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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.

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