Ayobami Adebayo: Writers on Writing

"Knowing that I will rewrite everything anyway, I allow myself to go off on several tangents when I’m working on the first draft of a story or a novel."

Ayobami Adebayo
Ayobami Adebayo. Photo by Michael Lionstar

Ayobami Adebayo’s debut novel, Stay With Me, was shortlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and received widespread praise, including from literary critic Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times, who called it a “stunning debut novel” that “has a remarkable emotional resonance and depth of field.” Ayobami was born in Lagos, Nigeria, a place that also serves as the setting of her novel, which follows a newlywed couple struggling with infertility. The novel has been published in numerous countries and translated into German, Swedish, Italian, Polish, Turkish, and Hebrew.

What is the most important thing you’ve learned about writing?

Writing is rewriting, and there’s nothing wrong with going through several drafts before having a satisfactory version. In fact, although it can be tedious, rewriting could also be illuminating, even pleasurable.

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And how has that helped you as a writer?

Knowing that I will rewrite everything anyway, I allow myself to go off on several tangents when I’m working on the first draft of a story or a novel. I think there’s something about giving myself permission to go in many directions with the first draft that makes it possible for the words to lead me where I need to go.

—Gabriel Packard is the author of The Painted Ocean: A Novel, published by Corsair, an imprint of Little, Brown