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Member Spotlights

Member Spotlight: Elizabeth Shick

author Elizabeth Shick and an image of her book The Golden Land

Why is writing important to you and why do you think it’s an important medium for the world? Writing helps me synthesize my experiences living abroad for the past 25 years. The stories I write serve as a vehicle to explore the questions that I can’t get out of my head—questions about culture, identity, and belonging, about who I am, who you are, and how we engage with each other and the world. I believe that fiction is one of the purest and most radical acts of empathy that exists. By entering the hearts and minds of characters, including those who may have an entirely different set of beliefs and life experiences, we expand our understanding of humanity as a whole, becoming more open and compassionate toward both ourselves and each other.

What are your tried and tested remedies to cure writer’s block? When staring at a blinking cursor for too long, I find the best remedy is to step away from my writing and do something else. Go for a walk or a drive. Take a shower. Do some yoga. Read. Anything to distract my brain from the task at hand! By taking my mind off the mechanics of writing, these other activities help clear the pathway back into my creativity, where the ideas and solutions I seek become apparent once again.

What is your favorite time to write? For years, I organized my writing time around my children’s schedule, writing while they were asleep or at school. Now that they’re grown-up, and I have more flexibility, I’ve found that time of day is less important than having the right conditions. Being well rested is a great motivator. Where possible, I prefer to be alone when I write, or conversely, to be in a crowded place where everyone is busy doing their own thing. I used to think I needed long stretches of time in front of me to be productive, and that is still sometimes true, but when I’m really immersed in a story, I find that none of the above matters, that I can pop in and out of the manuscript for just a few minutes at a time. I wish that happened more often!

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received and would like to impart to other writers? Read deeply, widely, and as often as possible. Then read some more. Just as a good metaphor can offer a new, more intuitive understanding of a given circumstance, reading a good story or essay opens up new connections in our brain, sparking our own creativity by reminding us of the power of the written word.

What excites you most about being a writer in today’s age? I’m excited to see stories, essays, and other writing from different perspectives and parts of the world being published more widely. Having lived in Africa, Asia, and Europe most of my adult life, I’ve always sought out books about other cultures, but they weren’t always easy to find. I’m glad that’s finally changing.

Elizabeth Shick’s The Golden Land is out now with the University of Chicago Press.