10: From poor writing to internet hate, and back
Afolabi is the co-founder of one of the companies with whom I have a long-term contract. He and I are midnight owls and this was our first point of bonding. We would later bond over being born days apart and making travel plans around the same time. Before all of that, we were just two men who were awake at weird hours of the night and would send slack messages back and forth. One such interaction went like this:
Afolabi 12:23 AM
Ah fancy meeting you here
Mo Isu 12:55 AM
lol go and sleep
Afolabi 12:57 AM
You're the one who is awake
Mo Isu 12:58 AM
so these are your prepared messages?
Afolabi 12:58 AM
Error <234%675> recorded
Lol, prepared messages? no
Mo Isu 1:32 AM
Afolabi 2:38 AM
Lol, so this machine did not pass the Turing test?
Another one of our interactions went like this:
Mo Isu 2:42 AM
when will your sleeping pattern improve bayi
Afolabi 2:50 AM
Looooooool look in the mirror and ask first
A couple of weeks ago, this was the message I sent him:
Mo Isu 12:32 PM
Hey midnight buddy. Want to be my mentor in this writing profiles kini. New territory for me
Afolabi 12:33 PM
Hey hey - yes defo!
I sent this message to him because I had recently had the opportunity to see his work and I had formed respect for him. I wanted his help. This newsletter will get to what became of this mentorship- but- before that. This is one of those essays that will go to the most unexpected destination and back. Stay with me.
Incase you are new here: My name is Mo Isu. I am an audio producer based in Lagos, Nigeria. I am currently attempting to build a career in audio journalism. I have taught myself everything I know so far. You are reading issue 10 of my newsletter detailing this segment of my journey. Read the about page for more
‘Mediocre writing’ hiding behind ‘honesty’
Before I start, I want to acknowledge that a lot of my issues feature me speaking to someone about a thought. I guess I am lucky that this is something that’s even available to me.
This issue starts with a conversation I had with a friend.
Technically, it starts with a thought but there’s something weird about me. I often feel like I need to say my thoughts for them to exist. I feel like I need to say what I am thinking for me to exist. So when I have thoughts, I put them somewhere, Twitter, Instagram, Medium, WhatsApp, or here.
So this issue started with a thought I shared with a friend so it would exist.
I don’t think I have written anything genuine recently.
Perhaps you are thinking the same thing he thought. Especially here, now, reading a personal essay.
“Everything you write is genuine”
Everything I write is honest. I feel like I have been hiding behind honesty. When writing the truth, it often feels perhaps like you don’t have to put as much thought into writing well, clearly, succinctly or with style.
I think for me, style is what is most lacking.
My newsletter is what it is. Maybe a better way to phrase this thought is that I have not written genuine fiction in a while. Genuiness in fiction is hard.
Two days after I had said this to my friend, I saw an ad for Neil Gaiman’s masterclass on writing. The first words out of his mouth were
“all fiction has to be as honest as you can make it. this I believe.”
My writing career started in fiction. That’s the thing that excited me and the thing I wanted to do with my life. In the first-ever five-year plan I ever made, publishing a novel was number one on this list. It’s seven years later and there is no novel, not in the world, not on the way.
And these days, there is little fiction, not in my drafts, not in my mind.
And ‘genuiness’ in fiction is hard. This kind of writing, this vulnerability that I bring to each issue of this newsletter, actually comes easily to me. I have done this for a while and it’s become something I can do without fear.
Although, there is fear now.
Because of you.
I think people are scared of writing honestly because they are scared of the World. Of what the World has to say and what opinions people will form and what people will think of them. People are scared of putting themselves out there.
I haven’t ever really had that fear, not in the same way. I have been putting myself out there for a while because I have had the weird reassurance that no one actually cares about me. I have been writing openly for almost 10 years and most of that writing has been consumed by the same small group of people. My audience, my community, has grown very slowly and I have kind of derived a small satisfaction in that. The thing about the community I am growing around my work is that I need them to be kind and invested because of how much vulnerability is involved in what I share.
Recently, that community has blown slightly out of my control. The subscribers to this newsletter have increased by 1000 per cent in the last month and that’s scary because I suddenly don’t know who I am writing to. I don’t know if you are kind. Honestly, there is no reason to be, you don’t know me.
I was recently caught in the crossfire of internet hate. My friend had made a tweet 10 years ago that someone found and reshared. People saw the tweet and suddenly decided to attack her as if this is a tweet she’d just made last week. They were attacking her directly, attacking her work, attacking her ambition. They could do this because a lot of her work involved her being vulnerable and truthful. I had made a small thread expressing how confused I was that people were attacking her for something she said 10 years ago. Those people saw my thread and went after me as well.
I got something around 300 similar tweets attacking me baselessly. Some people attacked what they could see, my nose ring, my glasses. It didn’t mean anything to me. It did not affect me in any way because they didn’t know me.
But I am scared of what the internet could say about me if they knew me.
This fear has come into my mind as I see that my essays are now read by 100s of people that don’t know me - not with context.
You could attack my writing, it’s not very good, not very stylish.
If I wrote honest fiction, perhaps I won’t have this fear. If I wrote honest fiction, it would read a lot like the newsletter that has brought you here.
This isn’t why I am thinking about writing honest fiction but it’s also a thought I have been having.
It’s scary to think of how many people can see that my writing might not be all that good. But isn’t that the point? Isn’t that the literal definition of success? Being recognised by other people? People that don’t know you? Isn’t that the point?
I am thinking about that as I think about not even being good enough.
Afolabi 4:00 PM
You should pitch something to Aisha for a podcast idea
If you read this newsletter frequently, you might know that I am currently fighting a lack of confidence. I have disbelief in myself. I first spoke about it in Issue 3. I spoke about how I want to be a journalist but I don’t feel like I know how to be one.
Mo Isu 11:28 AM
Would you say you are pretty confident in your work
Afolabi 11:28 AM
Yeah - I'm good at what I do
Mo Isu 11:28 AM
lol Teach me sensei
Afolabi 11:30 AM
Looool - it’s legit practice
Mo Isu 11:46 AM
I think this is actually one of my current personal issues
I don't think I am good at what I do. I don’t feel qualified and it’s pretty easy for me to be discouraged to even try
In Issue 4, I talked about how my life depended on me sending out pitches and in issue 9, I talked about not feeling qualified enough to do that.
I have sent my first pitch at this point. I should send my next one. But after the questions the editor sent back to me, I started to doubt myself again. So I spoke to Afolabi.
Afolabi 12:34 PM
What does qualified mean to you?
Mo Isu 1:13 PM
being good at what I do
or what I want to do
Which is journalism and storytelling these days
Afolabi 2:50 PM
Nah - qualified. Seems like you have a laundry list or criteria
Mo Isu 3:18 PM
Erm, Well I don’t have like a portfolio of work so I kind of feel like I pretend to be something
Afolabi is a frequent contributor to Stears Business and has written for The republic, Culture Custodian and Africa is a country.
I relate to this
That’s why I'd say you should look at your laundry list of criteria or even people examples
What makes them 'qualified' and 'real' where you are not
And then work towards that target
I am working on the laundry list. You will see it in the next issue and we will go on the journey of ticking them off together.
Thank you for reading.
This week, I am listening to:
Podcast: BBC Radio 4 Seriously : The Long History of Argument
Seriously is a podcast that publishes super cool radio documentaries from all over the world. This week, they published a three-part series on the history of argument. It felt like a timely listen to me as the thought in my head these days has a lot to do with how to make a compelling argument in writing.
Album: Atongo Zimba: Sakunne Sound
Atongo Zimba is a Ghanaian musician I discovered earlier this year through this song. Google describes his music as reggae but it’s really not. It sounds more like African folk. He has some similarities to The Good ones, which is a duo from Rwanda that I really like. I listened to his new album this week and I highly recommend it.
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And the grand ultimate support, buy me a coffee. I don’t think I would have gotten this far without all the people that have supported me in the past. So here I am again, asking for your kindness.