Topic sentences are the enemy, said University of Houston-Victoria freshman Devin Taubert inspired by the words of Amitava Kumar.
"Whenever you pay attention more to small details and certain things people say whenever you're just living life ... they can stick with you," said Taubert, 18, about writing. "Those are the little things that can make an impact."
Kumar, who is a writer and journalist, spoke Thursday in the American Book Review Reading Series at the University of Houston-Victoria. He lives in Poughkeepsie, in upstate New York, and is the Helen D. Lockwood Professor of English at Vassar College. In 2016, he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Ford Fellowship in Literature from United States Artists.
During the presentation, Kumar read from his book, “Immigrant, Montana,” that published in July. The book follows the story of a young Indian immigrant who came to New York City for graduate studies and struggles with finding his place between his Indian roots and his new home in the U.S.
The discovery of the subject is the first step to being a writer, Kumar said. He was born in Ara, India, and grew up in nearby Patna, he said. He said immigration became a gift because it was something he could write about.
"When you are split from one place, you notice the differences," he said. "You are seeing with an outsider's eye."
Kumar told the audience to become the outsider when writing and take themselves down a different path.
"Be curious," he said. "Imagine another person as the reader."
Finally, Kumar offered the audience his 10 rules for writing:
- Write every day.
- Have a modest goal. Aim to write 150 words each day.
- Try to write at the same time each day.
- Turn off the internet.
- Walk for 10 minutes.
- A bookshelf of your own. Choose one book, or five, but no more than 10, to guide you, not with research necessarily, but with the critical matter of method or style. Another way to think about this is to ask yourself who are the writers, scholars or artists that you are in conversation with.
- Get rid of it if it sounds like grant talk.
- Learn to say no. Say no if it takes you away from the writing you want to do.
- Finish one thing before taking up another. Keep a notebook handy to jot down ideas for any future book but complete the one you are working on first.
- The above rule needs to be repeated.
"Write every day, and walk every day."