Archives mensuelles : août 2014

Becoming a writer

I have an increasing conviction that I need to be writing; disciplined, long-form writing with a view to publication. The grass withers, the flowers fade, news articles disappear almost as soon as they are written, but books seem to last.

Running the marathon was a massive commitment. But a writing life will be harder and lonelier, and it won’t be as healthy. And after all that work, maybe publishers will simply judge my work substandard, and it will all have been a waste.

Is it worth even starting, when the goal seems remote, distant and uncertain? For a start, I don’t presume to think that I’ll be any good – I’m completely untested at long-form. This seems like a huge gamble. Could you train a year for a marathon only for someone to tell you that you don’t know how to run and never will?

Perhaps a few small things give me hope. I) I’m reasonably good at discipline, which seems to be a key skill for a writer, II) I’ve already started listening to podcasts for writers, as well as general cultural podcasts, III) I read a fair bit, though I’d stop short of calling myself well-read, IV) I’ve based a lot of my professional life so far on writing, even if it’s not in the book-length field V) I blog (though with frequent errors, I know), VI) I have a slight philosophical bent, and a touch of humour, both of which seem to work well in high-brow long-form, VII) my writing would almost certainly be focused on Ivory Coast, for which almost nothing exists in English.

On the downside, I’m not currently writing, and I never have (in the sense of long-form). As a white Brit writing about West Africa, I’ll probably be rather unpalatable in the very field I want to be a part of.

At least in the modern age, one can self-publish online as a last resort to rescue something from failure.

Just don’t start asking me how my book’s coming on.

On getting drunk

In the West, when you choose not to excessively drink alcohol, you immediately miss out on two things – getting drunk, and the shared experience of a (drunken) night out. You may think you’re only saying no to alcohol, but what you’ll actually be saying no to is bonding with friends, shared experiences, comradeship and adventures. You may be very open to the latter experiences, but you will have inadvertently said no to them. You won’t do silly things with your friends, you won’t both share trying to recollect what happened the night before, you won’t be there for the 4am kebab, you won’t find solace with your friends as you all nurse hangovers. You won’t be part of the collective pronoun in ‘Did WE do that?’ You may be dying to do those things, but in most cases the door will be closed. It’s like those who fight a war together, win a sporting trophy or succeed in a work project. Instead, you’re on the sidelines. In short, you will be alone and uninvited, and between you and others there will always be a chasm.

Leaving Bangui

I’m writing this on a plane over the eastern end of the Central African Republic. I left Bangui this morning at the end of my three month posting, crossed west over to Douala, and then caught this plane which is heading back over CAR at 39,000 ft to Addis. Then it’s on to Dubai.

I’m looking forward to getting back home, though tinged with the sadness that it’s only for a month or so, and a month filled with wrapping up my life and work in the UAE. Sadly that’s been the story of Dubai – somewhere where life has been good, but always only just starting, or on the long road to finishing. I sincerely hope my next post will have more of a sense of permanence, at least for a few years, and the ease of changing jobs when I decide to, not when I need to.

This plane ride is also a chance to reflect on this posting. It’s something I volunteered for and which I knew would give me valuable and interesting new experiences. It has done both those things, but trying to think about things neutrally I realise it seems pretty crazy to be paying incredibly high rates for a luxury apartment in Dubai, while slumming it in Bangui. Why do I do such things? Part of it is force of circumstance – the need to gain all the advantages possible in the transition to the next step. But it’s also about getting new experiences – another three months in Dubai would have been forgettable. Now in five years’ time when someone asks me what I did between May and August 2014, I’ll have a keen recollection of what happened.

I’m sure I’ll write more about leaving Dubai in future posts. I actually feel slightly bitter about it – though that’s probably influenced by nostalgia as I return there now. And of course compared to Bangui – life is so full of ease, luxuries, and freedoms.

The experience in Bangui was ideal though, and shouldn’t be unfairly tinged by a very stressful end. I’m sure looking back, I’ll see it as just what the doctor ordered – three months testing the water in communications. Taking my baby steps, and making mistakes there before I make them where I’ll be permanently based. It’s also confirmed in my mind that this is a good next step. Yes, on one side I’ll admit to being attracted by the financial benefits and the stability. But there are two other key things as well. Firstly, this work gets you a free (or rather well salaried ticket) to live and work in some of the most interesting places in the world. Secondly, I have had a feeling for a while that I had some skills that are not being used in journalism and that I’d like to develop and profit from. Key among these is team work and leadership – working on projects, motivating staff, doing things as a group, strategizing and building for the long-term.

At the same time, I hope I can find the time to work on other personal goals, linked to my journalistic life; improving my multimedia (particularly video and photo) skills, and working on my long-form writing (fiction and non-fiction).