Messy Middles: 5 Questions for Chaitali Sen

“Writing a book is a long process of trial and error and thinking and rethinking, until pieces click into place and you have something that feels right.” -Chaitali Sen

Chaitali Sen is the author of the novel The Pathless Sky and the story collection A New Race of Men from Heaven, chosen by Danielle Evans as the winner of the 2021 Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction. Her stories and essays have been published by American Short FictionBoulevardCatapult, Colorado ReviewEcotoneElectric LiteratureLos Angeles Review of BooksNew England Review, and many other publications. She holds an MFA from Hunter College – City University of New York, and currently lives in Central Texas.

On Saturday, March 23, Chaitali Sen is teaching a class for the WLT called “Messy Middles: Raising the Stakes and Finding the Heart of Your Story.” In this class, you’ll discuss the elements of a strong middle, look at different structures that can hold up a long manuscript, identify common problems, and brainstorm ideas for escalation. This class is the second installment of “The Narrative Arc” class package, which will cover beginnings, middles, and endings.

Here’s what Chaitali had to share with us:

Scribe: Tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you write? How did you come to writing?

Chaitali Sen: I started writing in order to understand or cope with things I was experiencing when I was growing up, but after a while I realized how much I enjoyed writing. It became one of my favorite things to do even though it was so difficult. There are a lot of hard things I see other people do and I think – that’s really not for me – but somehow writing books is the hard thing that I do. 

Scribe: In your own work, how do you approach overcoming the challenges that come with writing, be it writer’s block or craft or business-related challenges?

CS: Sometimes I just have to go do something else, something not so cerebral like take a walk or bake a cake. But most often I overcome these challenges by reading and getting inspired by what other writers do. In terms of habits, I recently started meeting with some friends from my MFA program over zoom and writing with them a few times a week. Since I’m not so self-motivated in my old age, this has been a great intervention. 

 Scribe: Has there been a moment of epiphany in terms of your work, when you thought, “This is it! Now I know what I’m doing?” How long did that feeling last?

CS: I think writing is unlike other crafts in that every time you start a new project, you have to teach yourself how to do this all over again. Maybe every kind of composing is like that – I don’t know, but I think with stories, it’s not exactly a matter of accumulated skills and successes. A lot of times I really don’t know what I’m doing, but I know that I can figure it out, because I’ve done that before. But I think in writing, rookie mistakes will be part of the writing life whether you’re one year or twenty years in. 

Scribe: What piece of advice do you find yourself giving to writers again and again?

CS: Give yourself room to explore and try different things. Don’t get too locked in to your initial conception of a story, because that initial conception might be holding you back from really writing a great story. 

Scribe: What is one thing that people will take away from this class?

CS:  Your middle can be thorny and complex in action and revelation, and radically
simple in construction.

Thanks, Chaitali!

Click here to learn more about Chaitali Sen’s upcoming class.

Search Scribe By Category
Email Subscription