Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Writing { and reading and publishing } ~

Author Interview ~ Geetanjali Mukherjee


There are over 60 author interviews on this blog but today’s is only the second with a predominantly non-fiction writer.

And, I think the book she’ll be talking about could help many people

Geetanjali Mukherjee - Author Geetanjali Mukherjee is the author of six books. Her first book, Seamus Heaney: Select Poems, is in its 6th edition currently, published by Rama Bros. India. She’s written five other books, with the latest being about study skills.

She grew up in India, spending her early years in Kolkata, and then attending high school in New Delhi. She has a law degree from the University of Warwick, United Kingdom, and a Masters’ in Public Administration with a concentration in human rights and social justice from Cornell University. She currently lives in Singapore.

Let’s get underway

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So, how long have you been writing and what kinds of writing have you done?

Firstly, thanks for having me on your blog.

I have been writing since I learnt how to put words on the page. My earliest writing-related memory is sitting on the balcony of my aunt’s house, with a pad of paper, writing poems. I loved to write as a child, but at some point, through the combination of some overly critical English teachers and family problems, I stopped writing, and viewed writing as something difficult. My writing remained restricted to school assignments. I never gave up on my dream of being a published writer, reading every writing advice book I could find. I also wrote poems and the beginnings of stories, but since I didn’t really believe in myself and my writing, I couldn’t really take it far. Even after a publisher in India commissioned me to write a literature study guide for the poems of Seamus Heaney, while I was still in college, I didn’t really think of myself as a writer. It was only in the last few years, with the support of my family, that I decided to take the plunge and “really” write.

Five of my published books are non-fiction; some are study guides for students, and others are on topics that I was particularly interested in. One of my books is a compilation of poems that I wrote while in college. I have recently started writing fiction, I successfully completed Nanowrimo last year, and have plans for a few other stories.

Where did your love of books, reading, and writing come from?

My parents and my family.  I like to joke that I was destined to be a writer, because of my name. I was named after a book that won the Nobel Prize for Literature, by Rabindranath Tagore. Growing up, books were everywhere, in my home and the homes of friends and family we visited. My mum read stories to me, and once I learnt to read, I couldn’t get enough. I borrowed a book every time I visited the homes of family friends with extensive libraries, and even walked on the streets of Calcutta with my nose in a book (not something I would necessarily recommend!) Both my parents love to read, and ever since I can remember, I have always felt bookstores and libraries are like coming home. One of the first things I do in a new city is get a membership to the local library.

How did you become involved with the subject of your most recent book, Anyone Can Get An A+Anyone Can Get an A+

I have been interested in books on better study strategies since I was in high school. I was struggling in the first year of high school, and then I aced my 10th grade board exams, in the process learning a lot of study skills and techniques. I had the idea to write a book sharing these techniques, but it remained just an idea for the longest time. More recently, I started to read up on the subject again, and decided to put down all the things I learnt during my own university years, weaving in the scientific knowledge I had read about. Although there are many books out there on this topic, I think mine is pretty unique because it addresses common student problems such as procrastination, stress, and poor time-management, as well as giving advice on optimum nutrition and the right mental attitude.

What were your specific goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?

I wanted to share all the surprising things I learnt in the course of my extensive reading on this topic, and link the science to my own experiences. I had inadvertently stumbled upon a lot of useful techniques that I wanted to share with students, but in a simple and easy-to-apply manner. I also wanted to address some of the common misconceptions and myths that hold many students back from not even attempting to be successful at mastering certain subject areas and getting good grades at school. I really want to reach out to every student who lacks confidence in their own abilities, or who have been derided by peers or authority figures as not being smart – I want to assure every student that given the right study skills and approach, they can handle any subject or course.

I believe that I have been able to successfully convey what I most wanted to, and feel gratified by all the 5-star reviews I received. I can tell the book is resonating with readers. However, I won’t feel satisfied till I can reach out to many more students, and give them the benefit of the advice in the book.

What’s the most important thing people don’t know about your subject that they need to know?

Most students who are struggling at school (or adults contemplating going back to school), think that maybe they simply lack the aptitude for a certain subject, or that maybe in order to do well, they would have to become a grind and study every single minute. Neither of these things are true, and I found from my research and my personal experience, that good study habits can actually help you to study a reasonable number of hours and still do well. Additionally, if you’re not doing well in a particular subject area, it just means that your brain hasn’t had the chance to develop a solid foundation in that subject, which you can rectify by going back to the basics, simplifying the topic as much as possible, and mastering each aspect of the subject separately. When you put it all together, you will realize that suddenly you know a lot more than you did before, and more than you thought you could know.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

I loved doing the research for this book, because the subject is genuinely interesting to me. I also enjoyed adding in anecdotes and personal experiences to illustrate the principles I was writing about.

O.K., what was the hardest part of writing this book?

The hardest part was surprisingly the editing stage. Usually, I find writing the first draft of a book quite difficult, but for this book, the initial draft just poured out of me, and I completed it in less than 3 weeks. The editing process however, took much longer than anticipated, mostly because I was having some difficulty explaining the research underpinning the advice in the book, while still maintaining its readability. However, the hard work was justified, because I have been told several times that the book is very conversational and easy to read, which is a relief, because I am mostly used to writing for an academic audience.

Not sure if this is a fair question but where would you recommend folks go to read more about this subject?

I have a pretty comprehensive reading list at the end of my book that references many useful and readable sources on the subject.

So, what inspires you?

I feel inspired by beauty, art, excellence and goodness. I know that seems like a disparate list, but it’s more like a feeling really, the kind of feeling you get when you watch an incredibly beautiful movie, or read an inspiring book, or watch an athlete break a record. Inspiration is all around us, and if I am paying attention, I can capture it and use it. Just going for a walk in nature can inspire so many new ideas. I am incredibly lucky to live a few minutes away from the beach, and I go there often to be inspired. I look out at the sea and the natural beauty around me, and I am reminded how wonderful the world can be if we only open ourselves up to it.

What did you find most useful when you were learning to write and what was least useful or most destructive?

I have been reading writing advice books since I was in high school, and in some ways they were both encouraging and demotivating. They were useful because they stoked in me the desire to be a writer; I dreamed of it every time I walked into a bookstore, or read about a successful author. However, the avalanche of advice I read also made me think that it was incredibly hard to become a writer, and stopped me from even trying to write for several years. I had so many ideas, and I would pursue them for a few pages, and then give up, thinking it was too hard, and I just wasn’t good enough.

Then I read the books of prolific author Julia Cameron, whose books demystified the process, and encouraged me to start writing, even if, initially, just for myself. I highly recommend her work, and also that of Anne Lamott, Brenda Ueland, and Hilary Rettig, to a beginning writer just starting out. It is important to improve at one’s craft and put in the work, but you can only improve after you have given yourself permission to start where you are, write badly if you need to, and put your real self on the page.

This might be too wide a question but what do you think is the future of reading and writing?

I think that despite the articles that decry how people are no longer reading, there will always be people who love to read. There may be differences in what people read and through what medium, but I don’t think the written word is completely in danger of becoming obsolete. However, there is more competition for the attention of readers, and no one can be guaranteed an audience. In such an environment, I believe it is even more important to be true to yourself, write what you truly care about, and try to write something that makes a difference, that reaches out and touches the reader in some way. I believe that as long as a writer inspires, engages and connects through their work, they will find readers.

How do you find or make time to write?

This is the biggest hurdle as a writer, not having enough time. One thing you learn pretty quickly is that no one finds time, you simply have to claim the time you need, and work other things around it, or give some stuff up. Some things are easy to give up, others not so much. Sometimes (or most of the time) I am not able to devote as much time to writing as I would like. However, I have also recently noticed many ways to reclaim time from less important pursuits, or find ways to do things faster, and use the extra time to write more, or do writing related things like this interview. I am a big believer in scheduling time to write, although invariably I don’t stick to my own schedules. I also think it is important to lower one’s expectations of any one writing session – don’t expect to write a masterpiece, just expect to write a pretty average first (or second or whatever) draft. When I lower my expectations, I find time to write “magically” appears – just a few minutes in between housework and family responsibilities, or minutes that would otherwise just sink into catching up on social media.

What do you like to read in your free time?

Everything. Mostly I love reading non-fiction – business and personal development books, biographies and history, writing and creativity books. I also love fiction, but don’t read as much of it as I would like (except when I binge read through a series). I also read a lot of articles from my favorite blogs and online magazines. I read over 95 books last year, and my goal this year is to be able to hit 100, and also read a lot more fiction.

That is a lot of reading :-) So, what projects are you working on at the moment and what do your plans for future projects include?

I am working on a book of essays at the moment, and hoping to edit and publish the novel I wrote during Nanowrimo. I also have plans for a number of other books, probably in very different genres than the ones I have written in so far. You can come check out my blog or Twitter or Facebook page, to be the first to know when my next project comes out, hopefully soon!

Many thanks for taking the time to let us know about your writing life and your latest book; and, may you have much success! :-)

LINKS:

Anyone Can Get An A+
Blog
Twitter
Facebook
Google+
LinkedIn
Amazon Author Page
Smashwords

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One response to “Author Interview ~ Geetanjali Mukherjee

  1. Pingback: Author Interview ~ Geetanjali Mukherjee ~ Part Two | Notes from An Alien

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