Geetanjali Mukherjee

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

What I'm doing instead of writing

My attempt at prettying up my room

I had been really busy for the past few months with non-writing work, and had barely managed to squeeze some writing in here and there. Mostly I edited, and put together paper copies of books and other publishing things. I wasn’t really doing a lot of fresh writing. 

But I had set aside time this month to get back into it - swathes of time to be filled with working on several book projects that I have been putting off for the right time or at least enough time. And now I have it. 

But I am not writing. 

What have I been doing instead? I have been sorting out my closet. And my cupboards where all my cosmetics and toiletries and odds and ends are kept. The other day I re-arranged the entire kitchen. I have also set up really pretty corners and spaces in my room  - prettying up with stuffed animals and decorative cushions. 

Still not a word. If you don’t count the page and a half I wrote the other day at McDonald’s with an ice-cream sundae. And I don’t really count that. 

I should be stressed out and annoyed and to some extent I am. I am worried that all my precious writing time will be used up and then other work will come in and life will intervene and I won’t get my books written. But at the same time I trust that part of myself that knows what it needs to write. And I think right now this is exactly what I need to do. 

Some writers clear out their desk when they have finished a book. I usually need to turn around everything in my house. Once I re-arranged all the furniture in my study, moving massive filing cabinets and the desk that came in two pieces and the huge bed that took up all the space in the middle of the room. I found that moving things around actually gave the room a new lease of life - suddenly the space looked bigger and flowed better. And I started a new book right after that. 

Today I went through files that I had refused to look at for more than 5 years. I just lugged them from apartment to apartment, assuming I would need to keep it all. I threw out bunches of paper and felt lighter than I have in a while - letting go of old interests and curiosities. 

I’m making way for the new ideas and projects instead. 

I trust that when I am ready, I will start working on the new books. In the meantime, I am clearing house. 

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Ten Minutes a Day (and a Challenge)

This morning, after days of feeling guilty about not doing any exercise and basically feeling like cr*p, I decided to spend one minute doing some yoga. Now I am not a yoga expert, I have attended, over the course of a couple of years, maybe 15-20 classes. Depending on my current fitness level, I can do most beginner poses with ease, but pack too many of them into a one-hour session, and I will be looking desperately at the clock, willing it to move faster. 

I’m giving you this background to establish my credentials as not fit and not great at yoga, and in fact this morning, all I could remember was about 4 1/2 poses, that I executed clumsily. Even that minute or 90 seconds of yoga instantly eliminated my aches and pains and feeling of stiffness, and I felt loads better. And instead of feeling guilty about not doing anything, I started to look forward to the next time I would do yoga. 

Now I know that ten minutes a day isn’t going to make me the most fit person around, but it is a great start. And it is much easier to convince yourself to do ten minutes of something, even when you’re busy or tired or uninspired. 

I read recently in Tools of Titans (Tim Ferriss) about a meditation teacher who recommends that you take just one mindful breath a day. It’s the same concept. Anyone can take one breath. Its not that hard. 

So why am I writing about yoga and mindfulness instead of creativity? Because I think the same principle can be applied to being more creative. I know many people who say they would like to write a book, or do something creative that requires a large commitment of time. On hearing that I have written books, people invariably say, I would love to write a book, if only I had the time. It is true that I have been fortunate enough to have had large chunks of time that I could devote to writing. But that wasn’t the case for my initial books and it wasn’t the case for my most recent one. 

In fact, I finished my most recent book several months behind schedule and it got derailed several times. I raced to finish it while I was juggling a new job in a completely new industry, settling into a new (old) city and dealing with health issues. The way I finally finished it - a few minutes of writing a day. 

I often had only 10-15 minutes of time after my long commute home, and many days I would tell myself - “I’m too tired”, or “I will get to it tomorrow”. I thought I wasn’t inspired, or that I needed to not be falling asleep with exhaustion in order to write. And the days went by, the end of the year got closer, and I was no nearer to finishing. 

I was starting to panic, because I had imposed a deadline of publishing the book within 2017. It had already been delayed enough, and I didn’t want to delay it any further.

So I started working on it for 10 minutes at a time. Some days I spent 10-15 minutes editing an essay on my morning commute. I carried my work and personal laptop, and found I could edit a few paragraphs each way. On other days I came home and spent 15 minutes editing before dinner.

Progress was slow - most of the time I despaired that I was any closer to finishing, because I was only working on a few paragraphs at a time. But one at a time I finished editing 8, then 9, then 11 essays. I had 3 essays left and about 10 days before I would have to submit the book to be in time for publishing in December. I figured I could handle it, and get the work in in time.

And then I realized I had two important work projects due on Monday, and I would have to work over the weekend to get it done in time. And I had planned to complete the essays that weekend as well. 

I panicked, then determined that I would work on all of the projects. I got my work assignments and the essays edited. In 15 minute increments. In between my work projects, I edited the essays, putting in 15 minutes on them before going back to my work assignments. Over the course of that weekend, I made substantial headway on my projects, which ultimately got handed in on time. And I completed my book. 

I realize that everyone’s life circumstances are different, and sometimes it just isn’t possible to squeeze anything else in. This experience however made me realize that I don’t know how much more I am capable of accomplishing until I am pushed, until I have no choice but to challenge my assumptions of what I can and can’t do.

And that’s why I have set a big challenge for myself for 2018 - to write much more than I have so far, and to really stretch my capacity. If I can achieve it, it would be amazing and an example of how much we really can stretch. If I can’t, I probably would still get more done than I have previously, and learn a lot from the attempt. So I win no matter what. 

If you’re reading this at the end of December / beginning of January (or at any time really), I encourage you to set a challenge for yourself that seems like a big stretch, something that makes you feel excited and nervous in equal measure. Share your goal or keep it to yourself, but don’t hold back. After all, you will win either way. 

Friday, December 22, 2017

New Book Out and General Update

I have been absent from the blog for a while, and that is because, as we sometimes know, life intervenes. 

The short version is that I moved back to India for a while, with a new job, and basically it took me time to adjust to being back in the city I used to call home, but which seems to have changed a lot. I joined a new industry as well, and was basically just to busy getting the hang of things to have the headspace for much else. And I was struggling with being ill almost the whole time, so there is that.

I didn’t however, stop reading, and have read and am reading some great books, that I hope to write about soon. I also finished the book I have been writing since last year or maybe even earlier than that (gosh!), and it is finally out and available to buy on Amazon

This book has been a huge challenge. I remember hearing a quote from Neil Gaiman, or it could be that he was quoting someone else, which basically said you learn to write the book you’re writing once it is done. And that’s basically been my experience. I have jumped from one genre to the other and one type of book to the other, and basically struggled through till I figured it out. But this book specifically was the toughest one till date, simply because I was trying to write in a style that doesn’t exactly come naturally to me, and I was working with material that was challenging as well. 

On the face of it, a book about my experiences in college sounds simple to write, but I struggled with it because I wanted to write humorous, Marian Keyes-style essays, and needlessly to say, that was easier said than done. I am not sure the resultant effort is anything like Keyes’ writing (whom I admire very much), but it is definitely a departure in style for me. While I am not sure I can or want to write in this style again, I feel that my writing has improved as a result of this book. 

I am also proud of myself for finishing the book despite the challenges of my new job and adjusting to this new environment. It isn’t easy to juggle work and family and personal time and writing, and while I have given advice regarding this subject before, I didn’t ever have quite such tight time deadlines to face. I have a new-found respect for those who manage to do this on a regular basis and still put books out.

This is why I have also decided to set a new challenge for myself for next year. I love to follow the blogs of authors who publicly post challenges and record their progress; however, I never had the courage to do this myself. I still don’t, but I am willing to try. And perhaps I will do what Dean Wesley Smith keeps saying, I will fail to success. I’ll share more details in another post, but for now, I am excited and nervous.

You can check out my new book at the link below; it is available at the new release price till just after Christmas. It might make a good  gift for the college students and college-bound in your gift list. 

"I learnt in my second semester that college life can be thrilling, but you might want to pack a shield."
With plenty of self-deprecating remarks and tongue firmly in cheek, Geetanjali writes about her days as an international student at a leading university in England. Although covering the usual topics of academics and crushes and part-time jobs, this isn't your usual "handbook of student life". Geetanjali takes you along on an adventure as she samples her way across a non-traditional college experience, from joining a Rock Gospel choir to singing in a Portuguese band to fending off sword-attacks in the middle of the night. Whether you are a student embarking on your own college adventure, or simply looking to revisit your university antics, you will enjoy this unique collection of essays. 

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