How to Find Out If You Need a Vibration – Or Vibrator to Write

By Jennifer Emelife Chinenye 

I was in the staff room working on my pupils’ lesson notes when it occurred to me that I hadn’t checked my email in two days. My Android tablet had issues so I wasn’t getting email notifications. Putting away my lesson books, I switched on my laptop and looked through my mail box hoping to see what interview request had been turned down and which writer friend was sending me her piece to peruse. Then I saw it. An email from Writivism; Congratulations: Your Application to the 2016 Writivism Nonfiction Workshop Was Successful. I remember my head reeling as I read past the subject. I could have broken out into unrestrained laughter, but my colleagues were watching. So I held it in like a fart and excused myself.

In the rest room, I fell into hysteria. It was finally, an opportunity to attend a writing workshop. Something I had for some time yearned for. I remembered the sadness I felt when in 2014, I applied for the Farafina Creative Writing workshop and got rejected. I remembered the reluctance with which I applied for the same workshop in 2015 and the satisfaction I felt being on the shortlist, even though I didn’t make the final cut. The Writivism selection came as my redemption; evidence that I wasn’t such a horrible writer after all.

But people don’t just wake up and leave their country for workshops. Not with the economic situation in Nigeria. So after the euphoria of being selected died down, I asked myself: do you have wings to fly to Accra, Jennifer? And will you sleep on the streets when you get there? I could hear my mother’s voice in my head: ‘Chinenye, are you alright? You don’t realize how difficult things are now abi? There is no money now o. Miss the workshop. You won’t die. Next year, when you have money, you will go’.

I didn’t have to wait till next year, though. African Women Development Fund (AWDF) came to the rescue and I was awarded a travel grant that covered my trip and a bit of accommodation. You should hear me singing Who are we? What we run? We run the world. Who run the world? Girls! Women run the world and the grant was proof.

AWDF logo

Why the workshop? One may ask. Is it wise to travel out of one’s country, with the expenses involved (in these hard times) to attend a mere writing workshop? Doesn’t the internet teach these things?! I will say, yes, it is wise. And yes, it was worth it. The 2016 Writivism Nonfiction Workshop taught me so much that I may never have learnt on my own. There is the comfort that comes with being with people who have the same interest as yours. There is the exposure and honesty that come with talking about your passion and fears with people who understand because they go through the same thing; in an air-conditioned room, over coffee and biscuits.

The facilitator of the workshop, Yewande Omotoso, had said on the first day that we should be free. She was particular about each person’s need. What is it that bothered you most about your writing and what do you intend to take out of the workshop? She kept asking each participant as she took notes. Looking into her eyes, her natural short hair locks and her hands flailing, I had forgotten all the nervousness I felt. I explained my trouble with writing. (Richmond, a co-participant would later ask: ‘Are you okay, Yewande? I noticed that all through the workshop, you hands were never steady. They were always ruffling through your hair or doing something else. Yes, you just did that again. I’m just concerned. Is everything okay?’ Everyone had burst into laughter. But this is a story for another day. PS: Yewande is very much okay, please. An affectionate person anyone would love to meet and spend time with!)

‘You see, Jennifer, this is a serious challenge and you have to learn to do away with fear.’ Yewande was speaking, with her body thrust out of her chair, gesticulating, as if she was reaching out to me, as if she was trying to pull out the fear there and then.

‘I know. I just find it hard to go back to what I’ve written. I loathe my work after writing it.’ I was speaking softly, like a sulking child. Everyone would become a child before Yewande. She spoils you with attention (Do you know she got us apples on the last day? Farewell fruits; story for another day. Sorry).

‘But we all feel the same way, don’t we?’ she turned to the class. They nodded and chorused ‘yes’, narrating their personal encounters.

During the master class on editing, Yewande gave us an exercise; to write and edit an opening paragraph suitable for a nonfiction piece.

Fifi, one of the Ghanaian participants, the class comedian, confessed to writing only when inspired. Such an impromptu task would be difficult, he lamented.

‘Something has to vibrate in me before I can write.’ He said in his usual preposterous tone.

Yewande explained the importance of working through one’s work and likened writing to architecture. The actual writing is in rewriting, in editing, she said, and if one is not willing to labour through their work, then why are you writing?

Why are you writing, Jennifer? I asked myself. Same question I ask myself now each time I get overwhelmed and try to abandon a piece I’m working on. Same question that drove me to finish a 4,500 word short story I had long abandoned because every time I tried to work on it, I felt I was horrible. But listening to Yewande that afternoon talk about writing and editing one’s work, about ‘understanding the power you have’ as a writer, I realized fear was not an excuse. And to be a writer, I had to write. Even Fifi, while reading his opening paragraph, discovered he didn’t need any vibration – or vibrator, to write.

Yewande didn’t only share apples with us. She showed us a TEDx video of Elizabeth Gilbert talking about writing and insecurity and how to overcome it. She read a nonfiction piece by Ernest Hemingway. There was the discussion on structure and what constitutes a nonfiction piece. Billie, the vivacious one who lit the class with her accent (she grew up in London) raised the topic on vulnerability and the discussion on truth and ethics in writing ensued. Nana (the one who wore glasses) talked about threats from the Ghanaian government over her political writings. Chukwudi, the complex writer or Nabokov, as we nicknamed him, wanted to know why he shouldn’t write an encyclopedia for a novel and the antagonist, Ndi Charles was everywhere, opposing everyone while Vivian, diligently, jotted.

I may not be able to capture exactly how I felt during the five day workshop or talk about the connections made, but I do remember not wanting to leave when it came to an end with the International Women’s Day celebration organized by AWDF. I have great memories of the robust conversations on feminism. I read a short nonfiction piece I wrote on objectifying women and I saw from other people’s contributions, how similar the ‘woman experience’ is everywhere.

Photo 08-03-2016, 13 24 15
Jennifer Emelife receives a Certificate of Participation from novelist Elnathan John

I attended the 2016 Writivism Accra Non-fiction workshop with the feeling of a novice. When I heard some of the writers speak about themselves on the first day, I wasn’t sure I was in the right place, but I returned to Nigeria a confident African woman. Did I become a better writer? Yes. And more importantly, I know now why I (should) write.

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