Inside an Artist’s Head: Riya Roy

A United Nations volunteer, Riya’s articles have appeared in The Swaddle, Arré, LiveWire, BeBadass, Noble Missions for Change Initiative and Feminism In India. Her poems have found a home in The Alipore Post, Airplane Poetry Movement, Verse of Silence, On Fire Cultural Movement, Narrow Road Journal, and other loved poetry and art spaces. Her debut poetry chapbook is called Syllables in Exile, which also features her photographs. The Nook is her weekly newsletter.

What was the inspiration behind the establishment of The Nook?

In 2020, during the pandemic, I got to curate a newsletter for a friend. I curated just one edition and it was a completely different experience for me – it felt more personal. 

Within a week, she received a lot of responses and she forwarded them to me. Some people even wrote to me personally and I had never really expected that. 

After that, I discussed it with a friend and mentioned how I wanted to start my own newsletter. They got so excited about it and started checking in on me almost daily, just to see if I was working on it. During that time, I was also reading “When Things Fall Apart” by Pema Chodron, where she talks about being okay with your anxious moments and not knowing what was going to happen next. 

So, these two factors – trying the curation first hand, seeing how I felt about it, and reading the book – played an important role in the journey and made me go ahead with it.

Producing a weekly newsletter can be a huge commitment, especially when one has to toggle between different things. We’d like to know more about its curation – like how do you land on a particular theme, etc. 

Throughout my week, I read a lot; there are always a lot of tabs open, so I keep bookmarking things. I also keep a check on what could be useful for the newsletter or what I found to be interesting in a particular week. I try to make sure that what I have enjoyed the most finds a place in the newsletter. Otherwise, if I choose things that I think people would like, my newsletter won’t reflect myself. 

Coming to the choice of theme, it usually happens on its own. I don’t ever start with restricting myself to a theme because then the content wouldn’t be organic; I would be forcing myself to think in a particular direction. A week is a long period, and whatever I have felt during my week comes together in the newsletter, thus making it a reflection of how my week went.

As an Indian writer residing in Bhutan, is there any particular set of challenges that you have faced? Has Bhutan’s culture or literary scene ever influenced your writing? 

In terms of challenges, none really, because I have mostly worked from home. Even when I started volunteering for the UN, or after that when I got on to working for literary magazines, and now when I am working for a home solutions brand, the offices are either here in India, or based in Germany or the US. So, as long as I have a good internet connection, it’s all okay. 

Talking about my writings, I have mostly been influenced by Indian literature. I have had very little exposure to the literary scene of Bhutan. But if we talk about the socio-political environment, the cross-national element has always been there. 

Living in Bhutan has definitely influenced my spirituality. I have grown up with mountains around me, and a very quiet atmosphere in general. Then, it did make me feel lonely, but when I think about it now, it really helped me focus on my creativity. Plus, the concept of GNH has a played an important role too in my work. The fact that focusing on what you do is not just bringing in revenue, but also adding to the joy factor in your life is a great thing. 

As subscribers to your newsletter, we are aware of the fact that you send a pdf version of Big Magic as a welcome gift. What significance does the book hold for you and your readers?

When someone subscribes to my newsletter, I either send a copy of “Big Magic” or “When Things Fall Apart”. I have already talked about “When Things Fall Apart” in the context of The Nook. So, if this one is the why of it, “Big Magic” is the how of it because I think this is what The Nook is trying to do – making creativity accessible; deviating from the notion that creativity is something that requires you to be good at a certain thing and only then one is allowed to practice it. 

Last year at The Nook, we started with “Do for Joy”, which was a series of interviews. We interviewed a lot of people and even creative ventures that started because of the pandemic. The idea behind “Do for Joy” was to not ask these people about their work and their creative pursuit, but about their hobbies or the activities that they weren’t good at but did regardless because it made them feel good. Then on Childrens’ Day, we interviewed kids, and the answers showed us how during our life laughing becomes difficult for us. We forget that joy is extremely accessible and I think joy is the easiest way to access it. 

What does a usual workday in your life look like? Walk us through your writing/work routine.

Once I wake up, I leave my room and go around for a walk, particularly to prevent myself from checking emails or social media right after waking up. I come back and get onto practising Yoga and mediation. Then I sit down to work. The first half of the day is for the commissioned projects, mainly the home solutions brand that I am working for. The afternoons are for my side projects and for all the freelancing work that I take up. Finally, I get about an hour in the evening to create the content pipeline for The Nook’s Instagram and one of the sections of the newsletter, so that I can get it all done before Sunday because I take Saturdays off. Then I just spend time with my family. So, this is how the day usually looks. 

Tell us about your writing process in detail.

I religiously follow “Morning Pages” by Julia Cameron. While journaling, I write in such a way that absolutely no one can decipher what has been written, including myself, only so that I don’t go back to it and also to make sure that whatever I am writing about does not make its way into the writing that I am sharing, because when you are just pouring things out, you are only getting rid of thoughts and there’s not a lot of thinking involved. And, I believe, that it doesn’t make a mark. Adding to that, I’d mention that I usually like raw work, but sometimes it’s too raw, and I feel like the person has presented morning pages as their final write-up. Even in poetry, I like its raw elements but the efforts should show, and the thinking should be reflected in the words. 

Coming on to the various parts of the process, I usually keep a different hour for analyzing things, to see which all ideas can be paired. Jotting ideas down is a constant thing. 

There’s one more thing I like to do, especially when I am nervous about a certain project or a deadline – I write a love letter to myself. I type out a sentence for the piece I’m working on, and then I write something to myself. So, suppose, I have to type out 500 words, and I am only done with ten, I’ll write to myself that you are doing well, go on. 

Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Big Magic says that these are the words that we are expecting someone else to tell us, and our entire lives we wait for it. It also makes us bitter towards other people because they don’t know we are expecting them to say such things since they are also expecting us to say those to them. So, we could just say these things to ourselves, and it doesn’t matter who says it, and here, the funny thing is, that once I write it to myself, I feel like someone else is saying those things to me and it really has the same effect. 

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