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Viet Thanh Nguyen's Pulitzer Prize-winning book was mapped out from a two-page outline.

An Outline Insight curated by WriteMapper

For Novelists Interview Resource
For The Sympathizer, I had a two-page outline for the novel. I just trusted that, chapter to chapter, I would figure out what I was doing.

BORN IN VIETNAM, Nguyen's family fled to the United States when he was a child in 1975 after the end of the Vietnam War. Now, besides teaching as a professor, Nguyen also serves as cultural critic-at-large for The Los Angeles Times and is an editor of diaCRITICS, a blog for the Diasporic Vietnamese Artists Network.

In this interview, Nguyen shares more about his writing process, providing illuminating insight into how he approaches his craft. From managing to balance family time to his preferred choice of accompanying beverage, this interview helps us learn much more about how he writes.

A professor of English and American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California, his claim to fame came with the publishing of his debut novel, The Sympathizer, which won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Among numerous other awards and accolades, Nguyen was also later awarded the MacArthur Genius Grant for his work in 2017.

The Main Takeaway

Like the children's story, this interview leaves a easy-to-digest and insightful trail of brain candy that aspiring author can use to further their own goals. The piece is full of nuggets of helpful information, the little things that can help a writer improve at their craft, to hopefully and potentially help them (eventually) produce a masterful piece of work.

Obstacles and Difficulties

Like most writers, Nguyen acknowledges that it's hard to remove yourself from distractions as a writer, drowning out the temptations that come along with the use of modern technology.

Besides that, he also relates in the interview how it's difficult as a writer to have to have persisted for two decades of honing his craft before having managed to find mainstream success and recognition.

Using an Outline

Apart from having taken two years off to write what ended up being the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Symphathizer, Nguyen also reveals in this interview that the book was based on a two-page outline he trusted as a "map" for the evolution of the novel during the writing of it.

From that outline, he figured the story of the novel out along the way, relying on "a balance between structure and intuition". As progress was made, he figured out further direction for subsequent parts of the book based on what he learned about the story he was writing along the way.

In his own words: "There's so much that you don’t know about what you’re doing when you set off to do it". Nguyen's multi-year, effort-laden journey transformed what was once just an outline of his ideas and thoughts, into a well-recognised and respected masterpiece.

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