We are in the final stage of the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) 2016. I hope you have finished your novel or at least you are almost done
As part of the Self-Publishing Africa initiative, today at It’s My Footprint (IMFP) we are joined by Tsungi Chiwara (TC), a wife, mother, public health professional and Christian author, who enjoys touching lives through her passion of writing. She has written an award-nominated novel, and is about to publish her second book, an anthology – a collection of poems. She enjoys both creative and motivational writing and the Gospel of Jesus Christ is pivotal in her writing, as that is her foundation for life.
(IMFP) Welcome Tsungi, and thank you for spending time with use at It’s My Footprint.
(TC) Thank you very much, I am grateful for this opportunity.
(IMFP) Can you start by giving our followers a brief background of yourself and where you are coming from?
(TC) When I think back, I realize that I’ve always enjoyed writing, even from school days. Because I was an all-rounder, back then it never dawned on me that I was actually born to write. As fate would have it, I studied the sciences in my last two years of high school and I went on to study Pharmacy at university. I basically abandoned writing and focused on my ‘scientific’ career. After about 20 years of focusing on my family and career, I began to be restless in my spirit and knew I had to find out my purpose somehow; there was a void in my soul. Without yet linking the two (my purpose and writing), I began writing notes here and there about things I felt God was laying on my heart. Then through prayer, a lot of soul searching, going to one writers’ workshop and several other activities, I began realizing that writing was my passion. And here I am! Writing to me is so fulfilling. It was unexpected, a bonus, that I also received recognition: My first book, Reflections of the Heart – a Story of Hope, was nominated for a NAMA (National Art Merit Award) for ‘Outstanding First Creative Published Work’ in 2014. In the same year, the novel was also selected by the Department of Curriculum Studies & Education (University of Zimbabwe) as one of the set books for students who are studying for a Masters of Education in English. International acclamation came in the form of the US-based Library of Congress selecting my book to be housed in several university libraries across the US and one in Germany. I never thought my writing would bring me this far! I am still believing God for even bigger things for my novel.
(IMFP) Where do you get your ideas from?
(TC) Firstly, I pray a lot as I write – I ask God to write through me, as it were – to be His scribe; to push His agenda forward and not mine. I always want to write what is on God’s heart. So much so that when I review what I have written I am sometimes led to cross out some of the things as I won’t be at peace about them, no matter how good they look or sound. I draw a lot from life experiences, be they mine or other peoples; observations I have made throughout my life. I believe any type of artist, writer, singer, painter, sculptor etc. is heavily influenced by their own life – that is the nature of art, it’s about life. Writing is an art and it is quite different from science which is factual and has to be evidence-based, prim and proper etc. – with writing, however, you can take things from different perspectives and places and mix them in order to produce something, and that’s what I do. Being into creative writing, there has to also be room there to ‘create’ things from nothing, or for imagination, which I must say, I definitely have, and a wild one!
(IMFP) Why do you write?
(TC) Writing is my number one passion, though it took me years to articulate that. Now I don’t even think about it; I just find myself writing. I write because I feel I have things worth sharing, because I want to encourage people not to give up on their dreams, to inspire people, and most importantly to point others to God. I feel like I have achieved something each time I write. Writing is also very therapeutic for me, because I will be writing to myself and encouraging myself – I won’t be talking down at people but I will also be learning in the process and identifying with some of the things I am writing about.
(IMFP) What do you find most appealing about your chosen genre?
(TC) I am a Christian writer, so my writing centres on God. Most would view this as therefore writing only suited to a teaching approach. My style however, is ‘creative evangelism’ which then makes it versatile – my writing is for anyone and everyone, but a large part of it tries to reach out to those who do not yet know God, in a manner that is less conventional or traditional; I talk about God but I also talk about everyday issues while at the same time I encourage people to go for their dreams. Rooted in Christianity, I write poems, short stories, novels, inspirational quotes and prayers. In that way I find I am able to appeal to and reach a wider audience but without abandoning my chosen genre or compromising my convictions. What you find generally is that the world, Christians or not, is searching for real and lasting answers in life, and I believe that those answers can only be found in God. So, I ask God for wisdom in order to tap into that context or environment that I live in.
(IMFP) How do you deal with bad reviews, rejection and criticism?
(TC) I think these are a part of life, no matter what domain you are in. While I do not focus on these, I certainly do not ignore them – instead I try and see if there is something I can possibly improve on, learn a lesson from or correct, then I do just that. I have reviews of my first book on my website as well as on Amazon, and they are there for viewing, the good ones and ones less favorable. Beside writing books I am on social media a lot with inspirational nuggets – I always try to engage with readers, especially on Facebook, where that is possible, and on my page I allow people through their comments to give their views and even if I don’t necessarily agree, I respect all opinions or viewpoints (I only delete disrespectful, rude or blasphemous comments), responding, if necessary at all, and giving clarity if that is what is required.
(TC) I have just finished my second book, ‘Poems of Hope Vol. 1’ and already have some samples of it from a couple of printers. I’m sure in November it will be available to the public. I also am a contributing writer for Scripture Union Southern Africa, for the publication ’Closer to God’. 2017 will be the third year I have contributed, and this time I really stretched myself and wrote 3 weeks of teachings out of the 52 weeks. It is such an honor being able to be part of encouraging people with God’s Word – it helps to fulfill my desire to spread God’s Word. Currently I am the only Zimbabwean writer; most of the writers are from South Africa.
(IMFP) What do you find difficult about book writing?
(TC) Writer’s Block is something that can and does happen – your mind goes blank and you have nothing to write that particular day; later of course, you then get ideas and resume. I also think it is challenging to decide when to end a book; as you are reviewing it you keep wanting to add great ideas you have, but eventually you just have to decide to end – the more reason to write another book if you have so many ideas!!
(IMFP) What is your opinion on self-publishing vs traditional publishing?
(TC) I am a self-publishing advocate because I believe, it is challenging to get a good publishing deal quickly even if you write a good book, especially in this part of the world. Self-publishing gets your work out there quickly while at the same time you have 100% rights to your work. But you have to ensure that your work is of excellent quality, above reproach – especially the editing, but also the book cover design, layout and design etc. and you have to market it on your own – it’s usually by word of mouth that you will sell your book. These days we have the help of social media. Having said that, personally I would still keep a look out for a publishing deal with a traditional publisher, even after self-publishing a book, and just do a second edition – the advantages of traditional publishing is that although you will get a small piece (less than 100% rights to the book) of the pie, the piece is destined to be much bigger than your pie from self-publishing, as you are bound to sell many more copies because of the way traditional publishers operate; and at the end of the day, one of the goals of writing a book is to have has many people as possible buy/read your book.
(IMFP) What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
(TC) Start writing and keep at it – if writing is your passion, then you’ll always find something to write! Nobody can tell you what to write about; write about what you love – every writer is different. Write whenever you have a moment (like during lunch times), don’t wait for some free hours or the weekend, because you may never get all the time you want all at once. Make sure you proof-read everything you write because silly mistakes spoil the content. Don’t be swayed or discouraged by what people say. Be brave enough to showcase to one or two people you trust what you write, occasionally – this will really encourage you. Someone once said, “If you don’t write your book because you are worried that no-one will buy or read it, then DEFINITELY no one will, because you won’t have written it!” (paraphrased).
(IMFP) If you could go back in time 12 months, what would you advise yourself?
(TC) To be quite honest with you – I would not change a thing! Considering that I have a day job, am a family woman, am doing some studies and that I therefore write part time (as a passion and not as a hobby), I think I have written a lot book-wise and in many other ways, like on Facebook where I am very active. I am always asked where I find time to write (laugh).
(TC) I don’t really have one favorite author, but enjoy reading from a variety of writers, including Christian authors such as Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer. I enjoy authors that encourage, inspire and motivate.
(IMFP) Do you do book reviews? What type of books do you review?
(TC) No, I don’t do book reviews. I’m sure I would enjoy doing them, but I just don’t have the time.
(IMFP) Which email lists are you subscribed to?
(TC) Just one: BookBaby ; I self-published through BookBaby. I used to subscribe to several but ended up clogging my inbox and not even having enough time to read all the lists!
(IMFP) How do you interact with other authors? Are you a member of a book club?
(TC) I am a member of the Facebook group Authors & Writers Lounge and the WhatsApp group Writers Clinic.
(IMFP) What types of books do you normally recommend to your friends?
(TC) Firstly, I recommend ‘easy to read’ books like mine (smile), then also ones that are spiritual and/or inspirational, for example, ‘The Power of a Praying Wife/Parent/Woman (3 in 1)’ which I now use almost daily; it’s very practical, powerful and effective – it has helped give me direction and conviction in how I pray for my husband, kids and myself on a daily basis, in addition to my other prayers. Also ‘Screw it, let’s do it!’ by the Virgin empire founder, Richard Branson – I read it five times!
(IMFP) Let’s talk about Tsungi the lady! Give us a bit of your social and family life.
(TC) I am first and foremost a born again, spirit-filled, child of God. I am a wife, a mother of four beautiful children aged between 8 and 20. I am a family woman and spend most of my spare time at home with my family – I do my best to spend quality time with my husband, and from time to time with each child, so that we bond. I’m a daughter to an inspirational and hard-working mother – she is a role model. I’m also a friend and generally a fun-loving person; I’m willing to try out new things and I enjoy life. Being a former model (I was one of the 20 finalists in the 1994 Zimbabwe Super Model Competition), I have flair and love for fashion and of course I absolutely enjoy shopping. I love walking (sometimes with my husband in the mornings), travelling, going on holiday (Cape Town is my favorite spot, so far) with my family, eating out and trying different cuisines. I go to movies, I have programs on TV that I enjoy (EastEnders is tops for me), and I love reading Women & Home Magazine because it is loaded with inspiration. One of my favorite pass times is studying successful people from Zimbabwe and other countries and seeing how I can learn from their lives.
In the marketplace, I am a public health supply chain expert – currently I work as a Senior Manager for an international development organization. I have a special interest in HIV and AIDS. I would describe myself also as an academic – I’m studying towards a PhD in health Studies, focusing on HIV/AIDS communication for women.
(IMFP) Any final word for our followers?
(TC) One of my own quotes: “Above everything, believe in God. Next believe in yourself and you’ll be unstoppable! Then, others will believe in you.”
Then one by Steve Jobs, which I find to be so true: “Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
(IMFP) Many thanks for this interview, Tsungi. Good luck with your writing.
(TC) It’s been my pleasure, thank you very much.