March 25, 2009

Letter to a Young Writer: Bernardine Evaristo

Bernardine Evaristo by KatieVandyckI frequently encounter talented students when I run creative writing workshops around the world, talent which may one day lead to publication, or not. As Thomas A. Edison famously said “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” Without focus and hard work many a spark fizzles out. Sometimes this is what aspiring writers need to be told – that the craft of writing is something which has to be developed over many years and that you need tremendous drive. The first challenge is to complete a manuscript and get it published; the second is to keep doing it. It may appear that published writers are somehow just ‘lucky’, but the truth is that no one is going to publish a book that hasn’t been written. As the American motivational guru Anthony Robbins says, “The meeting of preparation with opportunity generates the offspring we call luck.”

Quite a few writers have passed through my workshops and eventually been published. I’m not saying this to take credit for their success, but to make the point that not all of them showed that special creative spark. But the other qualities they possessed: openness to learning and developing craft, determination, self-discipline, consistent hard-work, single-mindedness, and tenacity, were all major factors in their transformation into published writers of note. They also had self-belief. Over two thousand years ago the Roman poet Virgil wrote “They can because they think they can.” How true. When students cite lack of self-confidence as the reason why they’re not writing, or writing but not sending their work out to journals, agents or publishers, I suggest they go on motivational and confidence-building courses, or at least read the books (Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway is a good starter). I did. And yes, in true cringe-worthy fashion –it changed my life.

So it’s not about starting out fully-formed as a writer but working with what you have to grow your talents and give yourself the writing career you desire. I am a firm believer in taking responsibility and positive thinking at all times. This has led me to where I am today. If one door closes, I open another one – I don’t wait for someone to do it for me.


Bernardine Evaristo was born and raised in London where she still lives. Blonde Roots is her first prose novel. She has previously fused fiction with poetry in the novels, Soul Tourists (Penguin 05) and The Emperor’s Babe (Penguin 01). Bloodaxe Books will publish a new expanded edition of her verse novel Lara in 2009--the story of her family history with roots in England, Nigeria, Ireland, Brazil, and Germany. In 2007 she co-edited the Granta new writing anthology NW15. She has received several awards, her books have been a Book of the Year nine times for national newspapers and publications, and she is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and the Royal Society of Arts. For more information, please visit her website: or her blog:

Photo: Bernardine Evaristo by Katie Vandyck

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