Ifunanya called you ugly, and you answered her with a slap. A slap so charged it was the envy of thunder, and you didn’t even care you were in Chuckies, the school restaurant, teeming with people eating, laughing, coming…
I have not much to give with regard to advice on the craft of writing seeing as I do not craft: I simply write. I find it less confining going with the ebb and flow of my heart, walking through the dark corridors of the story, writing and writing as it comes as though polishing a glass surface until it shines, and then I stop to see how clearly it bears my reflection. That style is a freer canvas for me than working with an outline, especially for a short story. For longer pieces, I write first, and make an outline later. Nothing strict, just to help the organization of the whole piece. I must say I get a lift sounding like an expert here, because in actual fact, I write, not knowing what it is I am doing.
The idea for “Blackbird” was born from a childhood/teenage obsession with beauty. The first draft was written five years ago, with a named protagonist, and although I loved it because it was the first short story I had written, I could not see a clear reflection of myself in it; although I used the “I” perspective, it did not make me cry, and I read somewhere that good writing should bring one to tears, or close to it, so I knew I failed on that score as the narrative was distant from the story I carried within. I shoved it aside and forgot all about it until I listened to “Blackbird” by Nina Simone.
Nina’s song hovered over the story wanting to mesh with it, and I had to accept the hand she held out. Her words embodied the depth my story wanted to reach and revealed secrets about my character, so I listened to her on end as I wrote the second draft from scratch in 2021. Choosing to rewrite in the second person was equally inspired by the song, and it was then I began to see the true reflection of the story on the pages. The second person allowed a safe distance to explore my character more closely. Now that she had no name, too, she could become anyone, anything, all that she wanted to be. She could become a shadow. The shadow, according to Jungian psychology, is where our repressed and suppressed emotions are stored. It is where we hide our worst selves, and sometimes our best, untapped selves. In the first draft, my character was without guile; now in the second, she could plot to kill a friend and have a good laugh while at it. When I shed a tear—or some, truth be told—writing the second draft, I knew I had something, so I polished the canvas until I thought it shined enough.
My craft advice then, would be: In whatever way you choose to write, write until you have something. If you shed a tear or two while writing, or paused to think deeply about the writing afterwards, you have something.
CHINONYELUM ANYICHIE is a Nigerian from Anambra State. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English and literature from Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Nigeria, and a master’s in English literature from University of Ibadan, Nigeria. She is currently an MFA candidate in fiction at Wichita State University where she is a graduate teaching assistant. She is an Elizabeth George Foundation grant recipient and currently working on her debut novel. Her work has appeared in Isele Magazine and The Shallow Tales Review, and is forthcoming in others. Find her on Instagram @chinonyelum.anyichie and Twitter @ChinonyelumAny1.