Geetanjali Mukherjee

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Mapping Your Projects Visually

The book I published a few days ago (available for pre-order on Amazon) was a project that I was having a lot of difficulty completing, and the project was weeks behind schedule. In desperation, I tried many techniques, some of which worked, and helped me to move the project along.

I will be sharing these techniques on the blog over the next few weeks. Today I want to share the first technique that really helped me - visualizing the entire project on one page, and seeing at a glance where I was.

I was keeping tabs on how much I had progressed on the book, but it was difficult to get an overview of the whole project at one time - which added to the feeling that I wasn't really making any progress at all.

I therefore made a simple chart on one-side of A4, breaking the paper into columns for the different chapters. Within the column for each chapter, I listed the sections within each chapter. I also made a list of steps - you can think of them as stages - that each section had to go through. I marked the number corresponding to the step (each step had its own color) under the appropriate section.

The steps (or stages) were chronological - writing a complete rough draft, then putting that rough draft into order, then going through the draft to see what's missing and add in. The next steps were line editing, fixing the footnotes and proofreading. There were 6 major steps.

The colors made the map more interesting, and it was satisfying to add in a number for each step that I completed. When I got stuck on one chapter, the map reminded me that it was easy to simply jump into another chapter or section. I actually finished all the steps on some chapters, while still stuck in earlier stages in others.

While this map alone didn't help me to finish the book, it helped me to keep track of my progress quite easily, and subtly motivated me to work faster so I could fill more of it in. It became like a game, and I wanted to go up levels. It may seem juvenile, but like Julia Cameron says, the part of ourselves that creates is like a child, and anything that can help to motivate our inner creative child to work, especially when faced with a fast approaching deadline and piling up workload, is a useful trick.

Let me know if you have used similar approaches before, or if you use a variation of this map in your work - I would love to hear if this works for others too.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

My New Book: Available to Pre-order on Amazon

Finally, after months of work, my latest book Lethal Legacy: The Journey to the Adoption of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, is available for pre-order on Amazon here.

It will be released on October 2nd, a significant date for a number of reasons. It is the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, a revered figure in India (my home country) and the father of ahimsa or non-violence. October 2nd, is also the day my mentor, Dr. Daisaku Ikeda, set off on his first journey for kosen-rufu or world peace, in 1960, which is celebrated by us (his disciples and fellow Buddhists) as World Peace Day.

This book is about the journey to ban a class of weapons that causes misery for decades after its use; 98% of its victims are civilians, one-third of which are children. The Convention on Cluster Munitions was adopted on December 3, 2008, and although it has been adopted by 113 countries till date, many countries continue to produce and use them; most notably recently, Syria used the banned weapon in its recent conflict.

My goal in writing this book is to highlight the tremendous co-operation between states and civil society that led to the adoption of this treaty, as well as to raise awareness of the need for more countries to ratify the Convention and pledge to stop using these weapons. This Convention is one more example of the power of ordinary people to come together and accomplish something extra-ordinary.

Friday, September 5, 2014

When The Work Stops Being Fun

I have been working on a book that I started as a labour of love, and yet lately it has become an object of loathing. I am dragging my feet, unable to make progress, and yet I am stubborn, so I can’t make myself stop working on it, or put it aside and do something else. Additionally, I get panicky at the idea of just leaving it and going to watch a movie, or go for a long walk – I have this idea that by leaving the general vicinity of my desk, I am risking letting go of the moment when suddenly I will want to write, when the words simply flow. I am like a restless animal, pacing around my territory, but unable to settle down.

The book has taken over all my thoughts while I am awake, leaving room for nothing else. I have stopped having ideas, stopped being frivolous and fun, and even just having conversations with people is really draining. In short, the work is no longer fun, and neither am I.
In desperation, I picked up an old favourite, Julia Cameron’s The Right to Write. I love that book, and I have even written a review of it here. I came across a concept that explained to me just what the problem was – I had hit The Wall. The Wall is a block that comes up when we become aware of ‘my thought’, and the fact that it is ‘my book’. I have started to over-identify with the book (something Hillary Rettig warns about in her book The 7 Secrets of the Prolific). As I neared the end of the book, I started going slower and slower, because I secretly got scared. I realised people would read the book, and then I evaluated every section and sentence based on its reception – a terrible way to write if there was one. And by cutting myself off from anything else that I enjoyed, I was making it harder for my heart to engage with the work – I just “wanted to be done”. In fact that’s what I kept telling anyone who asked.
Julia’s solution (yes, I think of her as a wonderful, warm friend I can simply call up on the telephone to receive her spot-on advice) – become humble. Get over the Wall by going under it – leave your ego behind. Be willing to write badly.
The way I interpret it is this – be willing to be different. Be willing to take a risk, and stand out. It is not the end of the world if I don’t write the world’s best introduction, or if the recommendations are a little unorthodox.
This attitude is hard to remember or sustain – I keep falling back under the spell of “what if it’s not perfect?” I don’t want to purposely do something badly, but sometimes the work is subjective. Sure I can ensure that the footnotes are correct and I have spelled every word correctly. But other than that – there are a million decisions that I have made in the course of writing, which if I tried to second-guess, I would be stuck forever. Is there a perfect choice for every decision – how to start the introduction, what word to use in the sub-heading? Perhaps I am overthinking – perhaps it doesn’t matter. These thoughts keep going around in my head – but I try to remember that the goal is to do the best job I can right now, but the goal is also to finish. An unfinished book doesn’t help anyone.
So how do I capture the fun again? Focus on the interesting little bits – usually also the bits where I have to take a risk. Look at this interesting observation I made – where do I include it? What about these recommendations – how should I phrase them? Instead of thinking of them as mistakes waiting to happen, I could think of them as the reward – the quirky bits of my book that makes it unique, which is why I started writing it in the first place.
And it doesn’t hurt to find some external sources of fun either. In my case – I bought a box of cheap oil pastels and some paper – to experiment on. I’m really not very good at art – but I love messing around with colours. The fun I am having just doing something new is slowly seeping into my work as well.

So what do you do when the work stops being fun?

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