Everyone has a story to tell, and writers are not an exception. Writing is an art in which the artist requires constant development, so here is a guest post by Shoola Oyindamola; a remarkable and beautiful young lady, writer, blogger and poet on how she challenged herself to be better. I know as you read on you’ll be inspired.☺
MY DEVELOPMENT AS A WRITER AND HOW I CHALLENGED MYSELF
I started writing poetry around 2013 when I was in secondary school in Nigeria. I was in the art class, which means that I took subjects related to literature, fine art, and government, to mention a few. As an art student, interpreting and giving my perspective or review of whatever I read or saw was an essential part of my development. Around that time, I was not particularly curious enough to read because the books we were instructed to read as art students were very boring. We read a lot of old and foreign books and I could not relate to their content. We read “The Old Man and The Sea” by Ernest Hemmingway and “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding.
Additionally, I had no purpose or intentions for my writings. I just wanted to write. I remember having a notebook where I constantly wrote all my ideas. Then, when I wanted to write a poem, I would write a list of words that I could use in the poem for inspiration. I also loved to use rhymes whether they looked good or not.
Upon immigrating to America in 2014, my perspective of my writings and poetry, changed. Through social media platforms like Instagram, I slowly became exposed to various types of writings from different parts of the world. I was particularly intrigued by the creativity that many writers displayed on Instagram. I saw poems that broke out of rules and expectations that I held about writing.
I started posting my poems on Instagram and the numbers of followers that I had increased. Looking back, I wonder how people fell in love with the terrible poems that I wrote. Despite the comments and likes that I received on my works, I was unsatisfied with how I wrote and what I wrote. I wanted to try something different. I deleted all my social media accounts around February 2015, and I took a break of about 6 months. During the social media break, I read books. I did not necessarily fall in love with the books that I read within that period but they satisfied my desire for something different.
In 2015, I published my first book titled Heartbeat; a collection of poems. This book contains poems that I wrote at the end of my high school education and throughout my pre-college education (also known as the A-Level). While in A-Level, I read Wilfred Owen’s collection of poems, Chimamanda Adiche’s Half of a Yellow Sun, and excerpts from different books. When my literature teacher at that time; Mr. Aniga, read the manuscript of Heartbeat, and wrote a blurb for it. He wrote;
“This teenage poet has produced verses much older than her age. Oyin Shoola now wears the toga of Chimamanda Adichie; but in her case, poetry.”
I did not fully comprehend what he saw when he gave that comment but I was searching for this Oyin that he wrote about, in my heart. It was a deliberate but unconscious process of self-discovery and I remember, when it was time for me to find a cover to Heartbeat, I searched for a fierce looking woman. The cover has very little to do with the book but it was a sign of my becoming. I desired courage, strength, and change. With half-baked knowledge about feminism, I also proclaimed the title “feminist.”
In 2016, through a career development program; America Needs You, I met a girl who loves reading. Her name is Rupa. She encouraged me to purchase Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey. While being hesitant, I read almost everythinug I could find about Rupi Kaur on the internet before purchasing Milk and Honey. I read Milk and Honey on August 3, 2016 and it was the first collection of poems that I ever fell in love with, genuinely. In Milk and Honey, Rupi Kaur was fierce and bold and unapologetic but in a soft way. This book changed my perception of book reading and poetry writing. It also impacted my perception as a woman. I did not need to pretend to understand Rupi Kaur’s poems because I understood them. That day, I challenged myself to read a certain amount of books before the year ended. I searched for books with similar themes and styles like Rupi Kaur’s works. I also searched for top 10 Nigerian poetry collections. I read from Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay, to Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti, to Mad Woman by Kat Savage to Knots by R.D Liang, to Your Father Walks Like a Crab by Tolu Akinyemi, to Clinical Blues by Dami Ajayi, to The Poet Lied by Odia Ofeimun, to I am Memory by Jumoke Verissimo, and so much more. At some point purchasing books did not feel like I was spending money, although I had a reasonable budget, it felt like a worthy investment.
In 2016, I realized one very important thing;
“I do not hate books or dislike reading. I just need to find books that are in line with my passion and interests, and books that I can relate too. I told myself that I need to read books that I love.”
This discovery also made me challenge the education and syllabus of “Literature in English,” especially for secondary school students in Nigeria. We do not have a healthy amount of good and interesting books available to Nigerian teenagers in the Literature classrooms. We have a tiny percentage of literature books written by Nigerians that are available to students. I remember in secondary school, for Biology, Government, Mathematics, Fine art, Economics and other subjects, we used textbooks written by Nigerians and we enjoyed them to some extent because they were written in ways that we could relate with. For Literature it was different. We had to shove Shakespeare down our throats and some other foreign books. It made many of us who were in the literature class dislike reading.
I seized the opportunity that I had from immigrating, to read a lot and I developed the habit of having a book in my bag every day before leaving the house. My favorite place and time to read is during transit, in the train or in the bus. I paid more attention to my reading and when I wrote, I did not bother to make my works perfect. I just wrote and kept whatever I wrote somewhere. By the end of the year; 2016, I gathered all the pieces of poetry, quotes, and short stories that I had tucked in one place or another and I started typing them. I realized that I had written a book, and it was unlike anything that I had ever written. It was different, it was creative. I was able to play around with the words and with the ideas that I presented. Reading books made it easier for me to look past my former perspectives of poetry. I developed creatively within a short period of time because I challenged myself to read the books that I loved.
This was how my second book, To Bee a Honey came to place. Another important thing that I did was to constantly seek feedback from close friends who were readers and writers, and who cared about poetry. I keep a circle of friends who are honest with their opinions concerning what I write. About 15 people read the original manuscript of To Bee a Honey before it was published in August 2017, so you can imagine how much constructive feedback I got. I was very vulnerable and flexible to change for better.
Looking back now, I learned that as a writer, I am in the position to direct the growth of my writings. I learned how to challenge myself to be better. When I master something about writing and I get so good at it, I ask myself, what is next? Where else do I need improvement? I learned that being a writer is a lifelong process and there is always space for improvement.
Oyindamola Shoola was born and raised in Ibadan, Nigeria but she currently resides in New York, USA. She is a poet, a blogger, a book reviewer, and the author of two books. Her first book titled Heartbeat, was published in 2015 and her second book titled To Bee a Honey, was published in August 2017. Oyindamola is also the Co-Founder of Sprinng Literary Movement; a non-profit online organization for Nigerian writers. Her works have been published on literary websites like Kalahari Reviews and Black Fox Literary Magazine. Her works have also been published in anthologies like the Bronx Community College Thesis Journal and Eber and Wein’s Meditation; Where the mind dwells.
Oyindamola Shoola’s blog: www.shoolaoyin.com
Oyindamola’s second book titled Heartbeat is available on www.barnesandnoble.com and www.amazon.com
Oyindamola’s second book titled To Bee a Honey is available on www.okadabooks.com and www.amazon.com
Sprinng Literary Movement website: www.sprinng.org