There is a conception that creative people are different from the large mass of people. Though it isn’t always true, there is a great basis to the belief. Creative people do tend to be wired a little different from some folks. Therefore, when one is invited to a meet and greet featuring one of the most creative people he knows, he expects everything other than normal.
That was me when I left work last Friday afternoon to attend a meet and greet with celebrated Ghanaian author and writer Ayesha Harruna Attah at the Ama Ata Aidoo Centre for Creative Writing at the African University College of Communications.
The closest I had come to meeting Ms. Attah prior to Friday’s engagement was on The Writers’ Project Radio Show on Citi FM. While I was in the studio physically, she had a phone-in session from Senegal to discuss her upcoming book (at the time) with Martin Egblewogbe, the host of the show. Interestingly, I had not seen a picture of her before too.
Suffice to say, thus, that my mind was the definition of tabula rasa in terms of physical attributes of the person I was to meet. At least I could remember traces of her voice from the radio show. It had a potpourri of maturity and mellifluousness which had you hooked from when the first sound dropped from her mouth till she stopped dripping wisdom of literature.
The journey from Adenta to Adabraka was eventless apart from when I decided to do a regretful trek from Circle to the African University College of Communications. I repeated the phrase “never again” throughout the almost twenty-minute hike.
When I opened the door to the small office space known as the Ama Ata Aidoo Centre for Creative Writing, Nana S. Achampong (the director of the centre) welcomed me with his usual bubbly persona – big smile, firm handshake and pull-in for a big warm hug. After the pleasantries, he called out for Ms. Attah and introduced us.
“Oh, that’s all of her!?” A voice screamed in my head.
I shut it up quickly, replaced the look of surprise on my face with a smile and put my hand out for a handshake. She smiled back and took my hand in hers for a moment. We said a few things but I was too star-struck that I can hardly remember anything. The next thing I know I am signing a copy of Adabraka, an anthology published by the Ama Ata Aidoo Centre for her.
“I hope I enjoy reading your story”, she said taking the book from me and still beaming.
The next few minutes while I sat and waited for the commencement of the meet and greet, I wondered how God could package greatness comprising brilliance, creativity and overflowing grace and deposit it into such a small vessel. I did not get an answer before the event started. And I still don’t have one.
The interactive time was for about an hour and it was moderated by Nana Achampong. He first engaged her in a conversation about how writing started for her, living in Senegal, her writing process, her three books and literature in Ghana and Africa. Then, the was an open forum for members of the audience to ask questions.
It was an evening well spent. There was so much to learn. Here are my seven take-aways from this meet and greet with Ayesha Harruna Attah.
- Writing is a journey of self-discovery. When asked what she had learned about herself since she started writing, Ms. Attah respond with two things. She concluded that writing is what she wants to do. Also, she found that she had a thick skin. I have discovered a few things about myself since I started writing but the responses Ms. Attah gave reminded me of the importance of doing frequent introspection to find out what more things to learn about myself from writing.
- It’s hard to say whether writers are born or made. My personal take on the subject based on what Ayesha Attah said is that there is no need to focus on a question like this. “Anyone can learn to do anything”, she said. “It is how well you do it that matters”.
- Define your own writing process. Ayesha Attah has no writing rituals. At best, what she does is to make an outline/plan for her novels and try to follow the outline. Even so, she is flexible and allows the stories to take their chart their paths as she writes them.
- Nurture your own style. Every writer has something that sets him or her apart. It will take a while to settle on what your style is. However, in the meantime, nothing should stop you from being influenced by other authors. Copy, copy and copy until you find your voice.
- Read! Writers must make it a habit to read. But for her duties as a mother currently, Ms. Attah makes it a point to read for 30 minutes every day. This is what she told the audience when she was asked to give advice to young writers. Read. Read. Read.
- One way to deal with writers’ block is to write crappy first drafts. Just write. Come back later to it and refine it. If/When you come back to your drafts and you find that you have to forfeit everything you have written, do not be afraid to let it go. Trash it and write another bad draft. Repeat the process until you are comfortable with the final output. Writers’ blocks come from trying to be perfectionists.
- Ghana needs more published writers. Ms. Attah expressed and encouraged that if Ghana’s literature will grow more than it already is, more writers must get published.
It was a great pleasure to meet Ayesha. And it was even greater pleasure to learn these seven things and more at her feet.