Five top tips to help you write authentically
Our virtual resident Crispin Rodrigues gives five tips to make you a better writer

In this commission, NCW virtual resident, editor and poet Crispin Rodrigues gives advice on writing the way you want to write.

Here, Crispin has outlined new ways to find your unique writing voice, get a strong command of your writing and get stuck in. He imparts lessons he’s learnt from writers such as Jack Kerouac. From redrafting old poems with a fresh new outlook, to being brutal with language choice, Crispin provides insights into writing authentically and using who you are to shape your writing.

Crispin produced this commission during a 2022 virtual residency with NCW supported by National Arts Council of Singapore. For his residency, Crispin worked on his fourth collection of poetry that stems from his mixed-race heritage, and focuses on monstrosity, language hybridity as well as relationship between colonialism and neo-colonialism. Read on for his incisive writing tips.

Be Comfortable with Your Voice

This is often the hardest process of writing, whether it’d be poetry or fiction, because we tend to emulate brilliant works by other writers and devalue our internal voice. However, we need to grow comfortable with our own voices, especially with poetry, since that is our truth telling outlet. Free writing is very useful with this, so just write down lines without much thought and notice where you break your lines or stanzas. This is what your internal authentic voice is comfortable with, and you need to harness it more than any specific turn of phrase that you have picked up from another poet.

Language is flexible, so take advantage of it. I come from Singapore, a small island nation-state with its own patois of English, Singlish, which is a melange of English, Malay, Chinese dialects and Tamil. We even have our own words like gostun, which means to reverse (from the English phrase ‘go astern’), so be comfortable with how you speak and when you swap out words and phrases for other words and phrases that help to carry all the nuances of that emotion that you are trying to convey rather than employing the most grammatically correct syntax.

Take a Walk Outside

As a poet, I am very curious about how others speak, and the context in which a particular syntax of language is used. Code switching is something I practise often, either between languages, or between Singlish and Received Pronunciation. Learning to observe when and how people code switch for me is fascinating as it reveals underlying concerns of class, educational background, gender and ethnicity. For anyone who is interested in the musicality of language, listening to code switching is music and provides fodder for writing that can only come with listening to people speaking candidly in authentic contexts, and I try hard to replicate that same ability to code switch on the page.

Be Brutal with Language

Language is the medium in which we communicate, and thus as a writer we should be as brutal as we can with it. Language should be the sledgehammer of experience and not gentle strokes of the brush. As a poet, I am constantly reminded of the need to stretch language to its very limits and if this means writing in another language rather than English to convey its true essence, then it is preferred.

I found this exceptionally helpful with the use of technology and the ‘Search’ function where I started looking for all the crutch words that I commonly use – articles, similes, reported speech. Highlighting the frequency of these words allows me to address the subject of my poems more directly without a need to couch it within certain words. As a more seasoned Singaporean poet once told me: ‘You don’t need to keep writing about the heart. Everyone knows where it is on the body. Find something else to say about it.’

Re-write in your Voice

One of my favourite writing exercises to do is to re-write my favourite poems or paragraphs in a way that I would have done it, either in a different language, or through a different interpretation of resonance of that paragraph. This allows me to use the original poem as a model and see how far I can stretch it in a way that might create something new while preserving the tone of the old. See my poem ‘Soliloquy’ from my collection How Now Blown Crow in which I attempt to re-use only the words from the final part of Molly Bloom’s soliloquy in the final chapter of James Joyce’s Ulysses:


“he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will yes.” – “Penelope”, from Ulysses by James Joyce


Yes, I will flower

around him,


mountain breasts

and perfume drew him first,


said yes and all,

all yes to say yes.


He put his mad arm

around my perfume mountain,


going down, down as Yes,

down like my mad heart


would to my mad breasts,

my will all mountain.


Yes yes yes yes

all mountain breasts will.


He will feel flowers

going around my will.


I find these exercises helpful in determining what I take from the books I love, but also how my voice might differ from the books I read.

Write in Recollection and Amazement of Yourself

I decided to steal the last piece of advice from Jack Kerouac, a writer who I admire for his honesty and spontaneity. I primarily write confessional writing, which is why this piece of advice means so much for me, but whether or not you write in the confessional mode, as writers, all characters pass through our hands, and as such, we have the ability to mould and imbue them with traits that we perceive are needed for the narrative that we are writing. By knowing that, we know that all our characters are parts of our consciousness, and we need to value and be amazed by them because they carry a little of us in them.

I don’t really know how to conclude a series of writing tips on voice, but I know it can come across as ironic that in order to shape your voice, you would be reading about someone else’s voice, but the best advice was something my junior college choir teacher once told me – ‘When you want to be heard, start with a sound from the gut and let it grow louder.’ Whether she was referring to a song or a fart, I leave it up to you.


Crispin Rodrigues is the author of three collections of poetry, PantomimeThe Nomad Principle, and How Now Blown Crow, as well as co-editor of Crazy Little Pyromaniacs, an anthology of poetry by Singapore poets 35 years-old and below. He has also dabbled in multimedia forms of literary work such as a poetry tour of his hometown of Yishun, Singapore.

For his residency, Crispin worked on his fourth collection of poetry that stems from his mixed-race heritage, and focuses on monstrosity, language hybridity as well as relationship between colonialism and neo-colonialism.





In 2022, the National Centre for Writing offered three virtual residencies for writers from Singapore, generously supported by the National Arts Council of Singapore. The writers were Akshita Nanda, Crispin Rodrigues and Daryl Qilin Yam. Over the six months, the Singaporean writers worked on a project with a UK-based writer as mentor. They also met online with writers and translators connected with Norwich, took part in an interview for The Writing Life podcast and participated in Meet the World events. At the end of the residency, we commissioned a piece from each writer reflecting on their residency and their writing. They also contributed writing tips and a blog for Walking Norwich. Read more here 

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