Best writing advice I received #DiscoverWP

Two years ago, I decided to go to university to study creative writing. While I don’t think you need a degree to write, for me, it was more to just find a place to meet other like-minded souls, talk about writing and learn a thing or two. I learnt a lot about writing fiction, creative nonfiction, freelance and feature writing. I loved it all and still want to do it all. Most of my lecturers taught me something valuable about the art of writing.

But my best piece of writing advice was not from a lecturer or teacher. It was from another student.

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In the very first semester, one of my classes was Narrative Writing. The course content itself was pretty good but the manner in which it was delivered, not so much. One of the assignments for the unit was 750-word pieces of writing on prompts. Each week, we’d write our work, workshop it with a small group and hone it till the time of submission in the middle of the semester. During the second week {or maybe the third}, the lecturer paired some of us up to interview one another and {I think} to write about that person as if they were a famous published author. So we had to basically get to know each other.

I was paired with a guy SM who was also in my other unit that semester. He wasn’t keen on answering questions first and instead preferred to ask me questions. So fair enough, we chatted. He asked a question about my background. I told him how I’m originally from India and have been here in Australia since I was 21. I got the usual response — that I don’t have an accent, that he could have sworn I was born here. But then he asked me why I left India. So I talked about all I disliked, particularly the treatment of women, and how I never ‘felt’ Indian ever {food doesn’t count}. I told him about my love for Australia since I was about 12 and feeling at home here even though I have no family here.

He told me he found all of it so fascinating. Then, he gave me the best advice ever.

Why don’t you use your heritage in your stories?

You see, all my stories or pieces that I’d read in two different classes were based on Aussie characters drawn from clients I see or kids I’ve met. I had never, ever written anything with an Indian character in it. If you read stories on my blog too, you’ll notice there has never been an Indian character until maybe one recently.

SM told me that my background was great. There was so much material there for stories. Whereas he was a white male with a pretty dull background apparently {his words, not mine!} We ran out of time and I never had a chance to interview him. But by then, he’d planted a seed.

So for my major pieces — a 3000 word short story for two unit that semester and two short stories the next semester — my characters were all Indians. One story was set here in Australia and three were set in Bombay. I realised I could use things I didn’t like about India and its treatment of women in some of the stories. In the other one, I used migration and adapting to a different culture as well as certain cultural expectations I dislike.

Through that, I found my voice. I found a unique area. None of my other classmates were of Indian ethnicity.

I thanked him heaps for the advice after I workshopped my short story and got decent feedback. He joked that if I ever got published I should name him in the acknowledgements. The truth is, if that dream ever comes true, you can bet I’ll acknowledge him. Because now, thanks to his advice, whenever I think about future longer works, I think of it in terms of Indian protagonists. In the end, it’s something I know well. I know what I had to go through for 21 years. I may not have liked it all but there’s fodder for several stories.

(c) Sanch V @ Sanch Writes (16 July 2016)

Written for the WordPress Discover Challenge and Day 7 of the Festival of Words challenge at Write Tribe

  1. Ankita

    July 16, 2016 at 3:29 pm

    I wonder why do you dislike India so much! Of course, there are bad things, but there are good things, too. On one hand, a majority of people are too nosey, but on the other hand, many people possess golden hearts, as well. My mom made it pretty clear from my childhood that she doesn’t believe in hanging out with all my relatives. She allowed use to choose with whom we wish to remain in touch and whom we could ignore. I have found this to be the best option, ever! Now, I am in touch with only those people who let me be who I am. I am sure you know how much relief this would have brought to me 🙂 I have observed that men of gen Y and Z have much evolved. They respect women more and are considerate of their gf/wife’s feelings. Then of course, one cannot simply ignore other generations that are still immersed in their own mindset.

    Forgive me for using your comment board as a free writing platform, but I just had to say that India is a beautiful country, and if all it’s residing Indians learn to evolve, there is no place I’d rather be in.

    Excellent writing advice, though! Using one’s heritage in writing most certainly helps.

  2. Kala Ravi

    July 16, 2016 at 4:54 pm

    That was one great piece of advice Sanch! Using and playing to your strengths always helps, especially with a heritage so rich! I am glad you took it up and are using the same in your writings. And you are right, experience good or bad, it still paves way for many stories!
    Kala Ravi recently posted…Bill Please – The OneMy Profile

  3. Suzy

    July 16, 2016 at 6:40 pm

    Good advice often comes from the most unexpected people. Wishing you all the very best with your writing.
    Suzy recently posted…Remembering #Songs – Pritam Aan MiloMy Profile

  4. Mars

    July 16, 2016 at 7:36 pm

    Its a amazing read ! best ans to Why don’t you use your heritage in your stories !
    Keep blogging !

  5. Reema D'souza

    July 16, 2016 at 8:42 pm

    Sometimes that things you don’t like about are the things that give you a lot of stories to write about. Wonderful advice that was.

  6. Vinitha

    July 16, 2016 at 9:02 pm

    That was a great advice. I am glad that the advice helped you. 🙂 It’s great to have someone who gives such solid feedbacks and when it workouts in improving our writings , that is just fabulous. 🙂

  7. Dorothy Johnson

    July 16, 2016 at 11:03 pm

    Great advice. I think we can underestimate the richness of our personal history.

  8. Sunaina Bhatia

    July 17, 2016 at 10:09 am

    It is sad that there are more things you dislike than like about India. I hope it changes….I hope the heritage that has colored your fiction becomes colorful with hope and love and pride……
    Sunaina Bhatia recently posted…No Child’s PlayMy Profile

  9. Parul Thakur

    July 17, 2016 at 2:40 pm

    That’s a great advice and even better that it worked for you. 21 years is a long time to remember things and pen it down.
    So many people share a lot of things with us, but some good ones stay 🙂
    Parul Thakur recently posted…Indian women in ScienceMy Profile

  10. Leo

    July 19, 2016 at 4:10 pm

    Excellent advice. 🙂 I also use the settings I’m familiar with at times.

    So pretty soon, there may be some party people who’d become victims in an excellent horror fiction, no? 😀
    Leo recently posted…The Old FriendMy Profile

    1. Sanch, the writer

      July 19, 2016 at 8:00 pm

      Lol!! Murder mystery, maybe? But I guess that would be the easiest one solved!

  11. Shantala

    July 24, 2016 at 5:31 am

    I have heard that we must write what we know about, and I believe it is true (to some extent at least). We have a very rich heritage, and it is something we know well – the good, and the not-so-great. It’s familiar. It’s ours. And we can be a great medium for these stories to reach the world.
    Shantala recently posted…What is the impact of a movie like Sairat?My Profile

  12. Lata Sunil

    July 27, 2016 at 11:41 pm

    Thats wonderful advice..makes me think i should try some Kerala stories.

  13. John hric

    July 31, 2016 at 12:02 am

    Funny sometimes how we trip right over something imortant. Something that has been right in front of us the whole time. And that we, for one reason or another, have taken completely for granted as irrelavent.

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