By Moraa, Created on 23rd Apr 2022

There is a certain degree of vulnerability exposed by any artist whenever they express themselves through their work. Anytime they choose to share their work with others, there is a little self-doubt that crops in. As an artist, your work almost always entails revealing tidbits about yourself. And since I am talking about myself in this essay, I am largely referring to writing. Whether they are aware or not, writers will often reveal something about themselves. When I decide to write about love, I am telling you how I love and want to be loved and my beliefs in love. I will use all the data I have collected from surveys, books, articles and interviews but ultimately, in there, within my writing when you read keenly, a belief that may be as opaque as they come, one can see those beliefs that I hold dear on love. When I first read Helen Hoang’s book, The Kiss Quotient I had a feeling from the way she graciously explored the theme of autism in the book, she either had a family member or a friend who had autism. After finishing the book, I researched on the author only to realize it was she who is autistic. Content creators, comedians, singers, actors are all artists. Some of us will be heard complaining how we dislike them for revealing so much about their personal lives.  Sometime back, Trevor Noah came forward condemning the harassment of Kim Kardashian by his ex-husband, Kanye West. It was a big stand that became a trending topic on social media. Kanye went ahead to racially attack Trevor by calling him “koon”. Urban Dictionary defines Koon as a derogatory term used to define a black individual who is anti-black and often acts against the black community. If you have read Trevor’s memoir then you know how her mother was constantly harassed and physically attacked by her ex-husband. Trevor was a witness to all these injustices perpetrated against her mother. When he publicly defends Kim like that, he is revealing something about his life. Art is personal. Writing is personal


Same thing applies with fiction books. There is no book that is 100% fiction. In there somewhere, a writer reveals something about themselves. It can be as mundane as how the main character likes her coffee or tea. It could be a writer saying how much she fears snakes. I will write about motherhood because I am a mother and I have two or three things that are unique in my parenting. Writers write what they are conversant with. So, for a long time, I was afraid of sharing my work with the people -friends, colleagues, family and college mates- who knew me. I was afraid they could either see themselves in my stories or they could know parts of me that were hidden from them. Each time I wrote a piece I wondered if it came out as too personal. And often times, I felt it was too personal and I shelved it. I envied writers like Bett and Magunga who boldly wrote about themselves. When my first blog started getting attraction from my friends, I quickly deleted it.  The name of this blog, theculturedreader.com makes it impossible to pinpoint its creator. Anonymity and mysteriousness are what I desired to be associated with the most.  


Lately, I have been reading a number of writing memoirs by writers I admire. Allow me to share one long passage from Elana Ferrante’s speech.


“Anyone who has literary ambitions knows that motivations, both great and small, that impel the hand to write come from “real life”: the yearning to describe the pain of love, the pain of living, the anguish of death; the need to straighten the world that is crooked; the search for a new morality that will reshape us; the urgency to give voice to the humble, to strip away power and its atrocities; the need to prophesy disasters but also to design happy worlds to come from there. One morning something may shift inside me, maybe just a wrong that was done to my mother, and the “I” looks out, dying to write, and I start putting down the first lines of a story. Immediately a long tradition made up of other’s stories crowds around, stories that have moved or angered me, that resemble mine, not to mention the language of books, newspapers, films, television, songs, or a pile of tricks good for pushing “real life” into writing.”

Hear me out, everything I desire to write is real life. I can’t run away from it even if I wanted. For me to build the required muscles to share me thoughts with you dear reader, then I ought to be comfortable with writing real life. And real life will always be influenced my life, my family’s life, the series I watch, the strangers I meet every day, the places I visit, the mistakes I make, the decisions I make, the people I hurt and those that hurt me back, my failures, my wins, my strengths. I write a lot about work and work environments and work systems because my thoughts on work are unbridled. I am continuously questioning the way work has been presented to us.

Why now? I have accepted that everything I choose to write in one way or another will perpetually be influenced by all that happens within me and around me. Every piece I write, I am revealing something about myself. When it comes to the confidence to share my writing with those who personally know me, my confidence is under construction and probably, it always will be. But I have layered the foundation.


Last year in November, a colleague recommended me for a writing job that could pay me kshs 80,000. The client requested for a sample of my work; and since I had deleted my first blog, I sent him some of the writing that has been taking up space in my laptop that has never seen the light of the internet or anyone really. He replied saying, “You are the right person for this job. I like the way you capture raw emotions in your work. You are a deep person”


 Now, this is the kind of feedback is good for my ego. He validated my writing and rawness. Being paid to write was exciting and nice but the real joy was in the validation.


To be called deep is a label that no longer surprises me. My friends and colleagues and family and sometimes strangers have often said the same. In not so many words they will say: you feel deeply, you are too much of a thinker, you are a serious person, the books you read are too philosophical, do you ever do light reads? Heck! even your writing is deep. These comments often come out as negative. Or maybe it is me who takes them with a grain of salt. I longed for the day I could be described anything but deep. I attended Biko’s masterclass in 2018.  There are writers in our class whose work was a little bit of nuanced, uneven, unalike. Their writing felt opaque to many.  Yet, as I read their work, I connected with it. Understanding what they wrote came easily to me. So, when some members suggested that writers should try and be straight forward -essentially show and tell- with their writing I was quick to point out that there are writers who will never take that route. And this kind of nuanced writing, eventually found its readers, consumers. By the end of the class, I was nick named that deep person. In one day, them, strangers were calling me deep.


Why now? I have accepted this label, deep person. Whether I write deeply or not, there is an audience out there that will connect with my deepness. I am not interested in scratching just the surface. Surface to me, is basic and boring and inadequate. I am no longer afraid to go as deep as I want on any topic. I will tire only after I have reached the very deep of the deepest. It is in deepness that I find my solace.


Last week I had a chance to speak to a career coach from Better Up. It was a free session and I wanted to hear what a career coach had to say about my fear of receiving feedback, both negative and positive from my readers, particularly my friends. If it is positive, then I will assume my friends want to make me feel good. There is no way they can be genuine. Also, it is hard for a friend to openly critique you. And when I insist that a friend has to give me her feedback then I am essentially putting her on a pedestal. If it is negative feedback, then I am worried that I have hurt people by my words yet that wasn’t my intent. Every writer has a rule that guides them. It is more like their writing compass. My rule is; always aspire to write from a place of care and sensitiveness and gentleness and kindness. If I end up hurting someone by my words what then do I do? And negative feedback has a way of messing up a writer’s confidence. During the Biko’s masterclass one of my writings was rated 4/10. A piece I had worked on for a whole darn week. After the masterclass I didn’t write for four months. Hehehe… my writing ego was seriously bruised by that score. Yet, every writer that wants to be great depends on genuine feedback to make their craft better. Kristie, my coach was quick to remind me that different people hold different beliefs from me depending on their culture, the cities they live in, the people they interact with, the kind of information they consume, the way they think. Whether I write with utmost care, I can’t control the way others react. Her sentiment is echoed by Margaret Atwood, “You can’t exist as a writer for very long without learning that something you write is going to upset someone, sometime, somewhere”


The need within me to find at least three people that I trust to critique my work is keeping me restless. One way of getting these people is by putting my work out there. As I scroll through the comments, I will be able to tell whose comments have more to say. I don’t shy away from those who hold different views from mine particularly on topics I am most passionate about like work, psychology, money and writing. When you can back up your ideas by research and data, I will want to listen to you. And for the love of liberalism, don’t try to change me to think like you. As I like to say; two different ideas can both be true. It is not one or the other. It isn’t black or white.


This essay will not be complete without my confession of never imagining myself as a writer. What instead I did was read a lot and widely. I liked most the crime and investigative books. And for some time, I entertained the idea of becoming a forensic scientist. I was never even good in the English language. But I remember borrowing other classmates’ essays that were well written and see if I could learn to write like them. I could read a book and after finishing it, I could challenge myself to write a story that was as compelling as the one I had read using all the similes and personifications I could remember from the book. Now I understand what I was doing was imitation. My motivation at that time was to improve my English and better my grades. Only once in primary school and once in high school did my teachers suggest others to read my work. That caught me unaware and the impression I had of my own writing and to a large extent my inadequacies of the English language kept me from sharing my essays with my classmates. You see, my own insecurities of sharing my work started a long time ago.  After I had done my KCSE, I don’t remember ever writing but I continued to read.


Then in first year of college, I read about Savvy Kenya’s blog on the daily nation. Newspapers were my college love. I read all her posts within a week. Afterwards, I thought to myself, I can write like this. I created my first blog, nyabutivale.wordpress.com and started writing. There are so many unspoken and spoken rules about writing. You will be told you need to develop your own style and tone and voice. I don’t think I had any. I don’t think I had a writing talent. And for the sake of honesty, for a long time I didn’t know why I wrote. It is in my mid-twenties that it occurred to me; I want to one day write a book. I read Grit by Angela Duckworth and the whole book emphasized the importance of hard work, discipline, perseverance in becoming the best. She interviewed top athletes, writers, scientists and what they all said was that they immensely enjoyed what they did for a living and woke up each day with the need to improve their yesterday’s score. Angela, using her research proved that talent mattered only to a certain point. Grit is what matters and will always matter. Anybody can cultivate grit. I like Angela Duckworth a lot because to a big extent she made me see the possibility of being a writer despite the lacking in talent.


Why now? I have an uncontrollable need to write whether I have talent or not. I love writing and I am in the process of making it my career. I have the discipline to be a better writer. I have reached the point where I wake up, read my yesterday’s work, cringe at my awfulness and still proceed to see if I can come up with a better draft. Sometimes if I am lucky, I produce work that I want to re-read and proud to share and sometimes when I am not so lucky, I produce average writing.