Writing advice from Teju Cole

Teju Cole is a Nigerian-American writer and photographer who writes fiction and essays, takes photographs, and often combines the two crafts. His writing is always compelling, always precise. Reading it inspires and impresses.

I started with his fiction / auto-fiction Open City and went on to read his other books, particularly enjoying Known and Strange Things. I think a good writer allows you to perceive something you thought you understood in a new way, and Cole’s writing does this for me.

In his pieces called Eight Lessons for a Young Writer (originally a fictional exercise) Cole explores the craft of writing, providing advice and encouragement. The lessons are available to download here.

Here is some advice from one of those, on the value of keeping a journal. Hope you enjoy.

[…] that is what your writing talent consists of: to make the ordinary
interesting. In a field of unexceptional events, zoom in on the pungent
detail.

I want to be practical now: how are you going to accomplish
this? The answer is simple: keep a journal. It amazes me how often
people call themselves writers and yet fail to write. Runners run
everyday, and they know that not every run is a race. Musicians play
music perpetually, but not every time they pick up the guitar is a
concert. Writers, meanwhile, like to wait around for inspiration to
strike. Don’t wait; write! Describe, describe, describe, and find the
pleasure in pinning the right words to life’s incessant stream of
sensations.

From Teju Cole’s Eight Lessons for a Young Writer