Having worked as an architect, a journalist, an editor, and a painter for 20 years, Nguyen Truong Quy is now well-known for his contribution to literary works about Ha Noi – the thousand-year-old capital of Vietnam.
Nguyen Truong Quy, with his amazingly relentless pursuit of writing, has been a familiar face among Vietnamese literary circles in recent years. Vietcetera talked to Quy to find out the inspirations that keep enriching his writings of beloved Ha Noi.
Structural thinking is the fundamental foundation for an author
Instead of jumping right into writing, you need to plan ahead – What ideas do you have? What themes are you aiming for? How would you construct the work? Starting with these questions would be an essential step for an author.
“Speaking from my experience as an editor, a reader, and a writer, Vietnamese people in general and writers, in particular, are not really aware of the importance of structural thinking. In an attempt to outgrow this weakness, I have to learn a lot by studying and analyzing other literary works. I would dig deep into the character development, the relationships and correlations among them, and how the author ensembles those elements and constructs his/her work.
Take Hollywood for example. They have tons of formulas for movie scripts with character archetypes and a set of personality patterns. Each type would interact with and have some influences on the others. Some types are meant to be the losers; some are meant to be the game changers," Truong Quy said.
Obviously, compelling work is hardly built on a strict formula, but there must be some fair-enough reasons for the researchers and critics to do their job.
Don’t wait for the ‘right moment’
Truong Quy’s collection of works won't be this big if he just waited for inspiration to come. Your writing career would go through different phases in life, each of which resonates with the experiences you gain along the way.
“For example, when I start a new work, ideas just flow like water from a fountain. After a while, your inspiration would die down and you would get stuck. This is a very common obstacle most writers encounter. At first, they would write with heart and soul, making the most out of the knowledge and experience already available, but over time they would realize that those things are not enough to help you keep up in the long run.”
He believes that to be a professional writer is a continuous journey of studying arduously. Once having a firm knowledge base, you will find more confidence in writing. Western literary works are usually dense with symbols and metaphors since the authors keep reading, studying, and experiencing new things.
Inspiration could reward you with the very first resounding work in life, but you need a long-term tactic to keep thriving in this career, avoiding the scenario of the one-hit-wonder. To Truong Quy, he has never stopped searching for better ideas and writing styles, improving the flexibility in accepting, gaining, and interpreting new knowledge.
Writing must stem from your passion
People still discuss the riddle of destiny – whether it’s your choice or your fate to follow a career. Truong Quy rather believes that writing must be first inflamed with passion, then come your efforts to keep the flame growing.
“Once being tagged as ‘author’, you would sometimes feel incompetent as there are so many things across different areas that you don’t know and many standards that you can’t live up to. After having your first book printed, you may not feel any pressure yet, but when more copies are sold, you would start wondering what the point of writing and bringing your work to the public is. This shows that you no longer have the ‘courage’ and that you are getting harder on yourself,” the writer confided.
Your writing desire would be polished over time, turning into carefulness. “After finishing a work, try ‘ctrl + F.’ You will be surprised by the number of expletives, punctuation marks, word repetitions, and the length of sentences in your work.” This is how he finalizes his manuscripts.
Only when the authors make efforts in planning meticulously and polishing their work, do they feel a bit satisfied.
Outgrow your old self to pursue consistency in writing
Now, the young generation has been offered many opportunities to acquire new knowledge with good theoretical frameworks and hands-on experiences. However, you can’t get anything done without getting your hands dirty. An author could pursue perfectionism, but there will never be a ‘ripe’ moment if you do not start planting in the first place.
Speaking from his 20 years of experience, Truong Quy said, “Imagine there is a dresser in front of you, and you pick one drawer. Writing is like filling that drawer up with what you want to tell. An author’s whole career is devoted to reconstructing that dresser. This task takes tremendous patience and endurance to overcome the challenges and frustrations along the way. To accomplish it, you must grow out of the regular habits and barriers within yourself.”
It may sound robotic to you, but professional writing requires strict discipline, earnestness, and self-criticism. Therefore, if you are a dreamer who’d rather let emotions control your workflow, this job is not for you.
“Let’s say you want to write a 200,000-word book, then you must finish 1,000 words every day consistently. With the sense of productivity and persistence, you may reach that goal after a year, not including time-off.” A method Quy himself has applied to his writing.
View your work through a reader’s perspective
Readers — then and now — have different concerns. In the time when social media and online platforms are becoming unofficial publishers, conflicts among readers have always emerged, but that doesn't mean published authors lose their favor with readers.
The difference between publishing a book and posting on the Internet lies in how the readers would perceive the work. They could find a post interesting, but if that post is put in the context of a book, it would not have the same impact.
Truong Quy realizes that “Most of my works in short prose originated in magazines or newspapers, which means they are written in news style. However, when it comes to assembling these works into a book, I must put myself into the reader’s shoes and view them as pure literary works and not as news articles, thus seeking the general spirit for the whole book.”
To be able to view your work from the reader's perspective also takes a lot of practice.
Start with the materials surrounding you — your hometown
Many renowned authors such as Orhan Pamuk or James Joyce remind us of a city. In Vietnam, Sai Gon has Pham Cong Luan; Da Lat has Nguyen Vinh Nguyen; Ha Noi has Truong Quy. Truong Quy believes other cities also need an author as their representative voice.
“No one could understand a city better than its citizens. They are living proof of the lifestyle and culture there. Their experiences are much more vivid and reliable than any research documents.”
Find the organic materials for writing in small details of life
Language is the essence of culture. To discover new cultures is to renew language by finding the novelty or the interesting commons among little things in life.
The secret that makes Truong Quy’s literary works so interesting is that he sees and compares small details in a refreshing way. This is how he generates more novel ideas and inspiration.
Truong Quy thinks that “The characteristics of an author are exhibited in their creativity and their views on society and lifestyle. I have a favorite saying that ‘Viết làm sao để ngọn cỏ sau nhà cũng thành lạ’ (the writer should have the capacity to depict a blade of grass in their back garden as something novel and refreshing.) That’s it. A capable author could tell any stories from various outlooks of life.”
Considering and listening to everything around you would somehow help you understand other people with their desires and the conflicts among the community. All of them are organic materials for your writing as those little details in life, though usually considered unimportant, are true treasures, bearing invaluable meanings.
Adapted by Bich Tram