Q&A - What’s the most helpful piece of writing advice you’ve received?
By Neeraja Kumar and Anika Mukker
I got my most helpful piece of writing advice from my ten-year-old sister over a hastily typed-out acrostic poem that was accidentally forwarded into the family WhatsApp group: be genuine. It doesn’t matter if you have never actually experienced whatever the characters in your pieces have gone through; if you don’t empathize with them at a visceral level, often the readers won’t either. In retrospect, it is a pretty obvious piece of advice, but still something nice to remind myself of when I find myself veering into purple prose or uncharacteristic plot twists while writing.
“Thinking is overrated. Just write.”
It seems counterintuitive, but sometimes the best way to articulate your ideas is to get out of your head. I am the kind of person who thinks all the time. My brain is constantly running: sometimes focusing on the task at hand, sometimes reminiscing on past experiences, sometimes conjuring impossible scenarios, sometimes having conversations with itself. There is always something going on in my mind, and that’s why I have always had an affinity for writing. I think it’s beautiful that the chaos in my brain has the potential to become a compelling (or, at the very least, coherent) narrative when written down or typed onto yet another untitled Google Doc.
That being said, it can be easy to get trapped in your train of thought. More often than not, thinking actually stifles my ability to write; my hands eagerly wait for something to happen as they grasp my pen or rest on my keyboard—nothing does. The piece of advice to stop thinking when writing came from one of my previous English teachers when I was preparing for my AP English Language Exam. I was struggling to articulate my thoughts in response to the three prompts I was expected to answer in succession. I was so fixated on creating the perfect essay that I found it hard to write at all. After a lot of days filled with sitting at my desk and staring at blank paper, I finally let myself just turn on “autopilot” and write. That honestly made a world of difference, and the principle of writing without overthinking is one I have been working to incorporate into more creative endeavours.
Neeraja Kumar is a Senior Editor at Polyphony Lit and a blogger at Voices.
Anika Mukker is an Executive Editor at Polyphony Lit and a blogger at Voices.