About Geetanjali Mukherjee:
Geetanjali Mukherjee is the author of 6 books, and her latest book Anyone Can Get An A+: How To Beat Procrastination, Reduce Stress and Improve Your Grades was written to help students of all ages improve their study habits and get better grades with techniques based on the latest scientific research. She has a law degree from the University of Warwick UK and a Masters’ in Public Policy from Cornell University. Geetanjali currently lives in Singapore. In her spare time she likes to read, catch up on her favorite TV shows and cook fusion dishes.
What inspires you to write?
I like to write about topics that get a hold of me, that keep coming back to me in some way over and over till I give in and decide to spend time writing about it. In general I am inspired to write by reading great prose, watching inspiring movies and listening to uplifting music. Any piece of art, and I define art quite loosely, that speaks to me and moves me, inspires me to write.
I am also inspired by other artists – those who are authentic, true to themselves, and create something that touches my heart in some way. Growing up in Calcutta, India, I was always surrounded by books and people who loved books – in fact I am named after the Nobel Prize winning book of poetry from India’s first Nobel Prize for Literature – by Rabindranath Tagore. I guess, in some way, when my mum chose my name, she wanted me to be creative in some way, and I ended up following that path unconsciously.
Tell us about your writing process.
My writing process has evolved with each book, which I imagine is common. For my most recent book, Anyone Can Get An A+, I wrote the first draft by hand. The typed drafts went through several revisions. I didn’t really have an outline as I started, just a quick list of topics I meant to write about, in no particular order. Once I had a fully typed up draft, I used it to create a structure, linking topics together. That’s when I found holes – more topics that I needed to write about, and some that could be consolidated under one heading. Only once I was truly happy with the structure, did I go on to revising each individual section. For me, getting the structure right is the hardest part, and the most satisfactory. I always feel extra happy when the pieces fit together, like a jigsaw puzzle, and I get this rush – it is like an ah-ha moment.
For the last two books I wrote, I created a map, so that I would know at a glance how much I had already done and what was left. I have learnt to separate the writing and editing stages, and even within the editing stage, I do structural issues first, then focus on the content, and worry about grammar and spelling and all that right at the end. By separating each stage, it makes it easier for me and far less stressful. I also do go over the manuscript several times, because it is really important to me that the work is as polished as I can make it.
In terms of writing tools, I use both Word and Scrivener, and pen and paper of course. I don’t write all my books by hand – my books on cluster munitions and Albert Speer were written entirely on Word. However, I did work out structural problems and outlines on paper – I find it helps me to visualize the big picture better by writing it out. For Anyone Can Get An A+, I typed the manuscript in Scrivener, and used its tools to create the structure. It is really easy to move things around in Scrivener, which was invaluable for figuring out which sections went where. Once I had the chapters though, I edited them in Microsoft Word, primarily because I like to edit using the track-changes feature. It helps me to make bold choices knowing I can always change it back, although I almost never do. I create a new document for each stage of editing, because during each stage I chop and change so much, I need to start afresh. I also like to use color – when making my maps, tagging different elements in Scrivener. I am a visual thinker, so colors, maps and tables are really important for me. This is actually something that again I have only recently included in my writing process.
What advice would you give other writers?
I think the most important advice I ever read, which I probably wish I had understood and accepted earlier than I did, was that to become a good writer, you need to write. And what that means is that you need to write even though you probably write badly most of the time. Somehow the last bit is implied but not always stated aloud. You see I understood that I had to write. What I didn’t understand was that I did not need to wait to be inspired, to write well, to have smooth, flowing prose. I mistakenly spent years not writing because I was waiting for the perfect moment, the perfect idea, the perfect time to announce itself and say, this is when you write your book. Even after I started to write my books, I took far more time over them than necessary because I still subscribed to the notion that you had to be inspired to write. If you are like me as well, I would definitely recommend regularly reading Julia Cameron’s books, as well as Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and Hillary Rettig’s The 7 Secrets of the Prolific. These books really helped me to get over the idea that your first draft has to be good. I still struggle with this notion, and it’s one of the hardest things to overcome for me.
The other piece of advice – don’t have any preconceived notions about what you can and cannot write. I always thought I couldn’t write fiction, and I wasted years not even trying. I just wrote a novel for Nanowrimo, and while it certainly won’t win any awards, I felt great just completing it. Also, write in the genres you like to read, even if you think it is too low-brow or high-brow or whatever – it doesn’t hurt to experiment, and you may find that writing cozy mysteries about a cat lady detective is exactly up your alley (or not as the case may be).
How did you decide how to publish your books?
I would advise new authors to not shut themselves off from any avenue – either traditional or self-publishing. My first book was commissioned by an Indian publisher when I was in college, and although I was thrilled to finally be published, I didn’t understand anything about the industry and wasn’t treated fairly. That experience colored my view of traditional publishing, although I now realize that there are many different types of publishing houses, and one bad experience isn’t universal.
I have self-published 5 books recently, but it wasn’t a conscious decision to move away from traditional publishing. One had already been rejected by publishers in India, even though I believed that it had potential. Self-publishing was an experiment, I didn’t know if it would work but I had nothing to lose. My manuscript was just sitting there, doing nothing. I was so surprised when it did sell, that I decided to put some of my other work together and publish them as well. Anyone Can Get An A+ is the first book that I wrote specifically with the idea of self-publishing it, and I am still considering other avenues as well.
There are those who say that traditional publishers are evil and you should only self-publish. The opposite camp is pretty vocal too. I feel that for me it is a decision I will make case by case, book by book. I like the idea of being in control of all aspects of my books, but I am also honest about my marketing limitations. There are many things traditional publishing does very well. However, I don’t want to make the decision of what book to write based on the market, what will sell, whether something is likely to be picked up by a publisher. This is the main reason I self-publish, at least at the moment, to have freedom to write what I want, and hope that my work strikes a chord with the reader, inspires them or educates them in the topics I write about. Ultimately the mode of publishing is less important than that connection with the person reading the content being published.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
I think people will always read books. The mode of how they read may change. I do believe that more and more people will read digital books, and I definitely believe that markets outside the US will play a bigger role than they currently do, in terms of numbers and maybe even changing the landscape of the types of readers used, the languages in which books are available and many other parameters. I don’t think we have any idea of how much will change, we can only speculate.
I also think that although democratization of content is great, discoverability will only get harder for authors. I read somewhere that given how many books are being written and published every day, there is no longer any room for average. The market can only support excellent books, in the sense that they will be the ones that get discovered and read. I totally agree with that. Readers want a lot more now, and our job as writers is to deliver it. Word of mouth and reader recommendations will continue to gain in importance. My own strategy is simple, I only want to write something that excites me or pulls at me in some way, and I want to write the best possible book I can. I hope that with each book I write, I become a better writer.
What do you use?: Beta Readers
What genres do you write?: Non-fiction
What formats are your books in?: Both eBook and Print
All information in this post is presented “as is” supplied by the author. We don’t edit, to allow you, the reader, to hear the author in their own voice.