My creative-writing process begins with me wanting to tell a story. I call myself a storyteller by passion and an analyst by profession. Once I have decided on the story, I then decide who are the people to carry it. Characterisation is an important part of my process, which begins with me giving birth to the characters. With painstaking detail I pick names, birth dates, star signs, hobbies, et cetera. This makes them more real, not just to me, but for the reader. Sometimes the character becomes bigger than I intended. This happened with Joyce’s mom in The Polygamist. So I need to be flexible enough to allow the characters to grow or diminish.
Research is also an important part of my writing process. A lot of background research went into The Gold Diggers, and I don’t mean just desktop research. I walked the streets of Johannesburg just like Portia did. I believe the research adds to the authenticity of the book. I am a research analyst and this always filters through into my work. However, the downside is I tend to get carried away with the research and have to remind myself that I am writing a book and not an academic thesis.
When I was still a novice writer, I was more meticulous with the planning. I would do a story outline from beginning to end with a chapter by chapter synopsis that I followed religiously. Now the process is more unrefined and I allow the story to unravel as I write. I do get writer’s block and for me it’s simply a sign that something is not working with the plot. So I simply take a step back from writing and I return to it later.
I have been unemployed since June 2018. So I have had the luxury of writing every day, dedicating five hours to the craft. When I write, I need total silence, which I get only when my son is at school. When he gets home, I shut the laptop and transform from writer into a desperate house mom. Often I can’t switch off the characters inhabiting my head and the plotting continues. Writing might seem like a lonely craft, but I am not alone because my characters keep me company. I have just completed my third novel and now I can exhale!
Sue Nyathi is the author of The Polygamist (Logogog, 2012) and The Gold Diggers (Pan Macmillan, 2018)