You are not Self-Made

I was ten years old when I decided to become a writer when I grew up. I’d just finished reading a novel that made me feel emotions I’d never felt before. For the first time in my life, I realized the power of words. And I wanted to wield that power.

Many years later, I am a writer. But when I look back over the years, I see many people who have made me who I am. My mother introduced me to reading as a child and took away the television. The absence of the distraction of television made me fall in love with words at a very young age.

I joined a school in my Primary Five where the library was stocked with so many non-academic books and novels. The librarian became my friend, fanning the fire of reading even brighter, until I could no longer spend a day without reading.

My teacher of English at that school became one of the best teachers I’ve ever had, even though he was the most feared teacher in the whole school. He made me fall in love with English grammar.

When I scored a D2 in English in my senior four exams, my English teacher and I were shocked. I’d never scored less than D1.

My dad allowed me to use his business’s computers to learn how to type. When I downloaded articles on writing, using his internet, he allowed me to print them. I ended up with a fat file folder full of all sorts of articles on the craft of writing. Those articles were my writing classes.

My mum bought me my first laptop which I used to write my first book. A friend gave me my first editing job, then another, and another. Now I’ve edited numerous books, and I charge over ten times what my friend gave me for the first book I edited.

Another friend offered me a job as a copywriter in his company, knowing well that I had never done any copywriting in my life. For a full year, he mentored me in the art of writing copy for advertising.

There are so many other people who have come into my life and taught me a thing or two on writing. I’ve attended many writing workshops. I’ve met people who have enjoyed my writing and have encouraged me to write some more. The people who have paid me to write and edit their work have given me the confidence to believe that I can actually write.

That is why I can’t stand and say that I taught myself how to write. I can’t lie and say that I am a self-made writer. My success hasn’t been only because of my hard work and persistence. I’ve had a lot of help.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to learn that I am not the only one who is not self-made. Actually, no one is self-made. No billionaire ever made money without the help of other people along the way. No musician played or sang without the help of producers, musicians and coaches.

So if you’ve been trying to do anything on your own, hoping that you can make it in life without anyone’s help, stop. There is no quicker way to failure. You can never make it without the help of family, friends, teachers, colleagues, and one or two strangers. Today, be grateful for all the people you have come across on your life’s journey that have got you to where you are. Afterwards, look ahead, see where you are going, and determine to find people to partner with on your way to success. You are not self-made.

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On Pigs Planes and Pigeons

If you put a pig on the 3658-metre-long Entebbe International Airport runway, would it fly? What if you put it on the longest runway in the world, the one at Qamdo Bamda Airport in China? Would it fly at the end of the 5,500 metres? However long the runway, a pig will never fly.

But for an Airbus 330, all you have to do is give it a long enough runway and it will take off easily. It just needs at least 3,000 metres. At 1,000 metres, you might have a problem getting it off the ground.

What about a pigeon? This bird will fly off from wherever it is without a moment’s notice. It won’t need any preparation. It won’t need a runway.
That’s how life is. Concerning anything that you can or can’t do, you are a pig, plane or pigeon. For example, I can never be Michael Jackson. In that regard, I am a pig. But when it comes to dancing like Michael Jackson, I am a plane. Give me a long enough runway in form of dance classes, and I’ll be dancing like my bones are made of rubber. When it comes to singing, boy can I sing! There, I am a pigeon. I don’t need your runway. I can sing at the drop of a hat. I can sing right from sleep. I can sing at anytime, anywhere.
You too also need to figure out where you are a pig, a plane or a pigeon. Don’t waste your time trying to fly as a pig.

Only put your energy and resources to fly as a plane if it is worth it. And whatever you do, don’t forget to fly as a pigeon. That’s the best way to live life. Albert Einstein wrote, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Are you trying to do something with your life? Are you trying to write a book, learn an instrument, learn how to code, or find your way around social media marketing? Always start with what you can do best. That will give you the energy to tackle the harder stuff which need a long runway. But stay away from the pigs. However long the runway, they will never fly.

Today, ask yourself, what are your pigs, planes and pigeons?

Review: ON WRITING BY Paul KISAKYE

Kangye Writes

When I first read of the book online, I thought it was another of the typical how to guide books. The kind that goes straight to the point. One question that always finds its way in a writing related conversation is the how to question. How do I write? I Know what I want to say but I do not know how to write it.

My mind rushed off to the Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr, a book that the author references in his work as a guide of going about the writing business and all its details. William’s book comes off as a general book that does not address a beginner’s writing interests directly. Here, Paul labours to paint a picture of the entire writing process. This is key especially in a market where people want to see immediate returns on their book investments.

People write books for…

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Enemies of the Writing Habit

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If you decide to get serious about writing, I can assure you of one thing: you are going to be faced with a number of enemies fighting your new writing habit. These enemies don’t discriminate based on age, sex, race or even your writing experience. The first step in overcoming them is to recognise them for what they are. They are the main cause of the famous writer’s block, that disease which has plagued writers since the days of Charles Dickens.

In no particular order, presenting the common enemies of the writing habit:

Waiting for inspiration

In his book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King wrote, “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” There is that giddy feeling you will get in your stomach at the beginning of your writing. You will feel a rush of words flowing out of you onto the page. It will be euphoric. Don’t get addicted to that feeling. It’s deceptive. And it doesn’t last. Some days you won’t feel the inspiration to write. Write anyway.

A plumber might wake up feeling like he doesn’t want to fix a smelly drainage pipe that day but he won’t listen to his feelings. He will fix that pipe anyway because if he doesn’t, no one will. That should apply to you too if you want to finish your manuscript. From my experience, inspiration doesn’t do much in enhancing the quality of my writing. Whether I’m inspired or not, my writing is the same. I stopped waiting for inspiration.

Self-criticism

There is this demon which sees you getting seated at your desk to write and decides to sit on your shoulder. Then he starts peering at what you are writing and whispering, “That sentence is crap! Delete it and look for better words.” That demon might be right. It doesn’t matter. Don’t listen to him. In fact, shoo him out of the room as forcefully as possible.

As a writer, you need to be able to criticise your work and make it better before sharing it with the world. But not at the point when you are still coming up with the words for your first draft. It’s hard enough getting the words from your head onto the page. Don’t let the criticism demon make it harder. Just vomit everything onto the page. You’ll polish it up later.

Wanting to edit as you go will make you freeze. You will get obsessed with constructing the perfect sentence in your head before writing it, and before you know it, there will be a dozen sentences clogged up in your head, failing to come out because they are not yet perfect. Then you’ll start blaming writer’s block.

Procrastination

It is very likely that if you don’t write today, the earth won’t stop spinning. The moon won’t fall from the sky. You won’t stop breathing. If you don’t depend on writing for food in your stomach and a roof over your head, you might never face a life-threatening situation whose only remedy is writing. That’s why you can easily say, “I’ll write tomorrow,” and keep repeating it the next day, and the next day. Before you know it, the month has ended and you haven’t written.

Please, I beg you, don’t fall for this writing habit enemy. The longer you take away from your writing desk, the fuzzier your idea will become in your mind. Before long, you will lose the momentum you had created while you still had the inspiration. Your book project will then die a natural death. So many brilliant dreams have died at the hands of procrastination. Don’t let your writing dream get added to the statistics.

This is an excerpt of my new book, On Writing: A Beginner’s Guide to the Craft. To get to know more enemies of the writing habit and how to fight them, get the book. For now, you can get it by calling or texting me on +256771675754 or emailing me at paul.kisakye@gmail.com.

Happy writing!

On Writing: A Beginner’s Guide to The Craft

Have you ever sat in front of your computer, staring at the blinking cursor on a blank white page, wondering how in the world you are going to string a gazillion words together to make a book?

Do you develop a numbing fear every time you think about writing, yet the desire to write won’t be silenced? Have you turned procrastination about writing your book into an unhealthy habit? Or have you put together a huge mass of words that refuse to make sense even to you?

Then this book I’ve written is for you.

What you have is a knowledge gap. Reading this short, simple book will close that gap.

You will learn how to

  • define the purpose for your writing,
  • develop a killer outline that will make writing easy,
  • stay away from the enemies of the writing habit,
  • go about the publishing process,
  • and many other cool stuff.

On Writing is now available for preorder at only UGX25,000 until its release on 10th May. Afterwards it will be only UGX30,000. Preorder by sending mobile money to 0771675754/0704929845.

In the meantime, feel free to share your writing experience so far in the comments below.

Do it Afraid

I never learnt how to ride a bicycle. It is over twenty years ago, but I still remember the dread and trepidation I felt when I grabbed the handlebars of a neighbourhood kid’s bicycle. This neighbourhood kid was called Salim. He had promised to teach me how to ride.

So there I was, hands gripping the handlebars, feet planted firmly on the ground.

Salim talked me into trusting him. He said he would push me from behind and keep me steady. All I had to do was put my feet on the pedals and start pedalling.

I trusted him.

Until I realised that he had let go of me a long time ago, and I was rushing down the hill like a leaf in a river. I screamed my lungs out and held onto the bicycle for dear life. I was sure that my life was about to end.

I hit the kerb and flew over the handlebars. I must have scraped my knees or something. I don’t remember. But what I will never forget was the fear. It gripped my heart, making me swear to never talk to Salim, and to never touch a bicycle ever again.

Well, a few days later, Salim and I were friends again, but I never learnt how to ride a bicycle.

This story came back to my mind a few months ago while I was writing Rise of the Robot, Book 1 in the Tech Explorers League series. It was a small book, smaller than the last one I had written, but I had given myself the goal of writing it in a month’s time, a feat I had never tried before.

Three days to the deadline, I hadn’t yet written half of the book. The fear came back. It gripped my heart. I was four years old again, rushing down the hill on a bicycle that had gone wild.

The fear was so strong I even stopped writing. I felt like a failure. It wouldn’t be the first time I had failed, but I felt like one more failure would doom me to a lifetime of constant failure.

By the time the month ended, I still hadn’t gone past the halfway mark.

But then I spoke to myself. No, I wasn’t a failure. Just because I had failed to learn how to ride a bicycle didn’t mean that I would never amount to anything in life. Just because I had failed so many times didn’t mean that I would always be a failure. I love writing. This was one thing I couldn’t afford to fail at.

So I gave myself one week to write the other half of the book. It was hard. It tested my perseverance. My head almost burst.

By the morning of my deadline, I still hadn’t finished a quarter of the book. But I was determined. So on that morning, I woke up at four, sat at my desk, and started writing. And I wrote some more. I told myself that I wouldn’t get up out of my home office — which was really just a corner in the bedroom — until I had completed the book.

Seven hours later, I had completed the book. That’s the longest I’ve ever written in one seating. I don’t know if I’ll ever write that long again. But I finished the book. Though it was a week late, I never gave up.

When you start writing your book, especially if it is your first book, you are going to get somewhere in the middle and feel like giving up. You are going to see all the work that is yet to get completed, and the pain is going to feel unbearable. You are going to doubt yourself and feel like you have to right to imagine yourself writing down your thoughts. You are going to convince yourself that what you have to say isn’t important enough, and no one will waste their time reading it.

You don’t have to live that way.

Speak to yourself. Say, “I will not fear. I will not fail.”

Then go ahead and do that which you are afraid of.

No One Owes You Anything

My two brothers and I got a deal from our Dad in our last term of Senior Four: Work for him on a project of his as soon as we were done with our exams and he would pay us UGX5000 per day. We were excited at the thought of making money.

My brothers Cris and Tonnie were the first to finish with their UNEB exams. So they went back home and started working. I had two more exams to go but they were two weeks away.

“Come and work,” they told me. “You will go back a day or two to your exams and do them.”

But I didn’t listen to them. My friends were staying at school to wait for their exams. So I chose to stay back with them and play, watch movies and just hang out with them instead of working. By the time I finished my last exam, there were only nine days left to the end of my Dad’s project.

Cris and Tonnie earned more than three times what I earned. I won’t tell you about the ways we spent our wages, because that’s not the point I’m trying to make.

Working with my Dad that time taught me the value of a good day’s labour. I watched in remorse as my brothers counted their money and planned it out. I couldn’t afford to do with my money half of what they planned to do with theirs. At the same time, I couldn’t complain that I had gotten paid less, because I knew that I deserved what I got. That day, I learnt that in life, no one owes me anything. As long as I worked hard and put in the hours, I would get rewarded.

So tomorrow, when you wake up in the morning, look at yourself in the mirror and say, “No one owes me anything,” and go and make something of yourself. When you develop this attitude, it will give you the power to take charge of your life and own the decisions you make. Suddenly, you won’t have anyone to blame for anything but yourself. Because the truth is, not even your parents or teachers or circumstances are to blame. You create the life that you want.

So don’t be like me when I was in my Senior Four. Choose to work hard instead of playing and hanging out with friends. Choose to make something of yourself. Choose to create value. Choose to live life on your own terms.