The Write Advice #1

I’ve been reading a lot of Black female writers lately. Their literature has an undeniable power and resonance to it, perhaps because of their unparalleled examination of relationships between races and genders and sexuality. An acute awareness of the political climate of their era is fluently woven into fantastic representations of myth and folklore. No more generalization can be afforded while describing Black Women’s literature, for all these authors possess deeply individualistic styles and perceptions.

Impressed by their art, I wanted to know more about the artists, especially their writing habits. I looked into interviews, speeches and memoirs of my favourite Black women writers and compiled a list of tips/advices that inspired me the most. Following:

Toni Morrison

Q: Do you ever read your work out loud while you are working on it?

Morrison: Not until it’s published. I don’t trust a performance. I could get a response that might make me think it was successful when it wasn’t at all. The difficulty for me in writing—among the difficulties—is to write language that can work quietly on a page for a reader who doesn’t hear anything. Now for that, one has to work very carefully with what is in between the words. What is not said. Which is measure, which is rhythm, and so on. So, it is what you don’t write that frequently gives what you do write its power.

Q: Do you write to figure out exactly how you feel about a subject?

Morrison: No, I know how I feel. My feelings are the result of prejudices and convictions like everybody else’s. But I am interested in the complexity, the vulnerability of an idea. It is not “this is what I believe,” because that would not be a book, just a tract. A book is “this may be what I believe, but suppose I am wrong . . . what could it be?” Or, “I don’t know what it is, but I am interested in finding out what it might mean to me, as well as to other people.”

Q: Did you know as a child you wanted to be a writer?

Morrison: No. I wanted to be a reader. I thought everything that needed to be written had already been written or would be. I only wrote the first book because I thought it wasn’t there, and I wanted to read it when I got through.

Q: It seems to me that the women in your books are almost always stronger and braver than the men. Why is that?

Morrison: That isn’t true, but I hear that a lot. I think that our expectations of women are very low. If women just stand up straight for thirty days, everybody goes, Oh! How brave!

[Read the entire interview here:]

Maya Angelou

While describing her writing routine
“…And I’ll remember how beautiful, how pliable the language is, how it will lend itself. If you pull it, it says, OK.” I remember that and I start to write. Nathaniel Hawthorne says, “Easy reading is damn hard writing.” I try to pull the language in to such a sharpness that it jumps off the page. It must look easy, but it takes me forever to get it to look so easy. Of course, there are those critics—New York critics as a rule—who say, Well, Maya Angelou has a new book out and of course it’s good but then she’s a natural writer. Those are the ones I want to grab by the throat and wrestle to the floor because it takes me forever to get it to sing. I work at the language.”

About her editor
“…I’ve had the same editor since 1967. Many times he has said to me over the years or asked me, Why would you use a semicolon instead of a colon? And many times over the years I have said to him things like: I will never speak to you again. Forever. Goodbye. That is it. Thank you very much. And I leave. Then I read the piece and I think of his suggestions. I send him a telegram that says, OK, so you’re right. So what? Don’t ever mention this to me again. If you do, I will never speak to you again. About two years ago I was visiting him and his wife in the Hamptons. I was at the end of a dining room table with a sit-down dinner of about fourteen people. Way at the end I said to someone, I sent him telegrams over the years. From the other end of the table he said, And I’ve kept every one! Brute! But the editing, one’s own editing, before the editor sees it, is the most important.”

On who does she write for
“It’s myself . . . and my reader. I would be a liar, a hypocrite, or a fool—and I’m not any of those—to say that I don’t write for the reader. I do. But for the reader who hears, who really will work at it, going behind what I seem to say. So I write for myself and that reader who will pay the dues. There’s a phrase in West Africa, in Ghana; it’s called “deep talk.” For instance, there’s a saying: “The trouble for the thief is not how to steal the chief’s bugle but where to blow it.” Now, on the face of it, one understands that. But when you really think about it, it takes you deeper. In West Africa they call that “deep talk.” I’d like to think I write “deep talk.” When you read me, you should be able to say, Gosh, that’s pretty. That’s lovely. That’s nice. Maybe there’s something else? Better read it again.”

[Read full interview here:]

Alice Walker

Q: You advocate that everyone should have a circle, a like-minded community to which they can belong. For a writer, what do you think that circle should be?

Walker: Early in my life I would have said it had to do something with writing itself, but now I think, not necessarily. A writer, to be connected to the world, should have a circle that cares about the world. And out of that would come the writing. And then, toward the end of each meeting, each circling occasion, someone might say, “Oh, you know, now that we’ve talked about all the other things”—like, you know, war and poverty and how to change this or that situation—“I just happen to have written this poem or short story or essay. Would you like to hear it?” Or they could say, maybe, “Hmm, this makes me think about what I’m doing in the world.” But it wouldn’t necessarily be just about writing. For me, writing has always come out of living a fairly to-the-bone kind of life, just really being present to a lot of life. The writing has been really a byproduct of that.

Q: What advice would you most like to offer writers today?

Walker: The most healthy thing is to be true to your own self, quoting—who was it, Hamlet?—but also, that you have a right to express what you see and what you feel and what you think. To be bold. To be as bold with your vision as you can possibly be. Our salvation, to the extent that we have one, will come out of people realizing the crisis of our species and of the planet and offering their deepest dream of what’s possible.

[Read full interview here:]

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