Maya Angelou’s Writing Process


Maya Angelou was an American author and poet who published six autobiographies, five books of essays, and several books of poetry. She was born 4 April 1928, and died 28 May 2014.

Her career spanned more than 50 years and she received many awards and more than 30 honorary doctoral degrees. In 2000, Angelou was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Bill Clinton. In 2010, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honour in the U.S., by President Barack Obama.

She was best known for memoirs, which focused on her childhood and early adult experiences. The first in the series, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, brought her international recognition and acclaim.

In an interview with George Plimpton in The Paris Review, she described her writing process:

“I have kept a hotel room in every town I’ve ever lived in. I rent a hotel room for a few months, leave my home at six, and try to be at work by six-thirty. To write, I lie across the bed, so that this elbow is absolutely encrusted at the end, just so rough with callouses. I never allow the hotel people to change the bed, because I never sleep there. I stay until twelve-thirty or one-thirty in the afternoon, and then I go home and try to breathe; I look at the work around five; I have an orderly dinner—proper, quiet, lovely dinner; and then I go back to work the next morning.

Sometimes in hotels I’ll go into the room and there’ll be a note on the floor which says, Dear Miss Angelou, let us change the sheets. We think they are mouldy. But I only allow them to come in and empty wastebaskets. I insist that all things are taken off the walls. I don’t want anything in there. I go into the room and I feel as if all my beliefs are suspended. Nothing holds me to anything. No milkmaids, no flowers, nothing.

I just want to feel and then when I start to work I’ll remember. I’ll read something, maybe the Psalms, maybe, again, something from Mr. Dunbar, James Weldon Johnson. And I’ll remember how beautiful, how pliable the language is, how it will lend itself. If you pull it, it says, OK.” I remember that and I start to write. Nathaniel Hawthorne says, “Easy reading is damn hard writing.”

I try to pull the language in to such a sharpness that it jumps off the page. It must look easy, but it takes me forever to get it to look so easy. Of course, there are those critics—New York critics as a rule—who say, Well, Maya Angelou has a new book out and of course it’s good but then she’s a natural writer. Those are the ones I want to grab by the throat and wrestle to the floor because it takes me forever to get it to sing. I work at the language.

… When I would end up writing after four hours or five hours in my room, it might sound like, It was a rat that sat on a mat. That’s that. Not a cat. But I would continue to play with it and pull at it and say, I love you. Come to me. I love you. It might take me two or three weeks just to describe what I’m seeing now.”

Angelou once had three books: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, The Heart of a Woman, and Even the Stars Looked Lonesome, on The New York Times’ bestseller list for six consecutive weeks, simultaneously.

Source for screenshot: ThoughtCo

 by Amanda Patterson

If you enjoyed this, you will love:

  1. Kerouac’s 30 Rules for Writing
  2. 10 Tips For Writers From Douglas Adams
  3. John Grisham’s 8 Do’s And Don’ts For Popular Fiction

Why we ask you to buy us a coffee:

We like to keep our blog clean and simple, free of clutter and advertising — so you’re not distracted and can focus on your craft. If you find you’re inspired, educated, or even entertained by our posts, please give us a donation. We’ll keep Writers Write about writing and nothing else.

Buy Me A Coffee

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg or sign up for our online course.

This article has 2 comments

  1. Dr Leon Roach-Lord

    Interesting, I’ve tried writing, but, discovered, if am to be readable it is important to write as I speak.

  2. Leon Roach-Lord, PhD

    Writing to me is based on experiences, feelings, pains, hurts, love and disappointments. Therefore, I must write as \I converse.

Comments are now closed.