Being a creative is easy. You get to lock yourself in a cocoon and create a fantastical world full of imaginary beings, wild, unlikely scenarios and color. So much color! The universe of the Creative Mind is capable of holding unimaginable amounts of joy, bliss and happiness.
The Creative can frame his/her world with sadness, sickness, malevolence and revenge. It can be utterly dystopian. People can live or die or thrive as the Creative Mind wishes, and that’s what makes being a creative so easy: the complete control you have over events. The hard part is sharing these concepts and thoughts with the public. The public isn’t always guaranteed to receive the offerings of the Creative Mind with the same exuberance with which they were conceived…and that’s a tough pill to swallow for many creative people. It took me many years to understand and accept this.
Once one makes the move from being a Creative Mind to a Creative Entrepreneur, you’re adding another level of energy and influence into your cipher. It’s no longer you and your creative world, exclusively. Your world now includes hundreds, potentially millions, of people! These people will pass judgement on your work. Sometimes it will be positive, and sometimes it will be downright depreciatory. An unfavorable review has the power to destroy a Creative Mind; because for so many of us, that review feels like a judgement passed on us as a person…not simply a reflection of how the other person felt about our work. So many creatives are incapable of separating a disparaging review from who we are as people. This is how dreams are killed.
(I don’t know who I’m preaching to this morning, but hear what I’m telling you now, ya hear?!?)
When I first released Daughters of Swallows, its debut was at my in-laws house to a small group of people. My father in-law ripped it to shreds. I spent the rest of the night in tears, my throat in a vice from trying to muffle the sounds of my pain at having been so thoroughly verbally thrashed. He pointed out everything that was wrong with the book (the plot, the ending, the amount of sex the characters were having, the typos!) and I couldn’t take it. Finally, my Aunt Wilma said something that blessed me and that I still hold on to today whenever I put my work out there. Staring him dead in the face, she said in a cold, measured tone, “LOOK. Everythang ain’t for everybody.”
That ended the assault on my book, and in effect, what I felt was an assault on my existence. After further reflection, I realized they were both right. My book could use some work editorially. I had paid a “professional editor” close to $700 to edit my work, only for her to add even more errors to the work than what I’d submitted. That was a distraction for the readers. And of course with regards to the sex, it was a novel set in modern Accra, where women frequently have to negotiate a sexual or sexually charged/motivated encounter of SOME nature on a weekly basis. I wouldn’t expect a 70 year old man to understand or relate to this, which made Aunt Wilma’s statement ring all the more true. Daughters of Swallows ain’t for everybody.
As stated before, it took me a good while to reach this mature approach to how people receive my work. Last year I moved from romance/thriller/adult themed books to try my hands at children’s literature: African kid-lit to be precise. I wasn’t seeing enough in the culture about little brown girls taking over their spheres of influence, or being heroic or vulnerable, or any of the unrecognized things the average child does from week to week. So I wrote Yaa Traps Death in a Basket (what I consider my finest work to date) and left it at that. I didn’t ask any bloggers to review it or any critics to give their opinion because everythang ain’t for everybody and I wasn’t going to go soliciting for criticism. Bessie Winn- Afeku featured it on HuffPo, but outside of that, I’m not aware of any online reviews. So you can imagine my surprise when I got tagged in a blog post from Girdblog.com, advising me that Monique Kwachou had reviewed Yaa.
She admitted on Facebook that this was her first time doing a review and therefore was unsure of the quality of her novice attempt. It was a glowing review, so naturally I thought she did a phenomenal job. But as much as I appreciated that Monique liked the book, she isn’t the intended target audience: children between the ages of 8-13 are. I believe Monique recognized this, and made sure to include feedback from a young reader in her review.
“I gave this book to my nine-year-old mentee and after two days- considerable shorter time than it took her to finish the kid’s version of The Life of Mandela mind you- she could recite her favourite bits of the tale and of course, the moral. In her words, Yaa is “like Cinderella but without the man”. I hadn’t even thought of it that way. But I had seen the simplicity and ease with which the author shared heritage without patronizing culture, had noticed the strength of the young African girl protagonist, the lessons of endurance, fairness, truth conquering evil, consequences of one’s actions and more expertly woven into the tale without becoming downright didactic. I particularly like how the topic of death is treated as an eventuality, not patronizing kids’ ability to understand.”
Can I tell you all how much this made my heart glad? MY reader got it. I wrote a particular portion of Yaa Traps Death in a Basket to show little girls that they don’t have to wait on a prince to come and save them or whisk them away from their drudgery. They can use their God-given gifts and talents to save themselves. That this unnamed nine year old understood and was able to articulate that means the world to me…and that’s why Monique Kwachou’s review blessed me so much. She connected me (and my work) with a the thoughts of reader and confirmed that I was able to accomplish my goal of evangelizing for African girl power! In my opinion, that’s what a top notch review does: connects all the dots and projects a bigger picture.
So in conclusion, I want to exhort all you writers, painters, designers, film makers, mermaid tail makers to keep at it. Not everyone will appreciate your work, but someone will…and someone is more than enough. You don’t need everybody to be a fan – just the ‘right body’.
Thank you, Ms. Kwachou for taking a shot at this and hitting it out of the park with your first review. Here’s to your long, prosperous career in writing and critical literary assessment. And if I ever write something that you think is not so hot, don’t be afraid to say so! I can take it (now). Iron sharpens iron, after all.
…But if you are too mean, I’ll come to Cameroon and beat you with my dirty son’s socks. Ahhh. Be warned.