20 Quotes on Writing from South African Women Writers

 In Free content, How to write a book, Quotes for Writers

Today, 9 August, marks Women’s Day in South Africa, where half of our team is based and where (in normal times) many of our courses and workshops take place. It’s a day to celebrate women, especially South African women.

Like James Baldwin, we believe that “literature is indispensable”. The role that books, poems, and other literature written by women plays in shaping and changing the world is not to be underestimated. Consider Antjie Krog, who at just seventeen caused a scandal with her poem “My Beautiful land”, or Miriam Tlali, whose novels were banned in South Africa during apartheid.

To recognize this important day, we’ve compiled seventeen quotes on writing from some of our favourite contemporary South African women writers.

“Write. Write. Write. Writing is a commitment one makes to oneself – to do more than be dragged through life by language but to try and get some small purchase on it, to understand it, to really engage the world.”Yvette Christianse, author of Unconfessed

“I’m a writer, and I need to write in order to live.”Karina M Szczurek, author of The Fifth Mrs Brink

“Read, a lot – I’ve learned so much from other writers through their books.” – Nozizwe Cynthia Jele, author of The Ones With Purpose

“Don’t write for therapy, financial gain or glory. Write for the beauty of language and the joy of story. The first three things will disappoint you and rob you of the other two.– Rachel Zadok, author of Gem Squash Tokoloshe and founder of Short Story Day Africa

“Doubt happens to all writers, but the difference between a novel that ends and one that is abandoned is the author’s professionalism, her ability to write through the doubt and fear of failure to avoid being bogged-down with self-criticism, side-tracked, and disheartened.” – Alex Smith, author of Devilskein and Dearlove

“Trust your voice and hone your craft. Show up to do your work consistently. Read, read, and read some more!” – Barbara Boswell, author of Grace

“I began to write out of a sense of wonder about life, a tremendously vivid response to being alive.” – Nadine Gordimer, winner of the 1991 Nobel Prize in Literature

“Stop whining. If it’s so hard to be a writer that you have to moan about it all the time, then give it up. Otherwise, stop whining and start writing.” – Helen Brain, author of The Thousand Steps

“Put work behind the dream. You have to put in the hours.  I believe in hard work. I’ve been trying to work hard for over a decade but if I didn’t, I’d still be dreaming.” – Siphokazi Jonas, poet and playwright 

“Just showing up at your writing space is worth more than brilliance or perfection or buckets of time.” – Alex Smith, author of Devilskein and Dearlove

“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.” – Kopano Matlwa Mabaso, author of Coconut and Period Pain

“Be curious about the world. Make notes, observe, colors and smells and feelings, textures, and sounds, the way car exhaust smokes more in winter, the fallen leaves like puddles, eavesdrop on people speaking, and listen to how they speak and how they express themselves. And then write as much as you can.” – Lauren Beukes, author of The Shining Girls

“Keep going and don’t give up. The value in writing is firstly for yourself, and that is never a waste of time.” – Qarnita Loxton, author of Being Shelley

“Reading is fundamentally the most important thing that a writer can do. To read as widely as possible. And when you are writing, don’t read crap because the crap will show up in your own work. Read good people. Read people who you admire and who challenge you.” – Nadia Davids, author of An Imperfect Blessing

“Any advice I have for young writers? Write and read, and write, and read… I only know what’s in my mind when I write it down” – Phillippa Yaa De Villiers, poet

“Great writing comes from a place of truth.” – Melinda Ferguson, author of Smacked and publisher at Melinda Ferguson Books

“Uncertainty is good. Uncertainty will keep you writing, keep you looking.” – Yewande Omotoso, author of The Woman Next Door

“Writing is about trusting yourself, trusting your voice, trusting your story, trusting your intuition and trusting who you are becoming.” – Joanne Fedler, author of Things Without a Name

“I think of writing as a way of life, a way of making sense of my life, of processing my life, and of gaining access to insights.” – Colleen Higgs, author of My Mother, My Madness and publisher at Modjaji Books

Aimee-Claire Smith lives in Cape Town, where she is studying English Literature and working on her first novel. She likes coffee and cats. You can follow her on twitter or Instagram: @aiimeeclaiire


With a nod of appreciation to Jen Thorpe, as many of the quotes shared here were sourced from her brilliant blog series on advice from writers.
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