Writing advice from Rémy Ngamije

Rémy Ngamije, is a Rwandan-born Namibian writer and photographer. He is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Doek!, Namibia’s first literary magazine. He was shortlisted for the AKO Caine Prize for African Writing in 2020. He was also longlisted for the 2020 Afritondo Short Story Prize. In 2019 he was shortlisted for Best Original Fiction by Stack Magazines. His debut novel The Eternal Audience Of One is available from Blackbird Books and is forthcoming from Scout Press (S&S). Pretty impressive achievements for just over eighteen months!

His book also has the most beautiful cover.

Rémy Ngamije’s book – The Eternal Audience of One (image from his website)

He recently appeared on the Book Lounge podcast (my favourite bookstore, so obviously I’ll listen to every episode) where he spoke about his busy past year. He seemed so full of passion and just raring to write. It was energising to listen to. He also had some sensible advice, including ‘go somewhere where nothing happens (Windhoek) so you can’t get distracted from your writing’. I’m paraphrasing, but you get the vibe.

I thought I’d see whether he has any other good advice to share. Turns out he posts regularly on his own website (check it out). I’ve started trying to write short stories this year and so naturally I was drawn to his thoughts on this subject. On when to finish a short story, Rémy has a few thoughts, expressed in his post – A Quiet Place to Quit. Enjoy.

It is necessary, though. If I do not quit I will do something even harder: continue.

And there is nothing worse than carrying on when the moment has passed, when the tea has gone cold. If there is anything worse than an uninvited house guest it is a short story that lingers on too long, one that attempts to be a three-course meal with the attendant array of forks, knives, and spoons when it should be served like street food, whipped together at speed, slapped with sauces unknown, and tucked into with all the good bits dripping down your chin. At some point, sooner rather than later—preferably sooner—you just have to let the short story go.

Let it go.

(Please do not sing that fucking Frozen song.)

Rémy Ngamije in his post – A quiet place to quit.

Writing advice from Marlon James

Marlon James, Jamaican writer, has published four novels. I have only read A Brief History of Seven Killings – a fictional account of the plot to murder Bob Marley – which won the Man Booker Prize in 2015. It is an immersive read, filled with dialect and alive with characters that will have you thinking about them for months and years afterward. The plot is pretty damn fantastic too.

His latest book – Black Leopard, Red Wolf – is the first in a fantasy trilogy he’s writing and is on my bookshelf waiting for me. He also has his own literary podcast with his editor – Marlon and Jake read Dead People. I’ve listened to James in quite a few other podcasts too, and after listening I’m left with is the sense that writing can be an intensely pleasurable task and that we shouldn’t all take ourselves so seriously. I always feel encouraged by that.

He was interviewed by LitHub in 2017, and offered a bunch of helpful pragmatic advice, including the following:

Writing is work for me. I just don’t have the luxury of waiting until the mood strikes. I don’t have the luxury of waiting until inspiration strikes. I also don’t believe that’s how ideas work. I think ideas hit you when you’re busy, when you are already in the process of discovering, or thinking, or creating, that’s what leads to creation.

Marlon James as interviewed by LitHub.

Hopefully this advice sparks your enthusiasm and you get writing too.

Writing advice from Sally Rooney

I read Normal People in 2019 in a one-day sprint, drawn into the story and the lives of the characters. This year Normal People was made into a series screened on the BBC. I watched it over a weekend, completely immersed in the story again, and particularly moved by the music.

For me, this was a story about how hard it is to say what you feel, and at points to even know what you feel. It’s a story of how we can misread another person’s words and expressions with huge impact. It’s a story of how to love someone can be to give them a type of power over you, a power that should be respected.

It felt profound to watch this story of love and misunderstanding in a time where we are all covering most of our faces and have lost even more of the social cues that give us a hint of what the person we’re talking to might be feeling. How odd it must be to fall in love at this time.

One of the things that has been spoken about a lot in the media around the series is the sex scenes (there are plenty) and how intimate and beautiful they were. The Guardian wrote about the fascinating role of intimacy coordinators in Normal People and in the film world in general. These coordinators are vital in keeping the actors safe and feeling comfortable with what they’re doing. I highly recommend watching the video clip on the Guardian to understand just how profound it is, and how new it seems for many directors, to care about this.

Many writers find sex scenes difficult to write. In fact, there is a whole award for writing terrible sex scenes each year. So, I thought it was interesting to read what Sally Rooney had to say for OprahMag about writing the sex scenes in Normal People. Perhaps this framing of it as a dialogue is exactly why they worked so well.

I hope you enjoy this bit of advice.

When I hear the phrase “sex scene,” I think about a dialogue scene. What do these characters want to say to each other? I won’t just write a scene where two characters say words to each other randomly. Similarly, sex scenes have to actually play some dramatic role. If I locate something that’s being exchanged between them in an emotional sense, or that’s changing the dynamic between them, I’ll have to follow them through the scene. I want to be there because otherwise we don’t get a sense that anything’s changed.

Sally Rooney as interviewed by Oprah Mag

Writing advice from Will Self

Today’s advice from the Guardian collection Write, from the chapter by Will Self. This chapter takes the form of ten tips for a writing life.

10. Regard yourself as a small corporation of one. Take yourself off on team-building exercises (long walks). Hold a Christmas party every year at which you stand in the corner of your writing room, shouting very loudly to yourself while drinking a bottle of white wine. Then masturbate under the desk. The following day you will feel a deep and cohering sense of embarassment.

From The Guardian – Write (2012)

Writing advice from Elizabeth Gilbert

Many people know Elizabeth Gilbert from the fame of Eat, Pray, Love and many more know her for the many other books she has written, or podcasts she has been on. She seems (from afar) like a kind, thoughtful, and good person.

For me, the book that was most useful to my writing and creative practice was her book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear which is a sort of manifesto and tribute to the creative life, and offering to you as the creative all in one. It’s a great book, especially if you want to pursue creativity (in whatever form) but have something holding you back.

Since it is a Monday – a day for many of us where our ‘real life’ responsibilities can feel particularly present with us at the creative table, possibly even oppressively so – I would like to offer you some advice from this book that you may need.

Are you considering becoming a creative person? Too late, you already are one. To even call somebody “a creative person” is almost laughably redundant; creativity is the hallmark of our species. We have the senses for it; we have the curiosity for it; we ave the opposable thumbs for it; we have the rhythm for it; we have the language and the excitement and the innate connection to divinity for it.

If you are alive, you’re a creative person.

[…]

The guardians of high culture will try to convince you that the arts belong only to a chosen few, but they are wrong and they are also annoying. We are all the chosen few.

From Elizabeth Gilbert – Big Magic. Page 89.