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How to Write: Tips from Zakes Mda

Inspired by the Guardian’s recent article bringing together “how to write” tips from prominent authors, ReadSA and BOOK SA introduce a similar series a bit closer to home. Watch out for top tips from stars in the SA Lit firmament!

Book Signing - Zakes MdaWays of DyingBlack DiamondThe Heart of RednessZakes Mda is one of South Africa’s most prolific and critically-acclaimed playwrights and novelists. His best-known books are Ways of Dying and The Heart of Redness – and he was recently the subject of a new work of criticism, Ways of Writing, out from UKZN Press. Mda’s latest book is Black Diamond, published by Penguin.

Zakes Mda’s tips:

* * * * *

1. Show, don’t tell. Humbug! You do need to tell as well. Effective storytelling is a balancing act between showing and telling, otherwise all stories would be in real time.

2. Write what you know. Humbug again! Otherwise all our stories would be about our own miserable little selves and nothing else.

3. The most compelling of stories are not made of big moments and sweeping gestures, but are an accumulation of small moments.

4. Waiting for inspiration? You will wait forever. Write and write and write again. Inspiration will find you on the way.

5. Write anywhere and everywhere: in the kitchen as you prepare meals for the family, at the train station, in the plane, in the bedroom between bouts of lovemaking. Solitude is a luxury you can’t afford.

6. Avoid reading thrash. It is infectious and will creep into your own writing. Read only writers whose work you admire.

7. Do explore and search for unsung writers. You never know what gems you’ll find between those covers. However if a novel doesn’t engage you in the first five pages discard it. Life is too short.

8. Be a shameless eavesdropper.

9. Have lots of kids. They are a source for rich material.

10. Don’t judge your characters; leave the judging to the reader.

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Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Sally</a>
    March 1st, 2010 @13:52 #

    I really love this series and the knowledge that comes out of it is priceless. I especially love Mda's view on how life's little moments create the bigger story. Such great advice.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Fiona</a>
    March 1st, 2010 @14:11 #

    Excellent. Some of these lists have been annoying (not yours, Sally - I loved yours!), but this is really great. I especially like 1, 2 and 8.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    March 1st, 2010 @14:52 #

    Fabulous, and I love Numbers 5 and 9. I know what you mean, Fifi, the "lock yourself up in a white room and eschew children, spouses and pets" school of thought is a little precious.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Thando Mgqolozana</a>
    Thando Mgqolozana
    March 1st, 2010 @15:12 #

    I've been waiting for a license to do 9 so that I can get lots of 4. Thank you, Bra-Zakes.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Margie</a>
    March 2nd, 2010 @10:57 #

    I have had an irresponsible number of children and it is true, they do inspire one. To earn enough money to pay for the education, their clothes, the unbelievable amount of food they and their teenage friends eat. etc. So it does make one speed up and write already!


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