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There are aspiring African writers out there working hard to produce good work. To help them get ahead in the literary hustle, we  keep an eye out for words of encouragement and advice from successful African authors.

This edition of the “African Writers on Writing” series comes straight out of South Africa where all sorts of interesting things are happening as far as literature is concerned. Lauren Beukes is a world-renown speculative fiction writer with back-to-back blockbuster novels.

Now, there are those aspiring writers who want to be told that becoming a successful novelist is a stress-free mix of magical inspiration and burning passion. Beukes has a very different take on the writer’s labor.

Before you read the excerpt of comments made during a Reddit Ask-Me-Anything session, bear in mind that Beukes is the queen of metaphors. She knows how to embody just about any idea in the perfect image. She is also known not to sugar-coat her opinions in a situation where brutal honesty is needed–especially in matters having to do with writing.


I do succumb to the urge to snap the laptop shut and walk away in disgust and play stupid games on my cell phone because it’s easier than writing or solving the problem.

But I know I have to write.

It’s a sick compulsion. I will have to return to the page and FIX IT, so it’s maybe better just to get it over and done with.

I was telling a friend who was in despair at the end of her book, about this the other day: how the final stretch is like you’ve been taking a long, harrowing swim in a dark, cold ocean, where you’ve wrestled the kraken and fought off the undead pirates and escaped the jaws of the megaladon and you can see the lights twinkling on the shore and it’s all within your reach, but you’re tired and cold and you’ve had enough and you just want to sink right here and drown.

Screw it. You’re done. And drowning is supposed to be peaceful, right?

So you do, but it’s cold and your lungs are burning and you don’t really want to die, so you’re going to have to surface and strike out for the goddamn land after all.

And when you’re standing on the beach, shivering, dripping, looking back at the silvery ocean with wonder, you think: hey that wasn’t so bad after all.

That’s the logical fallacy which makes the next book possible.

That’s my experience. I find it tough. Often. I’d rather do anything else. Although that’s not true because [writing] is in my blood. Like a virus or an infection or some kind of horrible mind control parasite that needs me to live.

Other writers sail through writing with ease and every page is a joy.

Me? I have to get over my snarky, vicious, evil inner critic every single day.

— Read the full Reddit AMA thread HERE



Image from Lauren Beukes’ Instagram page.

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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.

One Response to “African Writers on Writing | Lauren Beukes Likens Writing to a Virus, an Infection, and a Parasite” Subscribe

  1. LadyofTheCorridor August 28, 2015 at 8:15 am #

    I am learning to embrace that vicious voice. I unleash the backspace button on that awful sentence/paragraph, feel a moment of peace, then despair about what to replace it with.

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