Interviewed by Oyindamola Shoola
About the Judge
Tomi Adesina loves playing with words, so she became a writer – makes perfect sense! She is a screenwriter, poet, teacher, and author of several stories, including Dear Future Husband, which you may have read on a blog called “Tommyslav’s Island.”
In 2015, she won the Homevida in collaboration with Google Prize for her short script on cyberbullying, Feisty John. She was also the recipient of the Best Young Writer in the Nigerian Writers Award in 2015. In addition, Tomi was nominated in the Best Writer category of the Africa Magic Viewer’s Choice Award (AMVCA) in 2018 and won the African Movie Academy Award (AMAA) for her contribution to the screenplay, Hakkunde.
Tomi teaches Creative writing classes and regularly facilitates a Scriptwriting class, Characters, Stories, and Scripts with Tomi Adesina. Tomi loves Jesus and likes to tell everyone how He saved her life. You can find Tomi on Twitter @tomi_adesina and Instagram @tomiadesina.
We know who you are right now, obviously from your biography and what impact you have made so far.
10 years from now, how do you envision that will change?
10 years? Boy, that’s a long time! One thing that I know for sure is I’ll be fine and safe in God’s plan for my life. I do hope to continue teaching as that is a lifelong assignment. I would also love to keep writing, maybe not for the screen, I don’t know…but wherever I’ll be by then, I’ll be okay.
At the beginning of their journeys, I met many writers who thought they could only write one genre or had the vision to publish only one book, which has changed for them.
What is one truth you believed about yourself regarding your creative work that has now changed?
I used to think poetry was so hard and complicated, so I stayed away from it. Then, I realized that it wasn’t so. Of course, there are rules to it like every other writing form, but the fear and myths around it just painted a scary image that wasn’t there. I have learned to fall in love with it again this year, and I am chuffed about the possibilities that lie ahead.
So many things have happened within the past year. In an interview you did early last year with Desmond Ekunwe, you and Xavier Ighorodje discussed the pleasures and processes of being screenwriters. You also talked about fame and how as screenwriters, you enjoy a certain level of anonymity that comes with the role; unlike the actors and actresses of the movies, you can walk into a coffee shop and enjoy your tea without being disturbed.
I am curious to know, how do you feel about the fame that could come with being a fiction writer and poet? On the other hand, regarding these creative genres, would you prefer the anonymity?
Fame is quite an interesting thing. I also believe that it could be a reward for hard work, which is good; especially if you’re using it responsibly. I also understand that there are levels to fame, but personally, I enjoy my personal space. Actors and people who mainly have their faces out there can’t avoid the popularity that comes with the job, and if you’re a successful writer, you also can’t run away from it. So, you must consciously create an atmosphere that enables you to drown out the noise. I mean, that’s what I’d do if I found myself in a place where I became so popular...thankfully, that’s not the case right now.
Still, in the interview, you described your screenwriting process, what goes on after the commission, the treatment, drafts, etc.
Are your writing processes the same for the genres you write? If not, can you describe their differences?
Yes, the writing process is pretty much the same. It starts with a synopsis of the idea and then a treatment before I begin scripting any drafts. And in rewriting, another treatment of what I want to see in the rewrite before I script.
Often, when people attain a height of fame like yours with their creativity, they no longer see the utility in developing themselves further through academia. Instead, many believe whatever needs to be learned can be done through more projects and work experiences.
You recently pursued a master’s degree; can you tell us more about it and why you made the decision? Also, while you have years of experience, expertise, and credibility in the field, what did you think was missing or needed to be enhanced that a graduate academic program provided?
Haha, what fame?! I don’t think we can ever know enough of a thing. Because with time, new systems and ideas are invented and reinvented, and so if you want to stay up to date, you keep learning. In my case, I am from a science academic background, but I have been practicing in the arts and entertainment, which means there are some fundamental things that I am not privy to. The gap wasn’t my only motivation. I love teaching, and I know that there is only so much you can teach someone else from what you know, so gaining more experience within the confines of an academy was ideal in making me a better student and teacher.
Did you always have all these creative interests and edges as a child, or was it something that came to you in much older years when you had independence? Also, growing up, did you experience any limitations due to stereotypes regarding your creative interests? If yes, can you share some, and if no, what kind of support did you receive, especially from people within your immediate circle, to get here?
Yes, I’ve always had these creative interests as a child. And it never left. I was given the freedom to express myself by converting every helpless paper in the house into my ‘story book’. I also read a lot of Enid Blyton, and I always knew I wanted to be two things – one, a teacher, and two, a writer. But growing up in Nigeria, you think about many things when pursuing your interests, one of which is financial security. And it’s not just in Nigeria, but the situation is quite frustrating when the system almost has nothing in place for you. I think it’s getting better now as the literary and media scene is growing, so people have more confidence to – ‘Oh, I’m going to do this and make something out of it.’
I studied Microbiology at the university for my first degree, but it did not stop me from writing – in fact, that was where I found expression in blogging. I am grateful to my family, friends, and course-mates who read my stories back then. It was really encouraging because when you start out, you need an audience to keep you going, but when you find your foot, you need to keep the audience going by churning out quality stuff.
In addition to the many things you are and do, one of the things we know you for at SprinNG is your mentorship of our developing Nigerian writers. We are very grateful for your support!
While that program is dedicated to young writers, especially to help them to break boundaries in the industry, what else do you think can be done at the government level (in terms of policies and funding), at institutional levels (in terms of programs and support), and organization level (book publishing companies or profit and nonprofit organizations like SprinNG) to support writers?
Phew! A lot. I think the list is endless. Unfortunately, unlike STEM, the Humanities is grossly underfunded everywhere in the world. It’s quite sad because this is a field that supports human expression and forms the way we think. Writing, of course, falls into this category.
If the Government can dedicate more money, resources, and initiatives that foster learning, it’ll be a good place to start. Also, University curriculums should be updated and improved regularly so that writers can attempt different modules.
I think SprinNG and many other organizations are already in the right direction by organizing classes that make it easy for writers to help each other. I learn a lot from my mentees, and hopefully, more of these initiatives will arise and offer opportunities to people who just want to tell a story in the near future.
I have always thought that if you want to see a writer’s growth and transformation, you can go down the rabbit hole of their earliest Instagram posts. Yes, I went down that hole on your page, lol! I was impressed by your transformation within the film industry from your docudrama titled “Her Lines,” which you released in 2015, to the poems you published on your page, and then your book, George's Pieces of Me. Also, your fiction series on Opera News Hub, your engagement with “every Tuesday in March #TheScreenwriter” posts, and now, your movies like The Wait, Hakkunde! You have come a long way. However, unlike the other aspects of your creative interests that you have maintained, poetry seems to be something that we don’t see you doing much of these days.
What is your current relationship with poetry? Is that something you still do or plan to write more of?
Hello stalker! Poetry and I have recently found each other. Long lost lover. Earlier this year, I took a poetry course, and it has been a tremendous experience. I have learned so much, and I can’t wait to share my poetry collection. It’s still in the works, and I constantly see what I can improve while keeping its heart intact. Poetry is something I’ve always loved but I just never got around doing it a lot. I did experiment with it in my prose-poetry book, George’s Pieces of Me. But what I am doing with my next ‘book’ (hopefully – and don’t hold me to this) would be just poetry, and I am excited because I absolutely love the poems in there. I found poetry to be an intrusive form of writing that invades the poet as much as the reader, and in writing that collection, I’ve been invaded.
Writers like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie have shared that reading and writing poetry contributes to their overall creative processes for other genres. I also find that experience to be true.
Does poetry influence or support your other creative explorations?
Absolutely. One of the things that makes poetry profound is its brevity. There is so much imagery and music blending in such brief words. Like I earlier mentioned, I spent the earlier months of the year writing poetry, and it’s been useful in screenwriting because it hones my creative muscles. You learn the application of ‘less in more’ with poetry. It also helps me to be immersive as I create lines and my story world.
One of the things I find profound and unique in the movies you write is your words' intention. When I know that Tomi Adesina wrote the script of a movie that I am watching like Hakkunde and Kasanova, beyond just paying attention to the action and entertainment, I am listening to the words and reading the dialogue on screen. It often reminds me of a workshop I participated in by Mitchell S. Jackson, who wrote “Survival Math,” where he analyzed his sentence and said, “every word and punctuation is intentional.” We can analyze the movies and body of your work, but it always boils down to words in the scripts.
Where does the intentionality of your words come from? Are you laser-focused on every word in your creative process? What are your word and sentence elimination processes? What makes you take out a line in a script, story, or poem?
In the writing process, my first job is to allow the characters to express themselves. I know it seems like I am the one expressing myself in various forms as the author, but I also believe there’s room to imagine what George would say in this scene or how Jemimah would infer something. So, to allow the characters to speak is to give them free rein and see how it applies to a scene, moment, or story. This is my process of being intentional. I am not necessarily looking to drop punchlines in each scene, but if I get a good punchline out of a scene, who am I to refuse it? Haha.
I find the elimination process a bit tedious but good for discipline because we sometimes have words that have lived with us for a long time, it becomes hard to let go. But if it’s not adding value to the scene or story, then it must go.
I sometimes trim words for believability too. There are times that it’s easy for the audience to spot that the writer is just flexing their vocabulary range rather than telling a genuine story. This happens when you’re keen on making a character sound in some way that is probably not realistic with how someone in their situation would sound.
To some people, writing brings them joy, a sense of home, peace, solitude, even a closeness to God.
What does writing make you feel or bring to you?
Writing is home. And in that home is a lot of things…people too. I write to feel things – a wide range of emotions. And writing is the pure expression of how that works for me. I thank God for the gift of writing because I can be quite introverted, so I need somewhere to pour, and writing does that for me. I pour. Writing is, most importantly, a form of worship. It’s how I honour God with the gift He has given to me. The ability to create characters, events, and generally make up stuff is beautiful, and who else to adulate with words if not God?
Rather than asking when we should be expecting your next book or the next movie from you as a closing question, I’ll wrap up this interview with a question that requires a question as its answer.
If there is one, what is one question you hope or wish people ask you during interviews that has never been asked?
Tomi, would you like £1000?
Answer the question you wrote above!
Yes, I would. Thanks for asking.