Math Paper Press: Pooja Nansi on Writing, Editing and Book Recommendations

Posted on March 09 2017

(This series was originally published on Math Paper Press in August 2016)

Is writing ever daunting to you?
No. Sometimes I find myself stuck, but if you mean in the act of writing do I feel afraid or does it feel insurmountable, no. But some things are more difficult to write (for me), some things just takes more time than the others, some things don’t come on the first try. I would describe writing as necessary for me. Writing is necessary.

What about writing do you adore?
I was always creating stories or telling them in my own silly ways as a child. I started practicing the craft in the form of journal writing for a few years when I was a teenager. 

When I’m writing, it’s just me in my own headspace—a strange one where nobody else has access. I find something new about myself each time I write. In this day and age where people are able to reach you so easily via social media and phone call, writing provides me with a private space and I really enjoy this ongoing relationship with myself—some people call it ‘alone time’.

Do you think fiction is a figment of reality?
All things are a figment of reality. Most forms of art come from some lived experience. You either want to talk about or are against it. No matter how fictional something is, it has to be based in some real sensory experience.

When I’m writing, I channel a lot of honesty and music.

Honesty is not the same as being factual. My writing isn’t necessarily autobiographical all the time but it comes from a place of depth.

What do you enjoy most about Asian literature?
That’s a very broad category. I would say Japanese literature is very different from other Asian literature. If you’re asking me about what makes me feel at home, it could be anything. It could be the books by Enid Blyton that I’ve read as a child and unabashedly adore—I know she’s problematic but there’s nothing that makes me feel quite at home than reading The Magic Faraway Tree.


What is home to you?
As I’ve started thinking about identity and what it means to be a child of immigrants and things like that, I am very touched by books that make me feel seen or understood in ways that books from a Caucasian perspective could not. Then again, I find meaning in Caucasian immigrant stories as well.

The thing about identity for me is that it’s terribly complex and multi-layered. 

What do you look out for when you’re reading?
When I read, I’m drawn towards works that speak to emotion and everyday growth and experiences. I tend to lean towards works that talk about what it means to be a woman, what it means to be in the 21th century or what it means to be in pain or lonely—things that are very simple and banal that speaks to larger human experiences.

What made you decide to place poetry and music in the same space?
I’ve never really seen songs and poems as separate entities. I really enjoy hearing music in language. When I first wrote poetry, I would hear the words in my head rather than think about how they would look on paper. The rhyme and rhythm soon became very inherent.

It all happened instinctively. My best friend is a blues singer with one of the most beautiful voices and so it came as no surprise that she suggested doing a mash up one day. We experimented with blending songs and poems together beautifully. That was also how ‘The Mango Dollies’ came about.

It wasn't just about having the music accompany the poem. It was about the effect of having the works of a poet and musician speak to each other.

What was the last big risk you took in writing?
Quitting my day job of nine years that was paying very comfortably to throw myself completely into writing. I had no more excuses to not push myself as hard as I could. During the first six months, I was dealing with a lot of white space, which made me feel really paralysed. I basically had the entire day stretching ahead of me. But all that time to read and learn made me a better writer. It took a good year for me to learn the discipline of doing creative work without pressure, urgent deadlines or limitations.


To me, the discipline of writing begins when I’m putting myself in places and collecting enough experience. It’s the act of travelling, talking to and reading other writers, listening to new music and watching new plays. You get to learn about yourself in that process. I would say the act of writing is the act of living. What you take in everyday will influence what you put out.


What’s your process of editing like?
It’s an act of negotiation with your editor. Mine happens to be Cyril Wong, whom I adore and respect. There are times we don’t agree. It took awhile for me to build the courage to say ‘I actually really like this line’ and to my surprise, he would go with it generously. Other times I think to myself, ‘Cyril’s probably right’. The process of editing is filled with feedback and rejections. It’s also a learning curve for the writer.

There’s never going to be a situation in which everyone likes your work, no matter who you are. Writing is personal and there are always going to be people who feel that my works don’t speak to them, and that’s fine. I write because I want to and because I have stories to tell, and not everyone’s going to relate to those stories.

To you, what’s the difference between a writer and an author?
Writing, to me, is a solitary act. I don’t think about who’s going to read the work. When I’m writing I’m just thinking about myself and if I like the piece. Chances are, if I like it I’ll stand by it. I’m not thinking about editors or whether it would sell. 

The hat of an author is slightly different because then you’re talking about publishing, which is more collaborative, where you have to think about editing, marketing and other administrative matters.

Which author would you have a meal with and what would the both of you be eating?
Cyril Wong
. Breakfast with him usually turns into dinner. We would be having something very carb-laden and desserts, just because it’s comfort food.


Can you recommend us some of your favourite Sing Lit titles?

Gone Case by Dave Chua
Inheritance by Balli Kaur Jaswal
A Field Guide to Supermarkets by Samuel Lee
And The Walls Come Crumbling Down by Tania De Rozario
We Were Always Eating Expired Things by Chery Julia Lee

What are you currently reading?

Girls Will Be Girls by Emer O’Toole 


All books and some more at


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