We interviewed Linh Nguyen, a Vietnamese-Canadian writer and workshop facilitator, about the gifts that writing can provide to your well-being. Writing can be a great emotional relief, healing old wounds, providing unique insights, and enhancing personal growth.
Linh is passionate about #OwnVoices storytelling and creating space for underrepresented artists in mainstream media. She holds an H.B.A. in English from the University of Toronto and specializes in writing creative non-fiction and children’s literature. Her current project is a middle-grade children’s portal fantasy manuscript, which she is currently being submitted to several publishers. Linh is also one of our creative writing instructors at PFAU, with some really inspiring upcoming courses.
What drew you to creative writing?
For me, I think what drew me to stories in the first place was that I’ve always been a big reader. I did not start writing by myself until Grade 6, which was the year that my father and I immigrated to Canada. It was a pretty challenging year for a number of reasons financially, personally, my mom and my baby brother stayed behind in Hanoi that year. So it was a challenging time for the family, and we had a lot to adjust to, facing a new culture and country. I wanted to escape a lot of that, so I turned to stories. That year I think over 200 books.
My favorite genre was were portal fantasies, which is the type of fantasy when the main character starts in our regular worlds and then finds himself in a different world through some series of circumstances. For example, the Witch in the wardrobe, the Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland. Those stories were always my favorite. Also, that was the year I discovered Harry Potter. I guess fiction provided me with the escape that I wanted, and the portal fantasy and print title there. The portal fantasy was like a metaphor for the immigrant experience. About partway through the year, I started writing some of my own stories to reshape my own experiences and have continued ever since.
I know that you’re passionate about unrepresented artists. Where did this come from?
Honestly, I only started paying attention to this over past three years. Before that, I think I was still writing with a very white gaze. In the first draft of my novel, all my characters were white. It wasn’t until I finished that I realized this and thought – “But, that’s not my experience.”
Afterwards, I listened to a TED Talk by Chimamda Ngozi Adichie called “The Danger of a Single Story.” She talks about an experience she had writing in Nigeria, as a kid, and how she was writing about snow, even though she’s never seen snow before. That was very relatable to my experience because all I had consumed were stories about white characters, so I ended up writing about white characters even though that wasn’t reflective of my lived experiences. It took a very intentional reflection for me to actually start bringing my identity and voices of Vietnamese immigrants into my work.
I think community has played a really big part in this as well, such as being involved with Project 40 Collective, which is about uplifting, underrepresented voices. They’ve all been teaching me how to foreground identity in my work. This is totally new to me because my background is in English literature in university, where the majority of authors are white men. It took me so long after graduating to realize that Hemingway is not the be all and end all of good writing. It’s really important to see stories of people who look and sound like you when you’re growing up. Otherwise, you end up adopting the dominant gaze, which is what I did and I had to push myself out of it in a lot of ways.
In what ways can students use writing as a form of self-care in their daily lives?
I think the biggest difference between essay writing and writing for self-care is the intention. In my workshops, I don’t focus on technique as much as I focus on developing voice. The object is drawing out feelings and making space for feelings. It’s not so important to have nicely written words, but to be real and raw. The goal is to come out feeling proud of how you tuned into yourself and feel more grounded in yourself.
Recommended Books and Resources
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century by Steven Pinker
On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser
Thank you, Linh, for sharing the excellent advice with us and our readers!
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