written august 8th, 2009

For the writer, the pen is a paintbrush and the words are the colour delicately laid on the canvas. The words bring with them beauty, and sorrow, and laughter. They evoke the full range of human emotion and experience inspiring the soul to do more and be more, sometimes violently, sometimes gently. In this day and age, we have taken to the evolution of mechanism and platforms, using the keyboard and screen for the same thing. We may not know what the future holds but it is necessary to note that the means is not what is important, but the end destination.

At the same time, much has been said about the slow death of print and the gradual shift (some may say, decline) to shorter sound bytes. I say, the critical thing is what is being communicated. While we may be more and more visual in terms of how we engage with the world, the written word still carries with it a beauty and charm that makes the heart flutter, even just a bit, when it is birthed perfectly.

Of course, I may be a bit biased. I am a writer. I love words. I love playing with them like a child loves playing with clay; well, most children. Mine hates the feeling of the clay on his palms, yet will happily eat sand and roll in mud. That’s a conversation for another day. The sad thing about words is that, over time, there seems to have been this growing belief that anyone can play with them.

The distance from mind to page is a very short one and the setup costs for writers are minimal so it is often one of those realms that everyone has tried although it is not for everyone. In fact, there is nothing more painful than seeing someone stumble and fall quite solidly. And, for some reason, mediocrity seems to have become the new cool. It is one of those things that are glaring when applied to writing because it is so easy to lose that connection with the reader (hope you aren’t nodding your heads, mumbling “exactly, like how you’ve just lost us”).

A friend of mine recently shared a theory he has that seemed very apt in this regard. Basically, to be a writer, you need to be a thinker. If you do not process, think and engage with the world around you, the words you lay on the page are like the house built on sand. Easy to wash away at the sight of the first heavy rains. Once you have an idea and been able to flesh it out, the writer in you takes over when it comes to communicating that idea. This is where the ability to mould language to communicate thought, feeling and understanding comes into play.

Having spent quite a bit of time on the poetry scene (when we had one) over the last couple of years, one of the things we used to lament most was how so many young people saw poetry as a merely means to the spotlight. There was a point where, it was actor, kwaito artist, or poetry because the poetry stage is extremely accessible, especially open mics. When Joburg still had multiple open mics a week, all you needed to do to perform was pitch up early enough and ask to be included on the list. Just as quickly as they came, they left, as they realised that to pursue anything, one must devote time to craft. One must learn and engage with the world around. You do not do that and you will be seen for the fraud you are very quickly.

We do not interact with the data put before us enough. We take everything at face value without the slightest desire to probe beneath the surface to accurately determine what the situation truly is. I discovered that some of the best people for content producers in television programmes, especially lifestyle and variety shows, are often poets because there are poets who have a borderline unhealthy relationship with data. The broader the outlook and interest, the broader the content for the programme.

Our schools focus on giving us information; well, the basics, at least. It is up to ourselves, and our parents, that we also learn how to think. How to digest and dissect all the information thrown at us. It is even harder in this day of instant information and constant gratification, but it is necessary to explore all elements of your craft. And if that craft is writing, you need to be part thought leader, part philosopher. As to whether I fit into my own definition? That’s for you to decide.


  1. Danny

    Great piece.You echo words that every writer -established & upcoming,needs to to hear on the regular.Just to reshape his or her deforming focus.

    I’d add that writing is essentially the process of putting your thoughts on paper.You cannot claim to be ‘writing’ if you’re not ‘thinking’.Anything put on paper without any forethought is not written.It is of weaker value…it is scribbled,doodled and so forth(in similar words).

  2. Kojo Baffoe

    Thank you Danny. We often forget that, like many things, writing is a ‘muscle that must be exercised’ and, as you say, without thought, is merely just random words on a page.

  3. Matilda

    Very insightfull.
    i agree. typing words onto a screen feels as though one has made them somewhat less valuable,dull even.

    Yes, of course its an art.I understand that it requires a great deal of talent, but how do you know if you’re really good at it or if you’re just mediocre?

  4. Kojo Baffoe

    Thank you for the comment Matilda. As to how you know you’re really good at it or if you are mediocre, I guess it is like anything else we do. Honesty with self and looking at what else is out there as a gauge for how we measure up.

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