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Member Spotlights

Member Spotlight: Nandini Bhattacharya

Why is writing important to you and why do you think it’s an important medium for the world? When I began writing Love’s Garden almost fifteen years ago (and of course put it aside many, many times) I was undergoing a process that I would call an ‘Archaeology of Myself.’ This process was my salvation at the time; it took me back through the nebulous forms and voices of my family history. As I was looking for answers to my own present puzzles, I started remembering old family stories, many of them involving foremothers I’d never met. That’s how my debut novel Love’s Garden started: in an attempt to invoke those powerful voices and figures and invite them into my felt reality, almost as soothsayers and shamans. A kind of ancestor worship, even atavism, one might say. But then, through the developing musculature of writing as and for introspection, I became more aware of my penchant for deep histories, epics, and sagas in which the individual is like the point in impressionist painting: critical but minute. And especially because epics and sagas must seem like dying forms in an age of New and Social Media, I felt I had to write to perpetuate that framework, that canvas, that deep focus as well as tracking shot of the human condition. Now, I’m almost helplessly, inevitably drawn to deep focuses and wide canvases because I write to explore and experiment with the interconnected and layered history of humanity itself. The writer I want to become now an archaeologist of the human condition.

What are your tried and tested remedies to cure writer’s block? Are there any? Will someone please tell me what they are? OK, jokes aside, I try a few things. First, I stop writing and read for a while. Catching up on long-shelved books gives me a break as well as unconscious fertilization of my creative landscape. I’ve sometimes had dreams that have inspired my writing, and reading is akin to dreaming. What’s happening at your unconscious level while the state of absorption and the yield from reading is forever elusive but also critical to what you will write next. The connections, I think, are not straightforward cognitive trajectories, but loops and strings that–thankfully–one doesn’t need to be able to identify or name to re-create. Film is also a favorite; watching films in a dark theatre has been compared to a dreamlike state, and I think when I abandon myself to the creative imagination of a good film I’m soaking up ideas and urgencies that will reappear somewhere in my writing later. Other than books and films, I also like to take long walks or take short getaways. They energize my unconscious, I believe. I think the value of apparent blankness or sheer mindfulness for writers is underappreciated. However, sometimes when the going gets tough, the tough must get going, and then the only way to overcome writer’s block seems to be to sit down and write. As William Wordsworth said, “To begin, begin.”

What is your favorite time to write? Definitely whenever I get an idea. Or when a sentence or image crops up in my head, wildly and disobediently. Which is entirely impractical, of course, because I have a day job, a child, a very imperious cat, a garden, a physical body that demands upkeep, family, friends, and of course all those pesky books and films to keep feeding my imagination (these not in that order, necessarily). But in truth, I actually am not a very  “disciplined” writer. I don’t write every morning or evening, or at midnight for three hours, and so forth. I write when I can, and also write when I must. That requires a lot of juggling and faking-till-making it, doubtless. My son calls it nifty creativity. Sometimes the time must be sympatico with the place. I like to write when I’m in a coffee shop, a bookstore, or during residencies and retreats. I’d love to learn how to write more systematically, regularly, but so far, given the other demands on my time and maybe the way my imagination works, that has not been the case. I am, however, now a proud student in the Warren Wilson MFA program, and will probably be writing a lot more on-demand because the universe will have taken pity on me and my amazing teachers will see to it that I don’t fatally, irreversibly embarrass myself completely.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received and would like to impart to other writers? Don’t stop. That would have to be the best piece of writing advice which, after resisting, refusing, challenging, ridiculing, and outright dismissing, is what I’ve gone back to doing again and again (I was a very contrary child and young person too). I don’t think you can think about writing all the time either because then you put yourself in a state of permanent terror, the writer’s equivalent of the padded cell. And the other most important thing I’ve been told is not to compare myself with other writers or their accomplishments. My best writing guide has always said perfectionism kills creativity. I’d say, sheer competitiveness does the same. Cussedness, yes; competitiveness, no.

What excites you most about being a writer in today’s age? The opportunities for independent publishing. It may be an opportunity, or perhaps invention born — as often — out of necessity, but with amazing results. The publishing megalith is of course imposing and imperturbably lodged in New York among the Big Five, and the rest of the publishing and writing world is fairly squarely limited access to it. But what would we do without terrific, brave independent publishers? Without Aubade Publishing, my own publisher for Love’s Garden, that is churning out literary work of high quality and great relevance? I can never sing their praises enough. And there are others like them; the numbers are growing. The monopoly of the Big Five may not be broken, but it is shaken. What truly, greatly excites me about being a writer now is that there are such tremendous issues to write about, so many wrongs to write/right, so many platforms on which to appear as a writer, so many more readers (including non-traditional ones) to reach that way, and such opportunities for organizing and activism among writers because independent publishing houses are taking such amazing, commendable risks with emerging voices. Needless to say, wonderful work is being published by the Big Five, of course, and I’m an avid reader of them as well, but there are many more fabulous writers now than takers for their work among the Big Five and this is where the small and independent presses step in as the future of good writing.

Nandini Bhattacharya’s Love’s Garden is out now with Aubade Publishing.