Sharma ’13 talks balance, meshing writing with work
Divyanka Sharma ’13 exemplifies the meaning of “doing it all.” A young alumna originally hailing from India, Sharma balances budding success in short fiction with full-time work for New York City-based Locus Analytics, working to apply functional classification systems of enterprises to the developing world. An English major at the College, Sharma worked for Reserve Bank of India during her time at Dartmouth and credits English professor Thomas O’Malley for helping her publish her first ever published piece, the short story “To Benares.”
How did you first get into writing?
DS: I actually started writing at Dartmouth. I went on the English foreign study program in Dublin, and I joined the literary society at Trinity College, Dublin. I was on the analytical, critical side of the major and had never really done any creative writing for school before, no prose. But in Dublin I started writing, and there I got the idea for my thesis, which ended up being a novel. Ever since that happened, I haven’t stopped writing.
Given your love for creative writing, what encouraged you to pursue a career other than a full-time career in the arts?
DS: I think it was almost a given for me that I would not be looking for a career in the arts. I was interested in pursuing development economics after school, and I was also an international student. It’s harder for internationals if they want to stay in the United States to look at career in the arts — it was almost as if I did not consider a career in the arts for these logistical reasons. Also [it was] because my career interests were solidly in developmental economics — and I think that reflects in the writing that I do. For example, one of my most recent pieces was something I wrote when I was doing a project in India. The work that I do really influences and impacts my writing.
Can you give an example of how you brought in your trip to India to your latest story?
DS: The actual story was pretty directly related to what I was doing in India. The story is about a young woman who travels to this town and finds another interesting young woman, and that gets her to start asking questions about her identity. The story was set in the city that I was working in. The character has the frustrations of dealing with small-town bureaucracy, and I had the exact same issues. I started writing about these issues and I thought, this could actually turn into a story. Of course, everything that someone writes is always a mix of fact and fiction — when you are writing fiction there is always an element of the creative but also something that you see every day. So the story is not nonfiction, but it was very directly influenced by the work that I was doing.
Do you have a weekly schedule for writing? How do you fit it in with balancing a full-time job?
DS: I wish I had a weekly schedule for writing — it was one of my New Years resolutions. To be honest, my schedule is very dependent on when my schedule syncs up, and it surprisingly takes very long to send a piece out that is worthy for publication. I say surprisingly because when you think of these people that are writing, you think that it seems so easy for them, but it takes time. So what that means is that I do not write as often as I wish I could or my pieces are not polished exactly when I want them to be, they can take longer. Whatever I have published so far, it’s been very sporadic. [For example], the story that I just wrote, I wrote in December and it came out in March. It’s very much about when my schedule frees up or when I find something interesting to write about. There are so many things happening around you all the time in New York, but for me it seems that everyone always writes about New York so that does not interest me as much. So I wait for the next inspiration and whenever that happens I write more.
I don’t think that I could handle that pressure, really — of being a writer who has to write all the time. For me it has to be an experience that I live before I can put it on paper. So if writing was my job, I think that I would have to find some other avenues for inspiration.
How do you know decide when a story will be ready for publication?
DS: I think that there is not one standard method for knowing — it’s more just like I have edited a piece so many times that I cannot think of anything new to put in. That is an indication that maybe you should sit back from the story for a little while and then come back to it. I am a very impatient person so I can’t let my story sit for too long — so I leave it for maybe half a day or a day and then come back to it — and even that can bring a new perspective. And even if after all that time you think “I like this,” then that’s when you know you can send it in...I’m not worried about people saying it’s awful, which inevitably happens. You will send a story out to many publications and maybe one or two will come back to you with some sort of response and maybe one or two more will say “I think you can work on this,” but most will probably either not respond or say no.
What would be your advice to young alums or current students like yourself who are trying to balance a passion in the arts with passions in other fields?
DS: I would say to try to promise yourself that you will write, because the anxiety of not being able to write but still wanting to write is worse than the anxiety of writing bad stuff. Don’t be afraid of what you are going to churn out and just do it. I think that I am fortunate because my job allows me the time to do this. There are terrible days when I am coming home really late and do not have time to write, but there are other days when I get home at seven o’clock or six and those days I can easily write. So make sure that you get some work done those days, because that is the reality of living and writing in New York. You will not always have those days, so when you do you should make a committed effort to try to get something done.
Do you have a favorite author or one who influences your work?
DS: I do have a favorite author! I love Junot Diaz and I also love Salman Rushdie, but neither of their work is reflected in mine because they have a very different style of writing. An author whose style [also] really inspired me was Kate Chopin, especially “The Awakening.” That is one of my favorite stories, and I think that her descriptive style is so amazing to read because you feel like you are in Louisiana by the water. I really try to put that [level of imagery] on paper.
What are your future plans and goals for your career and your writing on the side?
DS: I love to write, so I would love to continue doing that and maybe get more structure, but I do not know how possible that will be given that I work in bursts, but I am going to try to change my process. I moved from novels to short stories and I was so terrified of short stories because I thought that it was too hard to get your message across in so few words, but I think I am going to try to continue working on short stories but also maybe go back to the novel that I wrote for my thesis and see where that can go. I think that would be a very long-term goal of mine to rework my thesis and edit and revise. Short term I would like to keep writing, and over time I have gotten more comfortable with the publication process, so I would like to take advantage of that comfort and get more pieces out there.
This interview has been edited and condensed.