From 2016 until 2020 I wrote a weekly column for The Weekender, a supplement of The Namibian, Namibia’s largest daily newspaper. Nothing fancy or The French Dispatch-esque: 500 words a week. The happenings of the day, Chadwick Boseman and Forest Whitaker’s embarrassing accents in Black Panther (many things in that film, like having a war rhino in the most technologically advanced civilisation on Earth, remain unforgivable but I will let sleeping dogs lie), men who showed their ankles, music, film, books—I was given the space to write about whatever interested me.
There was only one caveat: punctual submission.
Listen: this is the part where I tell you I never missed a deadline, that I turned in my column two days before it was due. This is also the part where you know I am lying.
In the early days, when the gig was fresh, when the responsibility of the inches given to me in the paper weighed most heavily on me, I was diligent with my drafting (one week before deadline), refinement (two days before it was due), and submission (I tried to submit a day early). Later, the routine was not as rigorous. With greater writing proficiency, and with more obligations in my daily schedule, I penned my column later and later in the week. The writing itself did not slacken—I could not afford to let it: a national audience, and the opportunity to have one’s work read so widely, is not something one should ever disrespect. But some of my columns were written in haste due to my occasional lapses in discipline.
When my life’s rhythm were good, oh, they were so good. An idea, argument, problem, observation, or experience manifested in the back of my mind. I had clear starting points and the time to compose and fine-tune my compositions. At my best it was a sublime dance with deadlines.
Listen: this is the part where you need to know that I missed the beat every so often, much to my editor’s chagrin.
Because, damn, the thing about being a disciplined writer is that it is an everyday thing. Not only Monday mornings or the spare Thursday afternoon, but all the days in between—and every minute and hour of those days. The Tuesday morning when the week’s duration is lamented, in the useless Wednesday middle management that eats into your lunch break, on the Friday night when the streets are calling, the Saturday morning sleep-in, and the Sunday evening spent thinking of the new week—all of these days and times demand discipline, an automation of habits and actions designed to get a writer through a draft to a deadline.
If only I had been better coded at the time.
But see here: human beings are not robots and my programming, like everyone else’s, is subject to distraction, disinterest, disappointment, and despair. Have I told you of my moods? Tempestuous, momentum-killing bastards.
I am not as disciplined as I wish to be (or as people think I am). I am working to change that.
Discipline, for me, is about rhythm: finding the cadence, speed, and demands of the day—the urgencies of life’s needs and then building routines to satisfy them. Although a rhythm is hard to get into, the good news is that once you are in it, you are in it.
2020 and 2021 were great times for indiscipline. The absence of stability (both manufactured and real) and the daily presence of external blame contributed to the excess. 2022 is being shaped to be different. An empty draft folder means it is time to get back to discipline: early and quiet starts, pen and paper, choreographing deadlines, drafting one day and refining the next, and, most importantly, revisiting the work once more after some time has passed to see if the ideas are sound, if the truths hold.
Listen: this is the part where I tell you I have an appetite for distraction, but I am working hard on getting back to good.
POSTSCRIPT: The mandem copped an electronic drum kit and is learning how to hold the drumsticks. Perhaps there is a literary band in the making. Thinking of calling it, err, The Rough Drafts. Send help.
READ—Books: Lot by Bryan Washington • Sketcher by Roland Watson-Grant | Short fiction: “Hunger” by Andre Bagoo (adda) • “It Ends With A Kiss” by Riddhi Dastidar (adda) • “An Analysis Of A Fragile Affair” by Ola W. Halim (adda) • “Rabbit” by Samantha Lane Murphy (adda) | Long-form nonfiction: “Dwaal” by Irenosen Okojie (Lucy Writers) • “She Changed Black Literature Forever. Then She Disappeared” by Imani Perry (The New York Times Magazine) • “Does Anyone Have The Right To Sex” by Amia Srinivasan (London Review of Books) • “To Spite His Face” by Hedley Twiddle (Harper’s) | Poetry: “The Right Time For Pity Parties” by Salma Abdulatif (Doek!) • “Flat Earth Theory” by Michael Harriot and Nate Mask (NPS 2017) • “Remember” by Langston Hughes (Poetry Foundation) • “There Isn’t A Word In Your Language For Being Touched” by Veripuami Nandee Kangumine (Doek!) | Visual art: “Siyah Zibast” by Priscillia Kounkou-Hoveyda (Doek!) • “Let The Weak Things Break” by Hallie Haller (Brittle Paper) | Comics: The Complete Okko by Hub | WATCH—Documentary: To Scale: The Solar System (2015) • Coda (2021) • Conversations Across The Diaspora: Wole Soyinka & Sarah Ladipo Manyika (2021) • Hemingway (2021) | Film: The French Dispatch (2021) • The Harder They Fall (2021) | Series: Arcane, season 1 (2021) • Reservation Dogs, season 1 (2021) • We Are Lady Parts, season 1 (2021) | LISTEN—Music: “Second Nature” by Bon Ever • “Te Invito” by Herencia De Timbiqui • “Fuego” by Hugo Correia • “Donde Estabas Tu?” by Omara Portuondo • “Acid” by Ray Barretto • “Legend Has It” by Run The Jewels | Podcast: “Hanif Abdurraqib: A Fortune For Your Disaster“(Tin House/Beneath The Covers) • “Amia Srinivasan: Can We Change Our Desires? Should We?” (New York Times/The Ezra Klein Show) | TRY: Trying.