Six African writers talk about their books and what works for them while writing. And of course, share some writing tips for the aspiring author. Enjoy this third feature!
Find something outside writing and reading you enjoy – Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi
Writing a novel is a very long process for me. It starts with thinking about the story, telling it to myself in my mind over and over. This thinking happens when I am still working on another project. The story spends years in my head while I think about characters, places, time, events and issues. Then I start to tell the story orally to anyone willing to listen. I listen to myself, to how the story sounds, and watch how listeners react to it. Only then do I write. By the time I commit the story on paper, I have got most of the basic aspects in place. At this point, I write compulsively. I don’t edit. I write until everything is out of my mind. I also identify aspects of the story that need researching. When I read through afterwards, I tend to throw so much away. This process is about the story.
The next step is the real novel writing process. This is where I deploy all the novel writing skills I have acquired. I actually make a list of all aspects of the novel and tick them off one by one. While the earlier stage was focused on the bone structure or skeleton of the novel, now I put meat on the bones. This is the stage where I focus on detail.
I have no day pattern. All I say to myself is that this week I’ll focus on, let’s say, the opening. I’ll work on it for that week until I am happy with it. Ideally, I love waking up at 5 pm, travel on a bus for an hour to swim and spend some time in sauna and steam, especially in winter. Then at around 9 am I start writing. But sometimes work spills into the night. Sometimes I sleep in daytime. Sometimes I turn on the computer and I can’t be bothered or won’t concentrate. So while I would like a pattern, things don’t work out like that for me. And if I don’t feel like it, I don’t force it. However when I am working well, I work obsessively. Luckily, those times when I can’t be bothered are infrequent.
I read a lot when I am writing. Firstly, I read novels that have dealt with a similar subject, then critical theory, then novels that remind me to make language fresh, then I read for any other research. I have said this a million times; your writing is as good as your reading. If you can’t see what is going on in your writing then you are in trouble. Poor reading skills spell weak fiction. Great writers are sharp readers. It is inevitable.
This is important: find something outside writing and reading you enjoy. Gym, running, dancing, singing, whatever, to step away from books and the computer. Facebook is not a hobby. I swim and I watch movies. It frees my mind. My imagination is most fertile when I am away from my work.
- Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi is a Ugandan novelist and short story writer based in Manchester. She has a PhD from Lancaster University. Jennifer has taught Creative Writing and English for the last ten years in British Universities. Her novel, Kintu, won the Kwani Manuscript Project in 2013. It was published in 2014 and was longlisted for the Etisalat Prize 2014. Jennifer has published numerous short stories. Her short story, Lets Tell This Story Properly won the overall Commonwealth Short story prize 2014. In 2015 she won an Arts Council Grant to research her second novel, The First Woman was Fish. Her short story Malik’s Door came out in Closure a Black British anthology in October 2015. Her short story, The Nod, will be published in the Bare Lit ’16 Anthology coming out in February 2017. Jennifer is currently working on a collection of short stories set in Manchester, UK which will form her third book.