for Jigana and the family is his education, something good, something the reader might associate with. But at what cost? Enter conflict: Maisha's prostitution.

Regarding advice for aspiring writers, let me quote here something I said in one interview:
"I have only written one book, and it took me eight years. I don't understand the process enough to advise with certainty, so take my advice with a pinch of salt, as they say: Do you love to write—or is there something else you would rather do? Can you put in those long hours? If you don't love the process at all, then quit. Otherwise, practice, practice, practice. Good writing, I think, will come from a good writing life. And I think, writing, as someone has said, is actually rewriting. Whenever I learnt something new about writing, I always went back to rewrite all my stories.

Again, it's a good principle to always finish a story, at least the first draft, no matter the obstacles; otherwise, you'll have a store of unfinished pieces. After a few years, ask yourself some key questions though: Are your stories getting better? Do you have people who can give you objective critique of your work? Are you able to create conflict in your work? Without a tangible conflict, the reader will not stick with you."

Do you have a question for Uwem Akpan or Oprah and her Book Club staff? Ask them now!

More on Say You're One of Them


Next Story