The Terms of Imprisonment

Chinua Achebe is regarded as one of the best writers that Nigeria has ever produced and I recently read his book titled ‘Home and Exile which is based on a series of lectures he delivered in 1998 at Harvard University. One of the several quotes in the book that resonated with me was about his three reasons for becoming a writer or storyteller.

Achebe said “the first is that you have an overpowering urge to tell a story. The second that you have intimations of a unique story waiting to come out. And the third, which you learn in the process of becoming, is that you consider the whole project worth the considerable trouble – I have sometimes called it terms of imprisonment – you will have to endure to bring it to fruition.”

I can relate to all these three reasons especially regarding the two Nigerian football pieces I wrote last year:

The Story of Lagos’ ill-fated 1976 Professional Tennis Tournament

When Pele played in Nigeria during its Civil War (did he really bring a ceasefire?)

I am currently working on a third football piece on the Nigerian footballers that toured the UK in 1949. Ever since I found out about the tour a couple of years ago; I have had an overpowering urge to research and write about it.

Like my previous two historical football pieces, it has been a time-consuming exercise doing the research. I have travelled to London, Liverpool, and Preston to access archival records about the tour. I have read everything I can find on the subject as well as written countless enquiry emails and made several phone calls to chase up promising leads.

It is Achebe’s third reason {the terms of imprisonment} which requires the writer/storyteller to persevere when the initial story momentum and energy fades. I have had periods during my storytelling projects when I just want to give up, abandon them and move on to a fresh project. The attractiveness of starting a new story project is very tempting when going through the creative troubles of the current one.

I have to keep reminding myself that I have already invested so much time and effort into the current project and it would be unfortunate to give up now when the finishing line is so close. The power of the story and the desire to get it into the public domain spurs me to put in the extra time and effort to complete the project.

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One Response to The Terms of Imprisonment

  1. Ogechi

    Nice one Prof… I’m enjoying the way you make historical stories and issues sound interesting and relevant to present-day issues. However I gotta say I feel like you left me hanging when you almost started to open up about your writing struggles. I was looking forward to saying ‘ya, I know how you feel.’
    The ‘struggle’ to stay motivated until completion continues…

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