Raga Ayyagari is a regular participant at our open mic events at The Writer’s Center. Since moving to DC, she has been dedicated to her passion for writing and has become involved in the DC writing community. Her commitment to writing has payed off: two of her poems were accepted recently for publication by Yellow Arrow Publishing. Her poems deal with cross-cultural themes and aim to build connections between individuals. In the interview below she discusses her writing process, her sources of inspiration, and the best advice she received about publishing. 

Nina Holtz: What inspires you to write?

Raga Ayyagari: Writing is a way for me to listen to and connect with the worlds within and around me. I appreciate the clarity language can bring to help me process the emotions and experiences swirling in my mind. I also view writing as a tool to bridges of empathy and understanding  between people across time, space, and viewpoints. Whether I am working on a creative or technical piece, I enjoy thinking about how to share stories in data and narratives in a compelling and responsible way. Also, learning about and playing with words just gives me joy. Growing up in a bilingual family of avid readers and learners, I spent many happy hours reading and creating stories with my twin sister and best friend, Sneha. My family’s loving support motivates me to continue to explore my love of writing.

What motivated you to try to get your work published?

Since moving to DC, I wanted to make more space for writing in my life and to learn from and contribute the writing community. I challenged myself to share my work through events (such as the Writer’s Center open mics) and to submit my work as a means of stepping out of my comfort zone and getting feedback.

How do you feel now that you’ve been published for the first time?

I feel grateful to contribute in a small way to a rich conversation of voices and feel motivated to continue to dedicate myself to prioritize and practice writing. 

What was the best advice you received about publishing? 

My teachers and mentors have taught me three valuable lessons:

  1. Be engaged, but detached. One of my teachers said that my focus “should be to the poem on the page,” which reminds me to set aside insecurities and attachments and concentrate my energies on giving my best to my work. It also reminds me that while revising is an endless journey, it’s also important to let go of my work rather than waiting indefinitely to reach the mirage of perfection.
  2. Expect and appreciate rejection. Publishing, like many other interactions, hinges on subjective decisions, so rejection is inevitable. I’m working on celebrating rejections as a sign that I took a risk, and seeing what I can learn from experiences rather than internalizing them. I think of Winston Churchill’s quote that “success is not final, failure is not fatal. It’s the courage to continue that matter.”
  3. Center your intentions. While it’s easy to become influenced by external validation, I’ve tried to remind myself that I love to write as a way of connection, listening, and enjoyment. Remembering this humbles me and helps me keep the whole process in perspective. 

You write both poetry and prose, do you have a preference in genre? 

I’ve been writing more poetry recently, but I enjoy writing both genres. I try to draw on both the clarity and organization of prose and the imagination and rich detail of poetry as I think of how to bring an experience to life as I write.

What is your writing process like?

I’m still finding my writing routine and rhythm, but I often make use of interludes in my day like my commute or waiting in line to write. I also try to make more time on weekends to read, write, and attend writing events. I collect threads of experiences or phrases and often revisit those as I’m writing. Sometimes, I have a clear topic or emotion I want to convey and other times I find prompts or exercises helpful entry points. I’m working on overcoming my tendency towards perfectionism as I write, so sometimes time or structural limitations can liberate me to overcome doubt and come up with something to work with. I also exchange drafts with friends and family members. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to read and comment on their work and to get their feedback, which inspires me to continue practicing.

Outside of writing, how do you spend most of your time? 

I work full time in public health research, which gives me the opportunity to practice analytical thinking and writing. Outside of work, I enjoy practicing and listening to music, spending time with friends and family, taking long walks outside, volunteering, and trying new fruits and vegetables. 

 What are you working on now?

I’m working on continuing to write and revise new poems.