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12/07/2010

Battling writer's block

Aseshi Uni Entrance sign
Ashesi University students heard from the author about finding inspiration for blogs. Photo by Antoinette Sarpong

By Antoinette Sarpong 

I’m a complete fraud. Fortunately, these students haven’t made me yet.

I think there’s something authoritative about a lectern. Over lunch one day, an American friend asked me to speak about writing blogs to her class at Aseshi University, as she lamented about the sad state of the quality of writing she had noticed in schools. Having heard similar complaints at my own institution, I happily obliged. With my notes on blogging in front of me and my recent body of work behind me on Power Point, I told the students to mind their own lives for story ideas. How ironic, it then seemed, that my own was not producing any inspiration. My blog was due today and growing painfully late with every sentence.  

Four months in Ghana working at a local journalism school has quickly passed me by. I have been chronicling my adventures in a regular blog. It’s made me remember why I love writing in the first place. It creates dialogue and raises awareness for the reader. It also poses an even greater purpose for the writer: self–awareness. My blogs have acted as a filter of reflection that I use to sift and process the highs and lows of culture shock.

Maybe I could write about culture shock, I thought.

Nah. It’s been done. I plunged deeper into my mental well. ‘Mind my life.’ I thought, ‘mind my life.’ Aside from a peculiar dream I had earlier in the week, my ideas runneth completely dry.

“…when I came back to Ghana in 2008,” said my prof pal Antoine. “Everyone was dressed in Western clothing. I was like, are you going to class or a club?” she continued, to a round of laughter. “So you can write about the things you notice in your day to day life.” 

“That’s a great point,” I say, using my handkerchief to wipe some sweat from my increasingly feverish brow. “Last weekend I went to the Joy FM Old School Reunion,” I said. The students perked up at the mention of the annual, nationwide, school reunion in Accra. “I saw a man getting brutally beaten for stealing a mobile phone.” My statement was met with a strange medley of laughter and familiarity. It seemed like good fodder for a blog on African mob justice. I had my blog entry, if only it hadn’t just been done by another colleague.

After the lecture, my head was starting to ache, but I held my wanderlust hostage and sought the air-conditioned refuge of Accra’s popular Busy Internet café. I’ll sit in front of my laptop until I bleed blog. An hour into typing, inspiration politely tapped me on the shoulder.

“Hi,” said a young Ghanaian girl, to my quizzical silence.

She plunked down in the seat next to me, before revealing her student status at my school, and her dilemma. “I have to write this paper but I’m not feeling well,” she said. “I can’t do it,” she moaned. She needed to write a single page on any mass communications theory.  

 “When’s it due?” I asked.

“Tomorrow,” she replied.

I seethed in reaction to the answer and my intensifying headache. The student and I did a quick Google search. Several sites popped up. Academic salvation. The student quickly copied the thoughts of the first author onto her paper, without reflection or referencing.

“What do I do now?” she asked. It became painfully clear that she had no idea how to coherently express her own thoughts about her findings on paper.  

With living proof of the problem that brought me to Aseshi sitting right next to me, I had my blog. The importance of writing well. Unfortunately, I’d have to put it off a little bit longer. My body ached and was begging for bed. It was getting late anyway and I probably had malaria.

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Africa Without Maps


  • There's so much more to Africa than predictable headlines about war, famine and AIDS. From Ghanaian beauty pageants to music in Malawi, Africa Without Maps provides a rare glimpse of life in Africa from Journalists for Human Rights interns on the ground.

    Funding for the jhr bloggers is provided by the Government of Canada's Youth International Internship Program.

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