What writers should do when they hit a creative block, with Avni Doshi
The author walks us through a writer’s worst nightmare
The best part about interviewing a much lauded author isn’t just the fact that you can tick one thing off your task (and bucket) list, but also the fact that you walk away with a headful of innovative ideas and tips that you can use in your own writing journey. ‘Your well feels full again’ is how author Avni Doshi would put it.
In the fourth episode of our writing workshop, Tweak Storyteller, we spoke to Doshi about finding your voice, where to look for inspiration, what the writing processes looks like, and how to overcome the hurdles that keep us from putting pen to paper.
The nuggets that Doshi, whose debut novel Burnt Sugar (first published under the title Girl in White Cotton) recently made its way to made its way to the Booker 2020 longlist, shared with us were an interesting mix of personal experiences, practical skills, and fierce truth bombs – ‘These are all dead white people, and I don’t have to sound like them’.
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Avni Doshi on how to overcome hurdles while writing
Finding your voice as a writer
“For me, it was a very long process. I thought I had to sound like Hemingway or Virginia Woolf. But these are all dead white people, and I don’t have to sound like them, and that really came about through the process of writing, and also, through the process of reading.
I think reading different kinds of books from a variety of cultures, reading books in translation, if you speak other languages and you can read and write in those languages then maybe even reading in other languages can shift what you can imagine your writer’s voice to be like.”
Developing a unique writing style
“I don’t think I have a unique writing style. I’ve never been particularly interested in developing a unique writing style. I think what’s more important than a unique writing style is writing well.
I think it’s important to look at what other writers have done from the culture that you come from, and to look at the writing lineage that you’re interested in.
What have those writers done? And is there something that you want to imitate? I think imitation is the way we learn. Teaching yourself what these different writers have done successfully, and maybe imitating that in a way. That can really teach you how to write, and in a way, you will develop your own unique style through that process.”
Creating believable characters
“I don’t start with my characters in my imagination. I like to start with the characters on the page. So, the characters build from the page and they build through language. It’s always important to remember that what you have in your head is never going to translate perfectly into language – there’s always going to be a gap.
When you’re trying to make a very three-dimensional character, they have to have a kind of shadow side to them that is not immediately apparent, or maybe that is being a little bit repressed, and that really creates the sense of a full flesh and blood human being rather than something that’s more of a caricature.”
Rewriting and why you can’t do without it
Avni Doshi admits she “started writing this novel seven years ago, maybe eight, and until now there have been eight drafts.
The final draft that was published could be considered a completely different novel from what I started eight years ago. I think I had to go through the process of rewriting each time in order to really learn what I wanted to write about and in order to understand the kind of story I wanted to tell.”
Getting over a writer’s block
“It makes sense sometimes to step away and to do something else, go for a walk, read something, watch a beautiful film, revisit something you wrote years ago, just for fun.
Go do something that will refill your well. And sometimes, when we move completely away from the work that we’re trying to accomplish, we somehow through another path, come back to it.”
Looking for inspiration by using writing exercises
“I like to conjure a memory in my mind and then just begin to describe the scene in as much detail as I can. Something will emerge and then after that, just do a free-write where you’re just writing something about that memory.
Basically, do this first thing in the morning. Keep a pad of paper and a pen by your bed, and write by hand – three pages, straight from the dream space.
Your dream space is an interesting place to draw images, ideas and feelings from.”
Self-editing – as difficult as it is necessary
“I think the only way to really self-edit is to be able to take time and space so after you write a draft, the best advice I can give you, is to put it in a drawer for as long as you can, and then come back to it.
You’ll actually be able to approach your work with fresh eyes. You’ll actually have forgotten what you’ve written so you’ll be able to come to your work as an actual editor.”
WATCH NOW – Episode 3: How to find your style as a writer — with Anuja Chauhan
At the end of our five-week workshop, we’re inviting budding writers to share their stories with us, and our favourites will be published on TweakIndia.com.
You can email your entries to [email protected] with the subject line: Tweak Storyteller entry