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 the fourth feature.
The writing life is a marathon not a hundred meters dash – EC Osondu
First, I have to confess that I have not written many novels. One of the things I found very liberating while writing the last one was how freeing it was to discover that I could write the last chapter if I so wished or that I could work on the middle chapter etc. With a short story, the progression has to be sequential – at least in my own experience, you have to continue from where you stopped the last time. Hemingway famously stopped writing when the work was going well or so I read somewhere. But the best theory on writing a novel was put forward by William Somerset Maugham who quipped that there are three rules for writing a novel but that no one knows what these rules are. So my rule is to follow what works for you. Graham Green famously wrote only five hundred words every day no more no less, after which he started drinking. Now, on the surface that sounds easy but remember he wrote every day even when he did not feel like it.
I think the only pattern for me is that I think about the work in progress all the time. At the gym, while reading, while walking, it is always there in some corner of my mind. That way even when I am sleeping the mind keeps grinding away at it, when I wake up there is usually some enlightenment gained on how to go forward. Then I sit in front of the computer basking and absorbing its glow and its rays. I visit as many websites about books and writing as much as I can – ranging from the Guardian books page to Arts & Letters Daily to Lithub, Electric Literature, Poets and Writers, Publishers Weekly etc. and then at some point I develop some guilty conscience and realize my day is far spent and that kind of nudges me to write a little bit and I do and then go back to prowling on the internet again and then I realize the day is almost gone and I scratch down a little something and that is it, I call it a day. But then nothing is typical when it comes to writing. I have been working on a short story set in Rwanda for the past 4-5 years.
Frankly, my writing process is nothing to write home about—to borrow a pun—I would wish I wrote more and read less. But if there is anything to be said for my process it is the fact that writing is never far from my mind. Always hovering there somewhere. So I will say always have a writing conscience. When you develop a writing conscience you feel guilty when you don’t write or do a writing-related thing and this is a good thing to have. Read as if your life depends on it. Write the kind of stuff that can only be written by you. The writing life is a marathon not a hundred meters dash, always remember that.
- EC. Osondu is a Nigerian writer known for his short stories. His story story “Waiting” won the 2009 Caine Prize for African Writing, for which he had been a finalist in 2007 with his story “Jimmy Carter’s Eyes”. He had previously won the Allen and Nirelle Galso Prize for Fiction and his story “A Letter from Home” was judged one of “The Top Ten Stories on the Internet” in 2006. He is the author of This House is not for Sale and his writing has been published in Agni, Guernica, Vice, Fiction, and The Atlantic. His debut collection of short stories, Voice of America, was published in 2010.