Subscribe to Newsletter
Monthly Newsletter: Join more than 3,000 African literature enthusiasts!
Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our "Guide to African Novels."

laila-lalami

Wait for the right time. Wait for the right place.

Be in awe of your novel’s premise. The best premises in the world still don’t add up to a completed book.

Get up from the chair. Tell yourself you’re just taking a five-minute break. Make coffee. Look for your special mug. You were drinking from it when you sold your first story, so now you must have it in order to write anything. Get back in the chair.

Stare at the screen. Wonder what your agent will think about your new novel, which, by the way, you’re not writing because you’re reading this instead. Wonder what readers will think. Wonder what critics will think, especially the asshole who did a hatchet job on your last book. Worry about your career, such as it is.

Think about your premise again. All it needs is careful execution. But when that’s done, oh, it will be amazing. This book is finally going to make you happy. And popular! All those people who made fun of you in high school are going to feel mighty sorry about the way they treated you. Dream about publication. Wait a minute. Will there be any bookstores left by the time you finish this book? Will there be any publishers left, even?

Google yourself.

Login to Twitter. Argue with an anonymous stranger about political issues neither of you will ever resolve. Login to Facebook. Argue with your crazy uncle about political issues neither of you will ever resolve. Scroll through your newsfeed, look at pictures of your friends at cocktail parties. They all look so happy. Why? Because they’re not trying to write, that’s why. Dwell on your loneliness.

Read your Amazon reviews. Who the hell is ‘kafkaisoverrated75′ and why did he give you a one-star review?

Get up from the chair. Alphabetize your bookshelf. Straighten your picture frames. Rearrange everything on your desk. Get back in the chair. Start reading blogs. Someone posted a tirade about MFA programs. Feel compelled to write a response, which turns into another long tirade about MFA programs.

Oh God, how did it get to be 11 am already? You have to start grading papers soon. Wish you had more time.

Notice the pages you wrote last week. Read them, decide they’re useless, toss them in the trash. Wish you had more talent.

Make a necklace out of paperclips. Check your email. Ignore your credit card bill. Unsubscribe from newsletters. Decline invitations to connect on LinkedIn.

Stare at the screen. Doubt the work. Fear the world. Ask yourself how you ever wrote anything at all before. Read an interview with Toni Morrison in the Paris Review. She wrote The Bluest Eye while holding down a full-time job at Random House and taking care of two children. She got up at 5 am every day. What’s your excuse?

Rummage through the trash, pull out the pages you tossed. Reread them. Maybe there’s a sentence here that can be salvaged.

Tell yourself you’re just taking a five-minute break.

I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

5 Responses to “African Writers on Writing | Laila Lalami on How Not To Write A Novel” Subscribe

  1. Gathoni Wa Wairura 2015/06/03 at 04:31 #

    Wow, You really were writing to me. Thank you very much 🙂
    I had just made a cup of coffee, I was staring at the screen for the longest and I just looked at the time, it was 11:20.
    The likes of Toni Morrison abilities, I ask myself daily, and then I conclude, such people are genius.
    Thank you for a great article and will now get back to my writing.

    Gathoni

  2. Gathoni Wa Wairura 2015/06/03 at 04:33 #

    Wow, You really were writing to me. Thank you very much 🙂
    I had just made a cup of coffee, I was staring at the screen for the longest and I just looked at the time, it was 11:20.
    The likes of Toni Morrison,…., I ask myself daily, and then I conclude, such people are genius.
    Thank you for a great article and will now get back to my writing.

    Gathoni

  3. Tolulope Popoola 2015/06/03 at 05:52 #

    Sigh. This is me struggling to write that second novel (minus the arguing with people on social media bit).

  4. Catherine O 2015/06/07 at 13:12 #

    Lol – I must admit that I’m guilty of number 2. Thank goodness I decided to go with short stories.

    https://www.facebook.com/DFGstories

    Novel? Egad!

    This was great. Tweeting!

  5. Ayo Inika 2015/08/06 at 14:17 #

    So many reasons to avoid that blank screen. . .sigh. Writing. Why don’t we do something easier? Because writing is what we are.

Leave a Reply

Welcome to Brittle Paper, your go-to site for African writing and literary culture. We bring you all the latest news and juicy updates on publications, authors, events, prizes, and lifestyle. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram (@brittlepaper) and sign up for our "I love African Literature" newsletter.

Monthly Newsletter!

Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our
"Guide to African Novels."

Archives

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus Turns 15: The Best Moments of a Modern Classic

chimamanda ngozi adichie - by ecrivain

“It wasn’t the first novel I wrote,” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie told the audience at the University of Nairobi, during her […]

Quramo Writers’ Prize 2018 Unveils Top 5 Finalists

Quramo 1

Lagos – 10/10/18: Quramo Publishing has unveiled the Top 5 finalists of the Quramo Writers’ Prize 2018, two weeks after […]

Enter for the K & L Prize for African Literature

k and l prize

Submissions have begun for the 2019 K & L Prize for African Literature. The $1,000 prize, which is in its […]

The 2018 African Literature Association (ALA) Book Awards | Call for Nominations

ala yale 2017

Submissions have begun for the 2018 African Literature Association (ALA) Book Awards. The deadline for submissions is 1 November 2018. The […]

Nominate a Writer for the Fonlon-Nichols Award for African Literature

nadine gordimer - collage

Nominate a creative writer for the Fonlon-Nichols Award by 1 November 2018. This award, established in 1992 to honor Bernard […]

Pentecostal Republic | A Powerful New Book Tackles the Role of Pentecostalism in Nigerian Politics

pentecostal republics ebenezer obadare

Nigerian Sociologist Ebenezer Obadare is asking us to take a closer look at the underlying forces of Nigeria’s political life. […]

Thanks for signing up!

Never miss out on new posts. Subscribe to a digest, too:

No thanks, I only want the monthly newsletter.