“Remove the dross from the silver, and there shall come forth a vessel for the silversmith” Proverbs 25:4
Let me start with a question. As a writer, I’m making a basic assumption that you are a lover of good books; however you choose to define the word ‘good.’ If so, how often do you purchase Nigerian literature when you walk into a Christian bookstore?
On the scale of one to ten, reflect and pick an answer. For me, my answer is one. I would choose ten foreign books before I would pick one Nigerian book.
Don’t get me wrong. Nigerians are just as talented and intelligent as our siblings all over the world. In fact, I agree that it’s much easier to pass a camel through a needle’s eye than to be a writer in this country. Having to deal with interrupted power supply, financial constraints, bad network and the lack of solitude needed to birth stories have crippled many talented writers. Therefore, I celebrate and respect writers who strive to write in spite of these challenges.
However, you would agree with me that lots of books written by Christian writers in Nigeria are filled with unforgivable errors in terms of grammar and facts. The packaging (publishing) is another story entirely. In my very few years of editing, I’ve discovered a few reasons for this:
- Inadequate research: Nothing spoils a good read more than error in facts; nothing endears a reader more to a work than good research. Writing prowess flourishes when backed up with quality research. That is one reason I would always celebrate writers like Francine Rivers, Philip Yancey and C.S Lewis. Their literary and non-literary outputs are always well researched. For example, if you have ever read Francine Rivers’ Atonement Child, you would never again question God’s stance on abortion. Why? Francine Rivers did not just tell us the basic fact that it is a sin against God but she went ahead to trace the consequences psychologically, medically, physically and spiritually. The book wasn’t premised on sentiments but facts you can’t disprove. I believe that should be the desire of everyone who wants to write for a social change. You want to posit facts that cannot be easily countered. You want to convince readers to believe what you write. The only way to do that is to research appropriately. Using blood group in place of genotype certainly ain’t a good way to do that. Get your facts right and you are almost good to go.
- Inappropriate use of ‘gigantic’ words: In the course of editing, I’ve observed that many Nigerians have a love for high-sounding words. It makes one begin to think that the yardstick for proficiency is the number of ‘big’ words used in expressing one’s thought. Ironically, these expressions are almost always misused. For example, the word ‘opportune’ has been bastardized over and over again in Nigerian discourse. The function of a verb has been given to this adjective.
I was opportuned to have given my life to Christ at an early age.
This is just one of the many English words that have been and are still being misused by Nigerian writers. Here is my candid advice: if you do not know the meaning of that word, do not use it.
- Typographical and spelling errors: Typographical and spelling errors are very powerful. Asides changing the intended meaning of a sentence, they reduce the quality of one’s work. They present the writer as careless and the work, substandard. A few typos can still be forgiven depending on the volume of the work but as much as possible, do away with them. Make use of platforms like Grammarly to correct your errors if you cannot afford the services of an editor. Better still, make the dictionary your friend.
- Plagiarism: Plagiarism simply means using another person’s ideas without acknowledging the source. It’s just another way of stealing. Let’s put it this way: imagine you were told to write a piece on “Understanding the psyche of prostitutes: the first step to rehabilitation.” To write this piece, you spent the first two months trying to get willing respondents for your research. You spent the next two months befriending these prostitutes to get the necessary information. Finally, you put your findings together in the space of one month and you submit. Two months after, you decide to read up more on the topic. You stumble on an article by someone else. While reading, you discover the writer copied a paragraph from your essay verbatim without acknowledging the source. How would you feel?
There are many other rules guiding the use of English in writing which I have not mentioned here. I hope I’m forgiven. I would however like to end on this note. People whose writings have made notable impact in their lifetime are people who embrace excellence, not mediocrity. If you would pursue excellence as a writer, you would certainly make a change. I look forward to that day when I would enter a Christian bookshop and voluntarily purchase as much foreign Christian literature as I would Nigerian Christian literature. Do you?
Author: Bukola Falola