Unforgettable Words Five African Authors on Their Most Cherished Writing Advice

If you are conflicted about getting started with your writing or trying to get out of a rut, these words of advice some seasoned authors have received might just be what you need. 

Writing is both powerful and delicate. It can influence how people think and can spur pivotal discussions crucial to how the world works. And that is why the story or idea is never enough. One can have the ‘gift’ of storytelling but still find it difficult to convey words in a clear and readable manner. This also works for non-fiction writing. It is not enough to have a brilliant idea. One must be able to present their thoughts and ideas clearly.  

It is no surprise that there are writing courses in colleges and universities. Aspiring writers use these courses as avenues to learn from experienced writers. As a reader myself, I often wonder what keeps my favourite authors inspired when they write. One of the questions we often ask in The Republic’s First Draft is: what is the most meaningful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received? Here are some of the most insightful responses I’ve found on the subject: 


‘Write about what matters to you. Also, write what you want to understand. For Under the Udala Trees, I wanted a safer world within Nigeria for LGBTQ community members. I wanted to sway intolerant and even hate-filled mindsets in Nigeria and around the world. In all of that, Ijeoma’s story came to me. So, I wrote the novel.’ — Chinelo Okparanta 

It is no surprise that many writers are inspired by what matters to them. Although writing is a fulfilling process, it is tasking. This also means that it is quite easy for one to run out of motivation and maintain interest in the story. Here lies the importance of writing what matters to you.  

Writing about what matters to you begs the question of: why is the subject worth writing about? What is the relevance of the event? How significant is it to the experience of people in our communities? What destructive notion or common belief are you trying to shed more light on? 


‘Another meaningful advice I have received is to use one’s frustration as a trigger for writing and making it right by telling another story. Most of my notable writings on Africa’s external relations and negotiations with new strategic partners come from this frustration and willingness to debunk some of the myths and clichés.’ — Folashadé Soulé-Kohndou 

Reading is a great way to develop knowledge and transform what currently exists. Just like Kohndou, who uses writing as a tool to debunk myths on Africa’s external relations and negotiations with strategic partners, it is important to see writing as a tool to address critical issues on worldview.  


‘When I started my writing journey, I found myself at a poetry workshop and the facilitator asked us to introduce ourselves. I said my name and mentioned I was an aspiring writer. She turned to me with fury and compassion in her eyes and said I should always call myself a writer. No adjectives needed. She changed my life.’ — Tope Folarin 

You never know what can inspire a writer. It could be a piece of writing or even something as simple as affirming their status as a writer.  


‘Just start.’ — Nancy Adimora  

Perhaps, this is the simplest writing advice you’ll ever come across. However, it is arguably the most important one. You’re only going to become a writer or a published author when you turn in that manuscript or draft copy. That’s not going to happen if you fail to start writing out that story or building on that idea. Why not start? 


‘“Imagine writing a letter to someone,” my mentor told me. A letter has a very specific and clear theme, and it is personal. The message here is that it is important to have a clear message for any academic or non-academic piece of writing, clarity matters.’ — Leiyo Singo 

No reader wants to read a book or a piece that is difficult to understand. Clarity makes it easier for a reader to get the message you intend to pass. When the reader is aware of the author’s claim and goal, there is clarity in the writing.   


While it is important to focus on the published book or finished piece of writing, it is also important to look at writing from the author’s perspective: How did the process of writing that book or article evolve? What constraints did the author experience while writing? What is the motivation behind the story or idea? And how can we learn from the tasking process that these authors have successfully navigated? 

The published text or book you consume has gone through several processes. The most important one is the writing of the piece. If you are conflicted about getting started with your writing or trying to get out of a rut, I hope these words of advice some seasoned authors have received give you exactly what you need

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