Ijeoma Okoye is writing a fantasy novel about a group of human/not-so-human womxn whose lives become interlinked when Idemilli and Ala, the Igbo river and underworld goddesses, task them with preventing rapture. She maintains the blog ‘mend again the necklace of my days’ (https://ijokoye.wordpress.com) and is an alumnus of the emerging LGBTQ+ writers workshop The Future is Back, led by writer Olumide Popoola.
As someone with a day job unlinked to the arts sector and a degree in politics, I really do not think of myself as a creative. But after finding joy and empowerment in writing queer black British Ọdịnala fantasy stories last year during lockdown, the opportunity to join The Future is Back scheme jumped out from my Twitter feed and I was compelled to apply. I expected my submission to be side eyed slightly and passed over, so I was over the moon when I got in.
Of course, I was also nervous. Hopefully the filter of Zoom plus the strange lighting in my room meant it wasn’t too obvious, but I usually had a slight tremor in my voice when reading parts of my work aloud to the group those first few times.
However, that’s part of what has been so amazing about The Future is Back. I think everyone in the group has been stretched – whether it’s becoming more disciplined, learning different storytelling techniques, or feeling encouraged to be more specific and explore what feels right for them stylistically. Even my reading list has grown over the past six months.
It has also been very special to be part of a supportive group centred on shared values: anti-racism, decolonisation, the desire to celebrate the full spectrum of queerness and a belief in the power of representation. At the same time the diversity of perspectives and voices has been touching. Moreover, it has helped me think bigger in terms of how I want my voice and experiences to come across in the worlds I create in my stories.
This year’s scheme has now ended, but I hope the community formed and the lessons I’ve learnt, which are below, will stay with me.
Writing doesn’t have to be a solo endeavour
It’s often said that writing is a lonely task. Turning a vague concept into “something coherent” does indeed require a lot of solo legwork. But whether through friends or a wider online community, having a second, third or even fourth pair of eyes is invaluable. Receiving feedback through friends, The Future is Back, and the Spread the Word One More Chapter scheme are things I would have felt shy about in the past. But these have all really helped me improve my writing in ways I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to.
It’s probably not too outlandish
Don’t worry about your writing being too niche to be enjoyed. The world is bigger (and weirder) than it’s ever been so it stands to reason that someone probably not too far away will love your work. If you want to experiment, do it. After all, queer writers have a rich cultural and literary heritage to draw from that spans across many different formats and genres.
Edits are inevitable…but they are your friend
Maybe we should blame the pressure of exams for making us think we have to get things right the first time. However, this really does not apply to writing. That’s why drafts exist. It’s okay to get words on a page and let your ideas dart around wildly for a bit. You might go through a rigorous editing process later or things may change as you do more research, and that’s fine. Just make a start.
It may seem like a longshot. But give yourself a chance
You never know how things will turn out. You might apply for that competition and not get picked but find yourself inspired by the process and reach a breakthrough in writing your ongoing novel… Or you might actually be selected. A “no” is not a dead end. It’s just a “not this door, this time”. There will be many others.
Published 23 June 2021