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‘No two readers are the same’: Anita Nair on being a female author in India and her approach to writing

In an email interview with indianexpress.com, Anita Nair spoke about the way she compartmentalises her writing, what she seeks to achieve through them and if writing can indeed be taught. 

Anita Nair’s writing bristles with ingenuity. The essayist, novelist and poet holds a mirror to the society with her written word, outlining the position women are made to occupy and the extent till which they are compelled to shrink. The award-winning author is as prolific as she is versatile.

She recently collaborated with Unluclass, a non-academic platform, where the author will be teaching writing to eager souls. In an email interview with indianexpress.com, she spoke about the way she compartmentalises her writing, what she seeks to achieve through them and if writing can indeed be taught.

Excerpts:

You have written fiction, essays and poems. Do you compartmentalise your approach as a writer?

As a writer, it is important to remember that no two readers are the same. Different readers choose different genres for different reasons, and as a writer, I need the ability to draw readers into my story and to keep them there. This can only be done by compartmentalising my writing style to suit the genre. For instance, making sure my poetic side doesn’t spill into, say, my column on roof gardening, and overwhelm it! So yes, I usually categorise my approach which I talk about in my online course.

Your writing holds a mirror to the lives of contemporary women like Ladies Coupé. How much of present-day reality do you draw from?

It is a sad reality that the women are still seen as second class citizens in our society. In the book, for example, I have broached the subject “does a woman really need a man to feel complete?”. This is a topic that can trigger many interesting conversations, even to this day. From corporate boardrooms to courts and political leaderships all around the world, the lack of women in senior positions can be considered as a reflection of the continuous fostering of the perception that women are less qualified and competent than men. So in a sense, I can say that I use the present reality, but just sculpt and mould it to fit the narrative of the story.

So, how it is for a female author writing in India today?

As woman writers, it is more common for questions to be raised about our credentials and methodologies than an average male writer. Our writing is sometimes considered “too feminine”. Even looking at the sales figures of some of the best selling authors, it suggests that a lot of readers still approach books on the basis of the gender of the writer. But I believe that writing is all about expressing your imagination and feeling in such a way that it connects you with the anonymous reader. This skill is something that is born of both instinct and dedication. Again this is something that I am going to be covering in my course.

Your course is about teaching writing. Do you believe it can be taught?

Half of writing is imagination. Teaching writing, is more precisely, just teaching how to go about reining in imagination and knowing when to let it fly. There are some rules of writing that aid with the rest. As important is the commitment to one’s talent and the conviction to shape it. With the course, students will not only be able to tap into their imagination, but also be able to refine their skills and improve over time. Part of learning to write is discovering your strengths and weaknesses, and students of this course will be able to experience different styles of writing to know what is their forte.

What would be your tips to young writers?

Most writing comes from real life experiences. It is really important to observe everything around you and journal your observation, thoughts and ideas to be able to bring it to your writing and narrate it better. If you are a writer you need to be a reader, too. Read as much as you can and keep practising your writing style. Remember, there is no escaping that. Never doubt yourself, just write what you feel is best. Write when you are comfortable, and write even if you make mistakes. Everything in this world is do-able, so never give up and keep your focus on what you aspire towards.

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