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How writers write

Award-winning novelist Balli Kaur Jaswal shoots the breeze with first-time writer Adam Tie.

A: I confess, I’ve only read two of your four books – Inheritance and Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows – and I loved them. They made me wonder: how much of your writing comes from personal experiences?

BK: I think the idea of writing what you know was present in my earlier novels. Then you get bolder, step out of reality and into your imagination. So, some things are drawn from my life and some are not. It’s honestly hard for me to say how much of myself is in my works. With the first two books, however, the characters were composites of people I know. Can I just say something? I love the idea of The Haven that you wrote about in your book. It just felt so razor-sharp and drawn from real life. (Editor’s note: Adam provided Balli with the unedited manuscript of his upcoming novel before their conversation.)

A: Thank you. I don’t know about you but I write my characters first and base them on people I know. Then, I realised that when you do that, you are hesitant to give them dimensions because they’re people you know, right? So my characters stayed stagnant. It was only when my older sister, who reads all my work, told me that a character’s development was crappy that I realised I needed to step away from people to give my characters dimension. What is your writing process?

BK: I overheard you saying earlier that you need a buzz around you to write. I’m different. I need complete silence. I can’t even have music because I find it distracting.

A: I create writing soundtracks for every chapter and when I’m writing one, the same song will keep looping until I finish it. Anyway, I wanted to ask you this. You’ve been on the scene for such a long time. How do you think it’s changed from when you published your first novel until now?

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BK: We definitely didn’t have the infrastructure that we have now. There are social media communities where you can find other writers. I remember being alone when I was writing my first two novels. It was quite alienating but good because there were no distractions. Writing is a very lonely profession, and it was even lonelier back then.

A: Do you sometimes still feel plagued by impostor syndrome?

BK: Absolutely. I feel it every time I start writing a new book. There are a few tricks you pick up along the way. You get better at editing and at killing your darlings, but you always go back to square one at the start.

A: I ask that because I honestly don’t feel like I belong in this scene. Perhaps it was a childhood trauma [laughs] but I think it’s mainly because I am trying to acknowledge my place. I read somewhere that there are three reasons to write: to shock someone, to make someone understand or to make the person feel. I always think that no matter what you write, as long as it’s sincere, it will never be bad.

BK: Writing is so personal and the person you are in the future won’t be in the same person now, so you’re constantly going through phases of renewal and your writing is trying to catch up to that.

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