What is your most recent writing project/what is a piece you’ve had published recently?
I have a lot of writing projects right now—my second novel, which I've been about halfway through for two years now; two old short stories that I'm hoping I can breathe new life into; and a new story. My last publication was a non-fiction piece in Catapult about the tension between writing and activism.
What’s your favorite thing someone else has said about your writing?
Someone on Goodreads called my novel a love story about a passport. I don't know why but that really delights me.
Do you have a dedicated work space? Do you write in your home or do you prefer to write elsewhere? Can you write while traveling?
I do have a quiet room set up for writing now, with a desktop computer where I only work on fiction. But I find I need a frequent change of scenery when I write. So if I'm not working on the desktop, I'll take a notebook and go anywhere, to another part of the house, my bed, or a coffee shop. I love going to a restaurant by myself and drafting while I eat dinner and have a glass of wine. When I'm editing from a hard copy, I never stay in my office. More likely I'm pacing around the house as I read and take notes. I've done some of my best writing while traveling. Getting out of my domestic routine clears my head.
What are some of your writing habits?
For composing new material, it really needs to be as close to waking up as possible, before I've talked to anyone or let any big sounds come into my head. When I had a full time teaching job, I woke up around 4:30 and wrote before anyone else got up. In the last two years, this has been harder to achieve, but I have more time at home so I try to find quiet time when my husband is out.
How do you pay the bills/financially support yourself?
I was a public elementary school teacher for twenty years. For the last year and a half, I have been helping my husband run a roofing business.
What are the most pressing demands for your time, energy, labor (including emotional labor)? What has worked best for you in terms of balancing those demands with writing?
After Trump got elected, I started doing some more political work. I really don't consider myself an activist, nor do I want to be an activist, but my conscience was calling on me to get out of my comfort zone and speak up. I'm looking for ways to do what I think needs to be done and still value my fiction projects, whether they have political themes or not. My current novel is a coming-of-age story set in the 1980's and I want it to have value in its own right, not as a statement about race or class or whatever. But I don't think it's enough to say that I don't have any other responsibility to the world except as a fiction writer. So I'm constantly looking for ways to contribute to a political conversation that doesn't interfere too much with what I'm trying to do as a novelist or short story writer. I am using a 13-week planner (SELF journal) right now to get back into a more disciplined regimen. I think what works best for balancing demands is to set goals and priorities and sticking to a consistent routine.
What are the ideal conditions for your creativity?
I don't think there are any ideal conditions. When I'm really busy or stressed out, I don't produce much creative work, but it usually means I'm filing things away for later.
What self-care practices do you have and what, if any, routines do you have surrounding them? How does self-care relate to your writing life?
My writing is my self-care. I don't have much else that I have to do to feel sane, except maybe sleep. Unfortunately, I'm not one of those people who needs to go work out every day to feel right.
Chaitali Sen is the author of the debut novel, The Pathless Sky (Europa Editions, 2015). Her stories, reviews and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in the New England Review, the New Ohio Review, the Colorado Review, Catapult, Ecotone, the Los Angeles Review of Books, LitHub, and other journals. She lives in Austin, Texas. For more information: www.chaitalisen.com