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Member Spotlights

Member Spotlight: Priyanka Champaneri

photo of author Priyanka Champaneri facing the camera smiling + an image of her book cover The City of good Death

Why is writing important to you and why do you think it’s an important medium for the world? Writing is important to me because it is the way I process how I feel and think about the world around me. When I’m feeling down, or something has disturbed me emotionally, I often can’t pinpoint the source until I start writing, and suddenly the reason will be right there on the page. And while I find inspiration in so many different mediums of art, writing seems to offer a highly specific power, in opening a passage in the reader’s imagination to not only travel to a specific place and/or time, but also walk inhabit a character who may be very different from them. And the latter is the key, because this is what builds empathy. Given how siloed the world is becoming, how communities are forming that are simultaneously tribal and isolationist, that ability to inhabit another person’s life is more important than ever in navigating the world and communicating and understanding one another.

What are your tried and tested remedies to cure writer’s block? Writer’s block, for me, usually indicates I’ve been hammering at the same door for too long and I have to try another door–so I’ll work on another scene, or I’ll try to approach the current scene from a different angle, or I’ll write character sketches and see what grows organically from there. But the best cure is always to just stop writing, because being blocked often means I need a break. I have a good instinct for when I need to take a breather and when I need to push on through. In those break periods I try to reread favorite books or stories, old friends that really made me fall in love with reading or ones that do something incredible with writing and therefore inspire me to try again myself. The key is to find a way to step away from myself, step away from the story, while also seeking out reminders for why I should try again once that break period is over–that the writing, no matter how challenging or difficult, should ultimately be fun and enjoyable and come from a place of wonder and respect for the world.

What is your favorite time to write? Because I work a full-time day job, all of my writing gets done in the evenings, usually from 9-11 p.m. But even if I didn’t work a day job, I’d likely keep to the same hours–I’m so easily distracted, always puttering around or hooking my family into conversation, that the night hours when everyone is asleep and there’s no one for me to engage with are really the only time I can get anything done. And the night also has the sense of a finish line to it–the day is almost over, and I need to hustle in those final hours to get some words in so I can tell myself I made some progress that day. I generally don’t write on weekends unless I’m on a deadline. It’s important to block off time for living, for enjoying, for just being, and that’s what my weekends are for.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received and would like to impart to other writers? Over the years I’ve met so many writer friends and mentors, and many of them have offered an iteration of the same advice: Very often, writing entails NOT writing at all. We tend to beat ourselves up if we’re not actively putting words down on a page, but taking a walk is writing, making an omelette is writing, taking a nap or spacing out in the sun or doodling–it’s all writing. Any activity that releases your brain from its regular thinking rut is something that ultimately helps with your writing. It’s just work we can’t always see until the moment we sit down and once again give the writing a go. Sometimes I’m amazed at what shows up on the page after these break periods–words will just flow out, as if they were just sitting and waiting for me. Which, in a sense, they are–those fallow periods are actually tremendously productive times for our subconscious.

What excites you most about being a writer in today’s age? To be a writer, you also have to be a reader, and the sheer variety of stories–as well as our increased access to more voices through the beauty of the internet and increased translation efforts–means that I’m able to read stories in more mediums and from a larger swath of the world than we’ve ever had access to. Graphic novels, YA, literary fiction, picture books–the wealth of stories available now is unparalleled. All those stories mean more opportunities to place myself in a different country, culture, perspective, and/or thought system. It allows me to live different lives and in different worlds without ever leaving my home. And of course all of that feeds into the well that I eventually mentally visit and pull my own stories from.

Priyanka Champaneri’s The City of Good Death is out now with‎ Restless Books.