Writing advice from Kopano Matlwa Mabaso

Kopano Matlwa Mabaso was born in 1985 and by her 22st birthday had written and published Coconut (2007) which won the EU literary award for debut fiction and the Wole Soyinka prize for Literature in Africa (and was written whilst studying to become a doctor). In 2011 she was listed as one of the US Embassy’s Young African Women Leaders. Coconut is soon going to be adapted into a film too!

Since her debut in 2010 she has graduated with a PhD in Population Health from Oxford University and published two more books – Spilt Milk (2010) and Period Pain (2017). Period pain was shortlisted for multiple literary awards. She has also won awards for her medical work.

In interviews she is often cited as quoting Chekov – ‘Medicine is my wife and writing is my mistress’ and I think it’s safe to say that the world is benefiting from both of these relationships.

I found some writing advice from Kopano via the Golden Baobab awards when she was a panellist. It linked to some of what I’ve been reading about creativity and ‘flow states‘, to the value of letting go of your ego, and to what some people call ‘trusting the process.’

I hope you enjoy!

It’s always difficult to know what to say when asked for ‘writing tips’ because I’ve never really quite felt like I was qualified to do anything of the sort. Writing for me has always been a dance with God, often beginning with me forgetting the steps, going off rhythm, losing my nerve and ending with me surrendering to another lesson where I must be taught the moves again, where I must be reminded to ignore the reflections of my misshapen self in the mirrors that line the walls, where I must submit to being led and find contentment in letting God choose the music and the pace.


However, what I would say though, is to surrender. Let your pen relax in your hand and your notebook lie loosely on your lap. Let whatever comes, come, and try not to think too far into the plot. Just pour all of yourself into that very moment, into the great opportunity you have been given to add to the story of humanity. Do not worry if it’s poignant, witty, timely, let it be what it is. Let it be. Worry not about an audience, worry more about the unseen audience, the eternal audience that won’t hesitate to prickle your conscious when you dare to write from a place of dishonesty. And read! Read as much as you can. Read anything and everything you can get your hands on. Read adverts, menus, newspapers, chewing gum wrappers, food labels, good books, bad books, fiction and non-fiction, books with more pictures than words and books that you meet in trains, on the street, at your workplace and in your home.

Kopano Matlwa Mabaso via The Golden Baobab

Happy reading, and happy writing!