ON WRITING AND MORALITY: HOW DO YOU ADDRESS ONE WITHOUT OFFENDING THE OTHER?

burdened writerA BBM contact sent me a link to Tunde Leye’s recent fictional story, Bursting your Bubble. After going through the story, I was left shell-shocked at its daring nature. Other readers who commented also had such feeling. Some even begged Tunde to take down the post. In summary, Tunde left us scared.

It has been eons since a story made me feel vulnerable and open to danger! The story was about Lagos experiencing the menace of the Islamic sect Boko Haram. The details were too gory to be true and too real to be ignored. Tunde called it fiction, but it felt too close to home. Tunde’s audacity and courage prompted some moral questions for writers which I think have been begging for answers. The most pertinent of these questions is “how far should you go as a writer in passing across your message?” In attempting to answer the above question, I shall raise some moral or pseudo-moral issues which are not related to Tunde Leye’s story, but are relevant and should be prevalent in the minds of writers as they pen down their muses.

 

1.    WRITING AT THE EXPENSE OF NATIONAL SECURITY.

Would you write a piece that threatened national security? During the World War, we read of situations where spies who sent messages via whatever means to opposite allies were severely dealt with when caught. Some of these spies were journalists; some were writers. During the military era in the country, great writers like Chinua Achebe, Dele Momodu and Wole Soyinka were consistently trailed by the military dictators because the government considered their opinions/writings to be threat to National security. Even in the United States of America today, the FBI, CIA and every other intelligence agency are always on the lookout for suspicious posts on the net. If an overly excited writer crosses the boundary, he may as well find himself on the “wanted” list the next day. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. In fact this is a constitutional provision. But then, as writers, how far is too far? If you saw the vices in the society, would you do a story – to expose them – even if that expose of yours could lead to further disruption of peace? Or would you rather keep quiet, get eaten up by your thoughts and knowledge just because you don’t want to raise any (false?) alarms? How far is too far when it comes to telling the truth and living your passion, which is writing?

2.    OFFERING “BRIBE” INSTEAD OF “EXPLANATION” TO YOUR READER

I was at the Police station the other day and saw this inscription on the wall: “Don’t offer bribe; Offer Explanation.” This was a moral inscription which enjoined suspects arrested not to part with money to police officers, but rather, with explanation as to what happened. In the literary world, authors are enjoined to offer loads of freebies to the public when launching their new books. Literary writers like Molly Greene and Rachel Thompson who work with authors on a regular basis see this as a necessity; Author and Speaker Ofili Okechukwu when launching his latest book, How Laziness Saved My Life threw a photo contest, asking people to send creatively “lazy” pictures of themselves and his book. The winner of the contest got a new blackberry phone. In similar fashion, Candace Walsh while marketing her book, Licking the Spoon: A Memoir of Food, Family and Identity offered free dozens of homemade cookies to each person who bought her book. Offering freebies while marketing your book is such a cool and effective strategy that I am considering doing same when my book Young, Wild, Free is out. However, I cannot shy away from the moral question of whether using freebies to sell one’s book isn’t a form of bribery. Authors have used this strategy to great success, but wouldn’t that amount to compelling a person to buy your book not just for your book sake, but for the gift attached? While book reviews would pass as “explanation,” freebies would pass as “bribery.” Shouldn’t readers be able to decide for themselves which books they want to read solely on the reviews, instead of being enticed into buying a particular book because of the gift?

3.    WRITING FOR MONEY

I know it is every writer’s dream to make loads of cash from their writings, especially when you are an author. But the truth is, not many of us (will) end up rich via writing alone. In fact, most writers end up utterly frustrated at low sales, years after their books have been published. Considering the number of sleepless nights we had, candles we burned, researches we made and risks we took just to birth our books, it is quite understandable why any writer should feel down if their books don’t return the price they paid. However, the moral question is “why are you really writing”? For the penny, popularity or passion? Most of us will be quick to say for the passion of course. If you are one of those, hold that thought yet. So you say you write because of the passion? If so, why then do we have so many frustrated authors? Why do you get pissed when you check your blog stats and discover you’ve only got few hits on a post you spent an awful amount of time putting up?  Why do you fume when you are unable to get corporate endorsements/recognition for your literary works/events? Why does it hurt when your short story/book doesn’t make a writing competition shortlist? In an ideal world, writing should be only about fulfilling a passion, birthing something unique, creating our own world, being a kind of demi-god. The best reward for writing should be putting smiles on people’s faces or being a voice for the voiceless or correcting a societal wrong thereby making the world a better place to live. Not about making money. But this is not an ideal world. Reality is that you must pay bills, and you need money for that.

So I ask again: really and truly, why do you write?

MY MORAL BURDEN

As writers, we face internal struggles each time we put pen to paper. I cannot discuss all of these in this post. In my forthcoming book, Young, Wild, Free I have been struggling seriously with a certain conflict. The nature of the book I am writing would entail me talking about my experiences on certain absurd topics affecting young people like myself. I know telling my story would help thousands of people out there, but I am always afraid of making my life a public record. I sometimes glean inspiration from people like Linda Ikeji, Oprah Winfrey and recently, Angelina Jolie who freely talk about their tough experiences without any guilt of some sort. But that is them. This is me. They are brave. I want to be brave. This is one heavy moral burden on my chest as I write this book. Can I lift it off? As a writer, what moral issues/questions are you regularly faced with and how do you manage them?

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