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How Nigerian Bloggers, Writers, Activists Wrote a Book in Five Days

Writers at work. Photo used with permission.

Nigerian writers, bloggers, activists at work. Photo by Luis Antonio Delgado. Used with permission.

Barbara Ruehling, a filmmaker and Book Sprint facilitator, talks to us about a Book Sprint in Nigeria, which brought together Nigerian bloggers, writers and activists to write a book in five days.

Ndesanjo Macha (NM): Hi Barbara, before we talk Book Sprints, could you please tell us briefly about yourself?

Barbara Ruehling (BR): I'm Barbara Ruehling (@antropofilm), I'm a social anthropologist and filmmaker, and since 2013 I have been working as a facilitator for Book Sprints.

NM: What is a Book Sprint?

BR: A Book Sprint is a method for rapid collaborative book production. It brings together a group of experts on a specific subject to write a book in no more than five days. Together they conceptualize, write, and produce a book without any written preparation. The group is led by a facilitator who uses a well-refined methodology to guide them through the process. The final product is high quality content, revised, edited, designed and ready to print immediately and as e-book formats.

NM: How did you get involved with this initiative?

BR: I was trained to be a Book Sprint facilitator by Adam Hyde who developed the Book Sprints method six years ago. Initially, Adam was looking for a fun and rapid way to produce documentation for free and open software. He received so many requests that he could no longer facilitate all Book Sprints, so he trained me and later a few other facilitators. Since then we have tested and proven the method to work in many fields such as art history, science, and governance transparency, to name just a few. The genres range from software manuals to governance guidebooks to university textbooks and even fiction. We recently made our first fiction Book Sprint in Nigeria!

Book Sprints facilitator Barbara Rühling. Photo used with permission.

Book Sprints facilitator Barbara Rühling. Photo by Luis Antonio Delgado. Photo used with permission.

NM: Can you tell us about how eight Nigerian bloggers, writers and social activists came together to write a book for five days? Who are these writers?

BR: The 8 participants in the Book Sprint in Nigeria were a group of fantastic people, bloggers, writers, satirists, political commentators, activists. They were invited by the Boell Stiftung in Nigeria that was looking for ways to mobilize young people in Nigeria to think and talk about the upcoming national elections in 2015. Nigeria has a growing reading culture, blogs and twitter are booming, and so a book seemed a good way to reach these people.

The writers are:

Rafeeat Aliyu (@cosmicyoruba) – Blogger, writer of fiction and non-fiction, history nerd.

Elnathan John (@elnathan) – A full-time writer.

Yas Niger (@YasNiger) – Blogger, writer.

Pearl Osibu (@Pearlosibu) – Blogger, writer, designer.

Chioma Agwuegbo (@ChiomaChuka) – Blogger, writer.

Kalu Aja (@kaluaja) – Financial planner and coach.

Azeenarh Mohammed (@xeenarh) – Noisemaker, privacy enthusiast, digital security trainer.

Fola Lawal (@SheCrownLita) – Publisher.

The cover of the book written in Nigeria in 5 days. Image by Barbara Rühling. Used with permission.

The cover of the book written in Nigeria in 5 days. Book cover art by Henrik van Leeuwen. Used with permission.

NM: How did you select the writers?

BR: Azeenarh Mohammed (@xeenarh) hand picked the group for the Book Sprint, first of all because they are brilliant writers with interesting views, but also to represent a good balance of genders, religions, ages, and regions. I think she did a great job! As a facilitator I only consult the organizer how to choose participants, otherwise I stay neutral towards the content.

NM: Why Nigeria?

BR: We have done Book Sprints all over the globe, and I'm really happy that there have been more and more Book Sprints outside of Western Europe and North America, in countries such as Colombia, Burundi, Ethiopia, and Nigeria. The Heinrich Boell Stiftung in Nigeria invited us to write and publish a book before the elections in 2015.

NM: What is the central theme of the book?

BR: The book was born out of the need to provoke young Nigerians to think about their country ahead and beyond of the national elections. We started out with the working title “The Future We Want” and the idea to come up with a common vision within all the political, religious, and ethnic diversity of the country. The writers first wrote up a political critique juxtaposed with visions of alternative futures which they then turned into a series of provocative fictional stories. The stories center around a market town that could be any and everywhere in the country, and thus remains nameless. Nameless also became the title of the book.

NM: Can you explain how the methodology of Book Sprint works?

BR: The methodology works through a high level of collaboration which is assisted by the facilitator, and a collaborative writing platform designed specifically for that purpose. By high level of collaboration we also mean that there are no individual authors in Book Sprints. Everyone is a writer, editor, and contributor in equal terms. That way we make sure that everyone's input is included, and in the end almost everyone has worked on almost every section of the book. This is a very intense process that builds high levels of motivation and trust within the group. It's the facilitators’ task to enable that kind of environment.

The topic is decided by a host organization before the Book Sprint, but everything beyond that is created by the group during those five days. The facilitator guides them through the process of finding a concept and a structure for the book, writing the different sections, revising, rewriting, and restructuring them. A remote team of an illustrator, a book producer, and a proofreader work simultaneously with the writers, so that when the writers are finished by the end of day 5, the illustrated, designed, and revised book is made available immediately.

NM: What role does social media play in the project?

BR: Of course we love to tweet (@booksprint) and blog about our adventures, and we also increasingly upload voices of the participants to our vimeo channel. To write the book itself, however, it is invaluable to sit face to face in the same space.

NM: I understand there is a movie capturing the story of the book?

BR: The story of the Book Sprint in Nigeria was so fascinating, we made a short documentary about it with visual artist Luis Antonio Delgado. You can watch it here. I've wanted to make a film that tells the story of Book Sprints for a while, and the one in Nigeria was ideal because it captured in content what the method itself is all about: bringing together diverse voices to create a common vision. With the elections at the doorstep it is also a very timely and important subject.

NM: Is the book available online?

BR: The book has a Creative Commons license and is available for free online, on the website of the Boell Foundation. The writers also uploaded it to smashwords and okadabooks.

NM: What has been the reaction on social media?

BR: There was quite some buzz on Twitter, Nigerians are among the most active twitterers on my timeline for sure! One of the participants, Chioma Agwuegbo, blogged about her experiences each day at the Book Sprint.

All the others writers tweeted about it, for example Elnathan John after it was printed the day after the Book Sprint:

When 2,000 print copies were distributed at the Ake Arts&Books Festival the following week, it was applauded by prominent writer Ayo Sogunro (‏@ayosogunro):

Later, one of the participants, xeenarh (@xeenarh), even created an online survey about the book:

In a review of the book, blogger Folakemi Odoaje wrote:

What is incredible about Nameless is showing that all of Nigeria social, economic, religious and political issues are not
peculiar to a region or tribe – we all suffer the same fate therefore our collective efforts is imperative (…) I loved the mix of Nameless writers, everything about it. For those who believed our main problem lie in one region or the other, here the
writers are as diverse as Nigeria is, their biographies at the end of the book.

NM: Where is the next Book Sprint?

BR: The next one is with the Public Library of Science (PLOS) in California, and we have a couple of other Book Sprints already lined up for this year. I'm hoping for one in Asia, we haven't had any Book Sprint in that region yet!

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