The Writer’s Wilderness Survival Kit

An interview with Bangladeshi writer FARAH GHUZNAVIfarah


QTN: I want to start a writers club in my university. How do I go about doing that?


ANS: You could start by putting up a notice on some of the university noticeboards, inviting interested individuals to get in touch with you. Consider also initiating discussions with some of the students in relevant departments e.g. English literature, who might be a natural fit in terms of setting up such a writers’ club. Provided 4-5 members attend every meeting, a total of 8 members would be sufficient to have a well-functioning group. More than a maximum of 12 people could render the group unwieldy. Remember, you will also have to balance personalities and interests within this group!


It’s very important that each of you makes a real commitment to the group, if you want to ensure the sustainability of your writers’ club. You can develop your own set of rules based on an Internet search for the rules followed by similar groups, but you could perhaps begin by deciding how often to meet, how many submissions from club members to discuss/critique per meeting, your priority area(s) of focus (e.g. poetry, short stories, fiction, essays etc.) and rules for critiquing. The latter are particularly important.


You may have special friends within the group, but any feedback you provide to your fellow writers must be objective, politely phrased and constructive. When we write, each of us puts a piece of our soul on the page. A little gentleness can go a long way when dealing with something that is so personal and important to the individual who wrote it. That does not mean that you cannot be critical – you should certainly provide honest feedback – but simply that you must do so in language that is calm, neutral and above all, useful.


Remember to tell each other what is good about a piece, and to follow that up by suggesting ways that (in your view) would make the piece stronger. Don’t criticise for the sake of criticising, and don’t criticise without providing a suggestion for improvement. In the end, it is up to each member to decide how much of the feedback they want to use, but it’s always worth listening carefully to any critique in order to find something useful with which to improve your work. If you show interest and respect towards each other’s work, I believe such a writers club can help all its members to write better!


QTN: I am trying to write short fiction and poetry, and what I find most challenging is vocabulary.  So I would like to know, is using such difficult vocabulary necessary?


ANS: Vocabulary is an essential part of a writer’s bag of tricks, and how a writer uses words can be an important way for him/her to develop a unique “voice”. But it’s equally important to use words judiciously. So, for a start, the bandying about of difficult or long words to demonstrate cleverness is almost always a bad idea. Sadly, it is also a very common problem!


Most stories are best told in simple language, but it’s worth ensuring that your grammar and spelling are impeccable. Beyond that, one of the reasons why we like the work of particular writers often has to do with the beauty of their language, or the cleverness of a phrase that lingers in the mind. And that is where having an extensive vocabulary can be very useful. But as with many other things in life, it’s less about how many words you know than how you use the words that you have. So take heart, and tell your stories in the language that you are comfortable with.


This piece first appeared in the Saturday Literary Review, Daily Star Newspaper in Bangladesh and is reprinted here with permission. Send Farah Ghuznavi your writing queries to

Farah Ghuznavi

Farah Ghuznavi

Farah Ghuznavi is a writer and newspaper columnist, with a professional background in development work. She is currently Commonwealth Writers new Writer in Residence. Her writing has been widely anthologized in the UK, US, Canada, Singapore, India, Nepal and her native Bangladesh. Her story “Judgement Day” was Highly Commended in the Commonwealth Short Story Competition 2010, and “Getting There” placed second in the Oxford GEF Competition. She has most recently edited the Lifelines anthology, published by Zubaan Books in India. Reprinted from the Commonwealth Writers website