Eight Letters to a Young Writer by Teju Cole


Eight Letters to a Young Writer is a fictional exercise of letters addressed to a fictional young Nigerian writer. The letters contained advice or as the author said ‘suggestions’ as to how the young writer should go on pursuing his passion for writing stories.

I came about this (magnificent) piece of work because of an article by The Daily Post. It intrigued me because 1. it said recommended reading and 2. it said letters. Not many of you may know but I enjoy reading and making letters. In fact I recently posted a fictional letter here in my blog entitled A Letter from Casandra. I love writing letters and little notes. I make them for people, leave them at restaurants or coffee places or book shops, just everywhere! With all these crazy technology of how people communicate, I still find that a heartfelt letter or a sweet note still does the job like no other.

I write a lot, about a lot of things. I write more than I talk to be honest. It has been like that for me all my 24 glorious years.

When I saw that this letter was addressed to a young writer, I knew I had to read it. It was not because I plan on becoming a novelist. No. It was simply because I write.

Looking at my notebook right now, the first thing I wrote was WOW. Just wow. I couldn’t describe it with any other word except BEAUTIFUL. The eloquence and the sincerity and just how fluid the writing spoke to me. You know it came from a place of truth despite being addressed to a fictional writer. The passion in writing is palpable. I planned to review and give my thoughts on each of the eight letters, but thinking through it, I figured it would be useless. The letters were created to complement each other, and commence from where the previous one ended.

Read more than you write… Your originality will mean nothing unless you can understand the originality of others.

During the course of reading the letters, I found myself nodding, and feeling enlightened with so many things, just like how my love for Garcia Marquez as an author is grounded on reflecting reality as it is, poignant and raw. It is a good read for authors and reviewers (readers) alike. For one, it gave me better insight on how authors think, and the risks they take in telling their stories. In a way, it has helped me categorize authors, not by the genre for which they write, but by their voice they choose to be heard and writing style. Reading on, I came to the conclusion that authors don’t really choose a very narrow and specific audience when writing, but a certain set of reactions like Cole said. Reactions which are not so vague, yet not so eccentric to the point of being unrelatable at all. This has definitely given me new insight on how I read books, and how I try to interpret them to my point of view.

It is a concept that can be expanded infinitely, for what we call originality is little more than the fine blending of influences. No one is going to lay claim to having discovered the use of colour to show elation, or expressing sorrow by means of pacing, or the peculiar thrill of unfolding a thematic element and varying it.

The letters spoke to me more towards the end when he talked about writing, and writing, and writing some more. He spoke of how authors should write every single day, just like how musicians live to play. Keeping a journal and daring to bore readers. Those words stuck to me the most together with reading more than you write. I could have just highlighted the whole thing to be quite honest. It felt like every piece of word placed beside each other has been thought of meticulously. Plus he had this slight bias over ‘heavy reads’ so I felt like he was my BFF. Reaching the final letter, I got the sense that though it was addressed toward another, the author was reflecting on himself, and the words were directed more to himself than any other. How he talked about fearlessness, and refusing to bend to the weight of the more famous, common plots.

The answer is simple: keep a journal. It amazes me how often people call themselves writers and yet fail to write. Runners run everyday, and they know that not every run is a race. Musicians play music perpetually, but not every time they pick up the guitar is a concert.

It’s weird, but I felt a comforting, warm feeling reading the letters. I didn’t read them all at once, but when I did read a letter or two, it felt like a treat. I will keep this for the rest of my life that is for sure, and probably re-read it many times. I suggest that everyone read it, authors and readers. It is a gem. This isn’t a book, but just to show how much I want everyone to read it.

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Plus all my love…

Do yourself a favor. READ. IT. You’re welcome.

Here is the link to the PDF form.


2 thoughts on “Eight Letters to a Young Writer by Teju Cole

  1. WOW. So I totally want to read this…is it an actual book, too?! I’m going to look it up on goodreads, but squee, it sounds really insightful and different. Although I confess I don’t write everyday but I still call myself a firm writer. haha. XD I think it can be a matter of preference and your own personal journey? But writers DO need to write often. *nods sagely*
    Thanks for stopping by @ Paper Fury!

    Liked by 1 person

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