By Lillian Tibasiima
The African Writers Trust(AWT) Writing and Reading Residency helped me realize that I greatly needed to improve my craft. Previously, I would start writing without planning; I would think about the characters and the story as I went along and I would suffer from writer’s block, almost all the time.
All in all, each session during the residency was engaging and informative. Here are some of my highlights from various sessions:
It was very significant for us to have a feel of each other’s work and to do peer reviews and peer critiquing. My peers read chapter one of my novel in progress `Waiting on Tomorrow’ and gave me specific feedback on character development, plot, voice, narrative structure, dialogue, setting and other elements of writing. Through this, I got great ideas on how to steer my work forward. I appreciate the input and observation from my peers about my work.
What stood out for me from the session with Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi was the importance and necessity of drawing a character sketch of all characters from conception, to birth, to their infant stage, teenage, adulthood, old age and date of death. She taught us the importance of character mapping, concentrating on all the necessary features of the characters from physical appearance to personality. I found it helpful to have a clear point of view before I started writing. Once I have my point of view clearly mapped, language and style will automatically fall in place. Her willingness to share her long journey from 1998 when she started writing, ‘The First Woman’ to 2020 when it was finally published was credible. For me, that was a relief and an encouragement to keep working on my manuscript with patience as I scout for opportunities.
The session with Okey Ndibe was very informative, especially about the narrative structure and setting. I learnt that a story must have form, theme, coherency and must be clearly planned out before I start to write. He clearly highlighted the fact that we need to determine what kind of narrative we intend to write before we start writing, whether it is a detective novel, mystery novel, in a way, determining what we want to write about will guide the story and the plot. Okey graced us with the motivation for writing ‘Arrows of Rain’ and why he tackled some of the issues addressed in the novel.
From Christopher Merrill, I learnt about the different avenues that can help me as a writer, the literature and reading material that is free on their website (International Writing Program-IWP) like the MOOC packs that offer interactive learning in creative writing and literature. I was also able to learn about the various opportunities writers can explore at the International Writing Program, University of Iowa.
From Mildred Barya, I learnt about the essence of a narrative having a clear plot. Once the plot is clear with exposition, escalation that has conflict and tension and a good resolution to the conflict the narrative will be easy to bring it to a heightened end. Writers need quality time to plot their story, to take care of the archetypes and make use of sub plots to make the story more exciting and complex. It is also important for a writer to tailor their language, style and attitude from the narrator’s point of view. I specifically loved the 20 minutes writing assignment she gave us, and better still that my writing assignment was discussed in the session.
The session on editing and publishing was very enlightening. Otieno Owino highlighted the importance of improving our work before looking for agents and publishers. Publishers don’t want manuscripts that are very raw and require a lot of work. We should always do a good job of revising our work. I learnt about the importance of having a literary agent to connect us to the right publisher as literary agents normally know which publishers are interested in which content. As we write our manuscripts, we should be mindful of translation potential, market potential, movie translation potential, publicity and some of the things publishers consider as they pick on manuscripts.
From the residency, I learnt to start by planning my story clearly before anything else, drawing a character sketch of all my characters and every single detail that concerns them. To write my plot with its plot structure. To engage all the senses of sight, smell, taste, sound, feeling, olfactory. Once the characters are portrayed splendidly and the story is clear, then the thematic concerns will be easy to decipher. I have learnt to stop rushing my stories especially rushing to put them out when they are still raw. Jennifer liberated me when she said there are 22 years from the time she started writing `The First Woman’ in 1998 to when it was published in 2020.
I greatly appreciate African Writers Trust specifically Goretti Kyomuhendo and Racheal Kizza for the wonderful organisation and the hard work and sacrifice made to make the residency successful. It was my first residency and one of its own kind. Hotsprings villas was the perfect environment to get away from the noise of Kampala to concentrate on reading and writing. The staff at the villas offered us wonderful service, accommodation, meals and hospitality.
Photo Credit: Fred Mubiru
Lillian Tibasiima is a creative writer, writing skills coach, editor and motivational speaker. She has authored, ‘All the Colors of A Star’, ‘Royal Diadem’, ‘Saving Love’, and has a forth coming novel. Her first novel, ‘Saving Love’, won an award with Quiet Garden Publishers in 2020.