Geetanjali Mukherjee

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Why We Procrastinate and What To Do About It


I have been thinking a lot about productivity and getting more done, and in my last post I discussed clearly setting out tasks that correspond to our goals, to make it easier to get through them. However, we all know, that making a list of things to do and actually doing them are completely separate things. We can make lists with all sorts of good intentions, and decide that we will finally start that book, and finish up cleaning out the basement storage area, and sort out our papers and file them, but one month later, the same few items get shuffled on to the next to-do list.

At this point I sometimes ask myself, should I forget about my to-do list altogether? Should I give up on ever writing that book or cleaning out that closet? Or is there something I can do to stop procrastinating on things that I add to my list?

As I thought about this a bit more, I realized that for me there were 3 broad reasons why I procrastinated on a task, and knowing why I was putting off a specific task might actually make it easier to complete the task, or otherwise re-evaluate it in some way.

1. Feeling Bored

The most common reason I suspect that many people put off doing something, and definitely one of the main reasons for me quite often, is that something is boring, or tedious, and so you don't really relish the prospect of working on it right now. You tell yourself that's maybe it isn't really that important a task, or that maybe you will work on it later. Tasks like filing, clearing out your closet or basement, organizing your receipts or balancing your checkbook - none of these are rocket science or inherently difficult, its just you are bored, and don't really want to drop everything and work on them right now.

A specific twist to this problem - I read a book about using the early, fresh hours of the day to work on focused work that requires more cognitive processing - such as maybe writing a paper for school or a project for your boss. The book suggested it was better to put off more tedious, logistical or simply routine work, for later in the day. Now while this is undoubtedly good advice, somehow I interpreted this to mean that under no circumstances should I do any routine work during the day, and any work I do that isn't very highly cognitively demanding was a waste of time. My solution? To do it at night or later in the evening. Inevitably, my evening would be filled with other pressing needs such as going to the gym, cooking dinner and perhaps light housework or catching up with family. As a result, many routine, administrative and logistical things simply kept piling up because I decided that I simply didn't have the time during the day to get to them.

The Solution: Set aside some time to work on the task(s) you're putting off, if need be, scheduling them straight into your calendar. And be realistic about how much time to schedule in. On Wednesday morning you might think that you will be inclined to spend 2 hours on Saturday cleaning out the basement, but after Saturday lunch, you will probably just rather watch a movie or go out with friends. Instead if you schedule a 20-30 minute session, deciding that you will only perhaps go in and sort the things on top, or make a small pile of things to give away, it might be more doable. After all, you can work for 30 minutes and then watch that movie.

Keep the amount of time you initially allocate short, and then try to make that time as palatable as possible, so you are more motivated to do another slot, and another, till the job gets done. You could play music as you work, or bribe yourself with a fancy latte or the promise of a pedicure. Anything that gets you started on the task. Odds are, once you get going, it won't seem quite such a daunting task, and you will make more headway than you expected.
And for those with my dilemma of the admin work piling up and getting shunted aside? Maybe you can designate an admin day - and decide that other than answering emails and any urgent work, you will dedicate the day to catching up on all the various logistical and administrative stuff that has piled up.

2. Feeling Overwhelmed 


This one is two-fold. Maybe you have been handed a task that is too complex for you to figure out how to even start. Maybe you felt unsure about where to begin or whether you could even do it, and so you kept putting it off. The other reason you might be putting tasks off and feeling overwhelmed is simply that you have taken on too much. Maybe you said yes to a favor when things were a little slower, or maybe at the time you didn't know how much work it would entail. Maybe you felt guilted into saying yes or taking something on, and now are struggling to fit it in among the 101 other things on your list. 

The Solution: Let's take this a step at a time. Firstly, breathe. As you uncover the reasons for procrastinating, hopefully you will also be able to see quite clearly how to fix the problem. When dealing with a complex or large project, we usually tend to see the project as one big monolith and feel overwhelmed and want to run away or hide. First step in dealing with a monolith, hack it into smaller pieces. Thankfully, its easier to hack a project than stone!


Write down every single smaller step or individual piece you can think of, and doesn't matter if its not in order. If there is anyone you know who has done this sort of project, you can ask them for help at this stage, just to figure out what steps are involved. You could also Google this, if appropriate for your project. Then all you need to do is to know how to do some of the steps, even if not all. As you progress through the project, the next steps will become clear, and you could also ask someone for help. If your boss asks how its going, instead of lying or mumbling because in truth you haven't even started, you can confidently report on what steps you have taken, and where you are stuck. Maybe he or she has some suggestions, or can point you in the right direction. Even projects that only have 3-4 steps benefit from being broken down in this way, and tackled one at a time. 


If you have the other kind of overwhelm, where you have simply taken on too much, write down on a pad or in your laptop a comprehensive list of everything that is on your plate right now that is overwhelming you. Once you have done that, and no matter how long that list is, go through it and take a hard look at what is really not that urgent, and can be postponed to a later date. Remember postponing is not strictly procrastinating, because you made a decision to move it. 


Now, from everything that still remains, can you either delegate some of these tasks to someone (even a virtual assistant) or find a commercial solution (like buying a dessert to take to the potluck instead of baking one)? Alternatively, what could you just decide not to do? Cross those off the list as well. Or maybe downgrade - find a simpler way to accomplish something. 

Whatever is left on your list, are things that you still have to do. You should already be feeling a bit more relieved by now. Go over your list one more time, and check that the items aren't really a project with multiple tasks of their own, and then mentally ask yourself if maybe you have inflated some of them or made them more complex than they need to be? Then schedule in time in your calendar to do these tasks, maybe taking an admin / task day as suggested above. Having a lot of niggling things takes up mental space, so its actually more productive to spend some time getting them done, than having them hang over you. 

3. Feeling Fear 


This is such a common one for me, that sometimes I think all procrastination stems from it, although really that's not true. Typically I feel fear about working on something that I don't know how to do, or I don't know what the outcome will be like. It might be writing a book, or applying for a job. Or maybe the fear comes from having tried it before unsuccessfully, and so you wonder why bother trying it again, or how will things be different this time?

I think a large part of feeling fear about something and putting it off stems from not knowing how to tackle something, or looking at a task or project as one big thing and feeling overwhelmed, so going back to the previous point. While we see something all in one piece, we also insist quite often that the task or project be done perfectly, which is starting at all feels impossible, because since we don't know how to do it, how can we do it perfectly?

The Solution: Since this is a common and slightly more complex problem, I think its crucial to break down this into its component parts. Firstly, to minimize fear, start by doing the same thing suggested earlier, make a list of every single step you can think of. Invariably, you might feel a lot of fear associated with most of the steps, but crucially, not all the steps. So start with the ones you don't feel fear, and that might make another step easier or less intimidating. 

Secondly, decide that you will lower the bar for your performance. Perhaps if you are creating a report or a presentation or writing an essay for school, see the work you are going to do as a draft. Do as many drafts as it takes till you get it to a workable level, and try to get the feedback of someone to tell you when to stop working on your drafts and just hand in the work. If you are procrastinating working on something where the final performance counts the most, such as a presentation or preparing for a job interview, try to set aside your fear and allow yourself to have one or several trial runs. This is the same draft concept - keep working on your material and tweaking it till you are good as you can be. 

It is natural to feel fear surrounding something you haven't had much practice on or something that has high stakes. The paradoxical part is though that starting and starting earlier has many advantages - you can rehearse or go through many tries before you need to get it right, and the less time you leave for yourself, the harder it becomes and the more pressure there is to get it right the first time. I have found that changing the language around the task - seeing it as a trial run or a draft or just taking notes, helps to get the crucial first few minutes, or first few attempts going. 

I hope this helps you to tackle your task list, or start on that creative project you have been putting off. What are your reasons for procrastinating, and some strategies to combat it?

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

How I Write: Authors on Their Writing Process - Justin Bienvenue

Today's interview is with Justin Bienvenue, an author and poet from Massachusetts. 




Hi Justin and welcome to Creativity@Work.

1. When did you first start writing?

I first started writing and taking it serious when I was in high school. I would write poems in class because I was bored. Of course when English class came around and I had to write a poem it came with no problem whatsoever. I had written prior to high school but didn’t really have the passion I had for it now plus I was young and writing had always felt like a chore. It wasn’t until I used my imagination and wrote what I wanted on my own terms that I really started writing more and found a new appreciation for it.

2. What led to your love for literature? Any favorite books / teachers / writing mentors?

I enjoy writing and have a knack and understanding for literature but I would not say I love it. I think there’s a fine line between writing and reading literature. If it’s writing literature then I love it, if it’s reading literature then I definitely don’t love it. Call me crazy but I’d rather write than read. I’ve always had a solid reading level but never cared to read in fact I only started reading more due to my becoming a writer and thought I’d read more to develop relationships with my fellow authors and see what it is they’ve written. Sorry if I took that question elsewhere, basically I enjoy literature but don’t love it. Some of my favorite books are The Endlands by Vincent Hobbes, Vlad: The Last Confession by C.C Humphreys and of course various poetry by many of the greats, Poe, Dickinson, Hughes, Frost and even Shakespeare.

3. What's your writing process like? Do you outline? Do you write by hand / type / dictate?

If I’m writing a story or book I’m usually 100% typing it on my computer. I’ve thought about writing an outline out on paper but then I remember we are in 2016 and well..why make things harder and complicated? I do however write poems by hand and even sometimes write them using a notepad app on my phone. I guess when it comes to writing I like the short and long stories on the computer and the poems can be written any way.

I’d also consider giving one of those voice sites that type for you a chance, it’d save me on typing so much, possibly prevent writer’s block and prevent me from developing carpel tunnel.

4. What's your editing process?

I was going to ignore this question but then I felt if I’m thinking about that then what I have to say about it must be worth talking about. I edit my work personally at three different times before I send it off to be edited. I go over it as I’m writing it, after a particular chapter is done and when the final product is done. I look over every bit whether it be spelling errors, punctuation, grammatical errors, the whole bit really. I am also a person who realizes that no matter how many times I got over my work I am going to miss stuff, it’s human nature. I am so used to my own writing that I can see something 100 times before someone kindly(at least I hope they are) points out that I’ve made an error. I then send my work off to be edited by a professional and I only stress out over it if they send me back a bunch of fixed errors to which I then want to curl up in a ball and sob for dropping the ball and making so many mistakes on my latest work. In all seriousness I do pretty well and I take my process quite serious when it comes to editing.

5. Any favorite apps / software / technology for writing?

I don’t use any big time apps to write aside from notepad on my phone. I use WordPerfect because I’m stuck in 2003 but hey it works for me and I’m happy with it. I’m not afraid of upgrading or trying new things though.

6. Any favorite apps / software / websites for marketing and promotion?

I have many websites I use to market and promote. Aside from the obvious Facebook and Twitter I use Pinterest, Tumblr and iAuthor which is a site based in the UK that helps and creates a outline and profile to help indie authors promote. I also use Youtube for book trailers, and am addicted to Goodreads. Most people drink coffee I go on Goodreads. So I definitely have quite a bit of places I go on to market and promote.

7. What did you find most / least useful in learning to write?

Cursive. I get the idea that you want to learn how write your signature or write in a fancy way but I always thought they should just teach you how to write your name fancy and that was it. If I wanted to know how to write any further in a fancy way I would rather than have it mandatory.

8. Who or what inspires you? Where / how do you get your book ideas?

When I do read I like to take small bits of an idea and store it in my brain to later create and put my own creative spin on. I also take in what I see, hear and feel all around me when I’m outside. I watch television and film so of course I take ideas from that so overall I am inspired by anything and everything as long as I find it’s useful, entertaining and I can make it my own.

9. When in the day do you usually write? For how long?

I write anytime I feel I have something. I usually go on the computer at 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. to do book stuff so if that consists of writing and I feel in the mood to write then I’ll usually spend two hours writing. For the most part anytime I feel I’m in the spirit of writing I will sit down and write.

10. How much research do you do? What kind?

When it comes to a book topic I usually do extensive research when it requires me to do so. For my latest novel Opium Warfare it required me to sit down and do quite a bit of research from opium and drugs during the time of the book to Shanghai and the 1920's itself. I research key aspects when need be and I’m always researching marketing and promoting tactics and trying to use them when I can fully understand them.

11. How much marketing do you do? Which platforms are you most active on?

I do quite a bit of marketing. Right now I’ve taken a break from major writing to focus on marketing. I know they say you should never stop writing and I haven’t as I still write my poems but I’m taking a break from writing that next big novel. I’m on Goodreads, Copyblogger and Author Marketing Club where I’m watching videos and webinars looking for the next way to market and promote. I would say right now I either do too much marketing or not enough lol. It’s all or nothing as I have my days where I’m focused and trying out marketing tactics or I’m off my game and can’t seem to find a solid grasp of marketing.  

12. What's the most fun aspect of marketing? The most challenging?


Trying out a new way to promote and market your book that you haven’t done before is fun for me. Of course it’s fun when you first try it and if it succeeds then it’s still fun but it becomes less fun if it doesn’t help you. The most challenging for me has been writing useful articles and blog posts that people will take an interest in and trying to understand the full grasp of content marketing and copywriting.

Bio:

Justin Bienvenue is an author and poet from Massachusetts. He enjoys picking his brain and rummaging through the nonsense to find those creative and innovative gems that will become poems and stories. While his published works are mainly horror and poetry based he is by no means afraid of expanding into other genres and will gladly take on the Goliath of other genres with his metaphorical sling shot.

When he’s not writing he enjoys playing video games and watching sports such as football, baseball and basketball. He also enjoy the outdoors by playing sports and other activities when he can. Some of his interests include, History, Egyptology, Ufology, The Wild West and The Civil War.




Opium Warfare

As a boy, I remember my father telling me a bedtime story about the day my grandfather was decapitated. Sure, it seems like an odd tale to tell a young boy, but I was strong and my father knew I could handle it. He told me because he wanted me to know about our family, where we came from, the struggles we overcame and that started with my grandfather, who was in the fur trade like his father. Business boomed, but only because he made a deal with another man to help him with the money. When business got bad, the money decreased and when my grandfather couldn’t pay his debt, he couldn’t pay the man back, and it was in that moment that things changed forever. My father always said he knew not of the details of what happened entirely, but knew my grandfather got his head taken off because he could not pay the man back. He also told me there was a myth behind the cruel act, but swore to tell me when I got older. He never did after all. I always suspected it being due to something along the lines of my grandfather’s head rolling down the top of a hill of the opium fields where he was killed…I always liked to mix my imagination together with the rumours.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Re-Thinking To-do Lists


I have written before about to-do lists and being organized and what apps or tools are best for this. I have been thinking a lot about this topic, especially because I started listening to a few productivity podcasts and heard some business authors discussing their methods, and it made me question how I approach this for myself. 

If you love productivity stuff, you will probably recognize the feeling - of the excitement of hearing about a new tool or method, of wondering whether there is something in your own process that you can change, of not being able to wait to try out the shiny new thing you heard about. 

Well, recently, I have been aware of this tendency in myself, and have stopped myself from running after the next new tool. At the same time, I found that my method is no longer working for me as well as it was, and I was resorting to keeping running lists in my head (not at all ideal, and I explain why in my book), or writing down tasks and ideas and to-dos in different places. 

Part of the problem was not that I wasn’t implementing my system, it’s just that I wasn’t trusting it. I often wouldn’t get around to doing something that was in my mind urgent for a few weeks, because I was just busy with other things. I often felt like I sat down and worked for a few hours at a stretch, and yet I didn’t really feel a sense of accomplishment. Sometimes I asked myself where the time went, and sometimes it felt like I was working on whatever was uppermost in my mind or whatever came up, regardless of its level of priority.

My process at the time was simple - following David Allen’s exhortation to have complete lists, I created thematic lists of different aspects of my work (and separate ones for personal tasks) in Wunderlist. 

The advantage to this was that I liked the simple interface, it automatically synced across my devices, and I could make as many lists as I wanted. I had more ideas than I had time to accomplish, so I created a Someday list, initially just one, and then broke it down by theme, which housed things I wanted to do someday. Sometimes I would move things from my someday list to my current list, when it seemed like I was progressing through the list or just wanted to tackle some of those as well.

I thought the system was working fine, but I found that I would forget about the things on my list, because I didn’t work with it in front of me. I didn’t have a plan for actually getting the items done unless they were urgent or on my mind. I also found myself working on something, and coming across another task that wasn’t urgent, but I was afraid I would forget about it, so I would just work on it then and there. This meant that newer things got done, but the original items on the list would keep getting postponed, giving me even less confidence in my list. Eventually I hated to even look at it, since I felt so terrible about not getting so many things done. 

Around this time I also started a monthly goals list in Evernote. This is basically concrete, actionable stuff, not just things like lose 10 pounds. I tried that initially and realized I would need to have actions attached to the goals. 

So if I wanted to market my book, I wrote down "email 20 reviewers". That was an actionable goal. I tried to keep the goals list manageable, full of things I could get done in a month, but also a bit of a stretch, so I would have to push myself. The advantage of the goals list is it gives a big picture overview of what I am hoping to accomplish within that month, and also sets out the overall priorities. It also helped me see areas of imbalance - were there too many goals related to one aspect of my work, and not enough related to others? 

The problem was that since I had all but abandoned my individual to-do lists, I was using the goals list for that purpose, and it wasn’t a good match. For instance, in order to email 20 reviewers, from my previous example, I would need to do research to find the emails, store that somewhere, and draft an email template to send. These are all individual tasks that is hard to capture in the list of goals, and I like to have a visual representation of how much I have done, or how far I have progressed in a task. 

So I started to write these out all over the place - in scraps of paper, in notebooks, again in Wunderlist. I spent almost as much time capturing my tasks as doing them, and I still didn’t have a good handle on what I was supposed to do next. 

Enter the final piece of the system - the monthly tasks list. I created one note, with 2 separate lists, one for work and one personal. I just started putting all the tasks, not separated by theme, in a running order as they occurred to me. The beauty of this is I only need to check one list for the month, and I can see at a glance how much I have gotten done. I even put the date next to the item after checking it off. If something is urgent and needs to be done next, I can simply highlight that particular task. 

So my new system: a monthly goals list, with all the big-picture goals of what I want to achieve this month. And my running monthly task list. Here’s what I love about my new system:

1. Big-picture and close-up view - I have the goals list to remind me of what is important for the whole month, while the task list lets me hone in what I need to be working on right now.

2. Work on one task at a time, without worrying about everything else. 

3. Capture ideas and tasks that come up that aren’t urgent, without getting derailed. I have a tendency as I mentioned earlier of getting an idea or coming across something and switching gears and wasting time - this way I can put a note in my task list (I even add links so I can easily find the webpage or whatever), and go back to what I was doing. 

4. Simple and uses tools that I already use everyday - I didn’t waste time in set-up or learning a new app. You can modify this system and use any tool or app, or even use a physical notebook to keep a running list. The system is effective because it’s so simple. In fact, I have started experimenting with trying this system in OneNote, because I have been having a lot of problems with the Evernote software hanging. Again, its a simple enough system, and can be duplicated using whatever you are already using.

5. Uses a monthly time-frame - which is enough time to make progress on big and medium-sized goals. Weekly would be messier, because I frequently take longer to complete my projects, but usually less than a month. And this way the running task list is manageable, because you start over in a month’s time, with a new list. 

6. Easy to archive, and see at-a-glance how much you have achieved in a given time frame. You can use previous lists to make plans for next month, to show your boss what you have accomplished, or to keep track of your project completion rate. 

I will update on how this new system is working, mainly because I do have a tendency to get bored with something, or outgrow it, and jump to something else. But I also believe that simple but effective is important, and at this time, I think it's both. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

How I Write: Authors on Their Writing Process - Zee Monodee

Today's author interview is with Zee Monodee, who lives in the beautiful island of Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean. Zee writes dreamy, intelligent romances. 




Welcome to Creativity@Work, and thanks for talking about your writing process with us!



1.    When did you first start writing?
Pretty much exactly eleven years ago, on the coattails of my first diagnosis of breast cancer (yes, there’s been another a few years down the line. But hey, I’m still here and kicking, lol).

It was always my dream to write, and I was like, ‘one day, I will write a book’. But cancer made me realize that ‘one day’ might never come because you never know what life has in store for you, so I took the plunge and started penning my first work, The Other Side.

2.    What are your books about? Are you self / traditionally published or hybrid?
They’re always about love – that’s for sure. J Then there are layers of life as a woman and all that it encompasses, whether you’re a career girl in corporate, or you are of Indian descent, or heck, if you’re an assassin working for a clandestine agency, or even an immortal woman facing the prophecy of the end of the world.

At the moment, I am hybrid, with my backlist published by an e-publisher, but I am slowly phasing out into being entirely self-published/indie.

3.    What led to your love for literature? Any favorite books / teachers / writing mentors?
My father is the pivotal center of my love of words and books. He loves literature, and when other girls were being given Barbies for their birthdays, my dad was buying me tomes of Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Far From The Madding Crowd, Jane Eyre, and later even Barbara Cartland romances. I always got books as gifts for any occasion, or when I got good grades. You could say I was a true bookworm, and still am to this day.

As for favorites, you have all of the above, and along the way, I have discovered authors such as Sophie Kinsella, Jill Mansell, Marian Keyes, Martina Cole, and Kristan Higgins (by the way, her Blue Heron series is the one I would nominate for best series ever, the books I would take with me to a desert island if I had to choose just one series!)

And writing mentors – I wouldn’t call him a mentor as I’ve never met the man, but Vikram Seth was a huge influence on my writing. I had been reading his A Suitable Boy just prior to my cancer diagnosis, just before I started writing, and what he did for India and Indian characters, I wanted to do for Mauritius and the world of Indo-Mauritian heroines like myself who have our grandparents and great-grandparents coming from India to settle as indentured labor on this tiny island, then a British colony.

4.    What's your writing process like? Do you outline? Do you write by hand / type / dictate?
I outline, almost completely, the whole book. A book is divided into chapters and I place down the conflicts based on this chapter timeline, then each chapter is broken into scenes and I already know whose POV I will be using for each. I used to be really detailed in my outlines before, but now, when I get to the scene level, it can have just one sentence that prompts to me to what happens; that’s all. It’s when actually writing the scene that I see how it takes place as it unfolds.

And because I outline, I can – thank God, lol – pick up the writing of a story at almost any point in time; I don’t need to be immersed in it from start to end to have it make sense, because the outline is there to clue me in already.

I always type. Love to lose myself in this moment when my hands are flying over the keys and I have lost absolutely all notion of time. J

5.    What's your editing process?
As an editor myself, I know what pitfalls to avoid, so my first draft is really rather clean in itself and it just needs a pass after a couple weeks so I can spot things I might’ve missed, such as echoes. Then I do have an editor go through it with a fine-toothed comb.

6.    Any favorite apps / software / technology for writing?
None. Just plain old Word, and sometimes OneNote when I have complex plotlines and for example, a series bible to follow.

7.    Any favorite apps / software / websites for marketing and promotion?
I’m still finding my footing with marketing and promotion, but the best decision I seem to have made lately is to get the help of an author assistant to help me with review efforts and the like. I do still believe that social media needs to remain you, the author, and not someone else interacting under the cover of your name. So I try to get out there and be in touch with my readers and my fans.

8.    What did you find most / least useful in learning to write?
I learned everything about writing by writing, completely self-taught, having cut my teeth on scathing and sometimes brutal critiques by more experienced authors when I was debuting.

But there comes a time where you have to stop actively learning. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying you end up knowing it all. Not at all. But it’s like a skill you’ve learned and you just need to brush it up once in a while. For example, take an experienced firefighter. You wouldn’t send him to the academy every month for a workshop because these are things he already knows. However, once a year or so, he could take a refresher course in protocols he is not familiar with or hasn’t encountered regularly on the job.

Just saying that you have to acquire experience – this is the best tool you can give yourself, and from there, set out on your own.

9.    Who or what inspires you? Where / how do you get your book ideas?
Absolutely no clue where the ideas come from! Lol. Always knew I had an overactive imagination, and I was always spinning alternative storylines for characters in the soap operas I watched with my mother. And this is exactly what I do with my writing – I see characters as people with an entourage, family, ties, and from there, I find the new characters who get their spotlight, and so on.

10.    When in the day do you usually write? For how long?
I don’t have a set schedule to write – I fit it in when I can between editing work. But it is always during the day, when the hubby is at work and the kid is in school. Late afternoon and then the evening are for housewife, mummy, and wife life. J

11.    Describe your desk / writing corner / favorite writing spot.
I always write at my desk. Right now, it’s in front of a window that gives views of my terrace where I have all my plants growing and the area from the third floor level on which we live. My desk is really rather rigidly set, with not a lot of paper and stuff. Laptop, Wi-Fi router, pocket dictionaries, my diary, the Chicago Manual of Style, and the landline phone. There’s also a small shelf where I keep a few scented candles as I love to have a candle burning when I’m writing or working.

But I can write just about anywhere. In fact, one of my titles, Calling Home, was written on a qwerty phone over the course of 5 weeks where I spent every morning in the waiting room of the hospital to get my radiation therapy after my second cancer diagnosis.

12.    Do you listen to music while you write? What kind of music?
I have soundtracks for all my stories, especially the character arc, and these are mainly pop music with the lyrics calling to me. But I never listen to music when working. I tend to blip out everything when I get in that ‘zone’ where the writing is flowing, so I don’t see or hear anything except the sound of the keyboard.

13.    Do you ever get writers' block? What are some ways you get around it?
I do get writer’s block, but that’s not how I call it. It’s more often a case of me not seeing how the story progresses, and when this happens, I know my brain is too tired to see sense there. I give myself a break, focus on other things, and if in 1-2 weeks I’m still not seeing the way, then I know I have to go back and find where I went wrong with the story and the characterization.

This used to happen to me a lot in the past; have got a slew of started-and-not-finished stories to prove it. But I went back and saw what was wrong, and as I grew both as a writer and as a person, I realized I was too idealistic in my characterization before, which is what made me hit the wall too often. Once I figured this out, I have gone out of my way to make my characters more flawed and human, and I don’t face this issue anymore.

14.    Do you now, or did you ever have any day jobs? Did they add to or detract from your writing?
I am a full-time editor. I freelance for a few e-publishers, and my main base of clients is indie authors. I often find myself pressed for time to write because I have editing deadlines, but the thing is, if you want something bad enough, you make time for it; you don’t wait to find the time, because that might never happen if you just let it be. So in a way, yes, but also, no – my day job doesn’t affect my writing. J

15.    How do you make the time to write?
I find a moment when I have time for myself. For example, for me, weekends are sacred family time, so I definitely do not work then (editing). It’s 2 days for me, and I binge watch my week’s TV shows on Saturday and then Sunday when everyone is out of the house, instead of me losing myself in the TV again, I use that time to write, or sometimes to pamper myself like a home mani-pedi. I find the time that I would’ve been using for something else that’s less necessary to my sanity, shall we say, and swap it for writing time. Same goes for the week when I find myself between editing projects.

16.    How much research do you do? What kind?
I tend to research everything – location, setting, background especially for the characters. For example, in my novel Whisk Me Up, the setting is North Yorkshire. I researched the area, the accent, the dialect, the attitude, to better portray the characters. Furthermore, the hero is a chef, so I read all I could about cooking skills and kitchen stuff (books like Michael Ruhlman’s Twenty and Ratio; Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential). The heroine is a fashion model – so fashion shows, fashion blogs, memoirs by former models, books by fashion insiders. Then, too, a big part of the story deals with her anorexia, so more research there into the condition, what it is to live with it, talking to former anorexics and getting their experiences straight.

I never leave anything to chance in my books – I try my best to have it as accurate and true to life as possible, because I feel that as an author with people reading my words, it is my responsibility to portray everything accurately.

17.    How much marketing do you do? Which platforms are you most active on?
For the moment, I am building a reader base for my indie work, and I don’t do much promo per se. I’m much more inclined to putting myself out there and talking to people online to let them know I am a human being and not a robot behind the books, lol.

And also, since I am at the start of my indie career and still building my flagship series, I am not focusing much on promotion until I have a sizeable backlist behind me, so I will have many choices to offer to my readers when I do go out to seek them.

18.    What project are you working on now?
It is the French translation of the first 2 books in the series The Daimsbury Chronicles. The one featured here has already been translated into French, and I am working to have the series as far as it’s up to now also be available on the French market.

Then once I am done and caught up, it’s onwards to Book 3 of that series, where the heroine is of Indian origin and battles breast cancer…so a story that is really close to my heart.

19.    What books do you like to read? What are you reading now?

I love fun and fluffy stuff (I totally admit I’m an airhead reader!), so chick-lit and small-town romance, romantic comedies, are always on my e-reader. But lately, I’ve also found myself developing a love for non-fiction, especially memoirs. If there’s an engaging voice in there, I will be snapped up. And right now, I am reading David Lebovitz’s memoir, The Sweet Life In Paris.

Bio:
Stories about love, life, relationships...in a melting-pot of culture

Author, editor, smitten wife, in-over-her-head mum to a tween boy, best-buddy stepmum to a teenage lad, bookaholic, lover of all things fluffy & pink (& handbags!), chronic shoeholic, incompetent housewife desperate to channel Nigella Lawson (and who’ll prolly always fail at making domestic goddess status)...

Zee Monodee hails from the multicultural, rainbow-nation island of Mauritius, in the southern Indian Ocean, where she grew up on the figurative fence—one side had her ancestors’ Indian and Muslim culture; the other had modernity and the global village. When one day she realised she could dip her toes into both sides without losing her integrity, she found her identity.

This quest for ’finding your place’ is what she attempts to bring in all her stories, across all the genres she writes. Her heroines represent today’s women trying to reconcile love, life, & relationships in a melting pot of cultures, while her heroes are Alpha men who often get put back into their rightful place by the headstrong women she writes. Love is always a winner in her stories, though; that’s a given.


Upon A Stormy Night 
                                    
Stand-alone prequel in The Daimsbury Chronicles small-town romance series.


Millionaire Lars Rutherford, from the village of Daimsbury in Surrey, England, came to Mauritius for work, and certainly not to find himself a woman.
Half-Indian, half-White career girl Simmi Moyer doesn’t need a man to validate her existence, contrary to what Indian mamas and aunties tend to harp on.

Yet, when these two meet on a blind date, everything they’ve believed about love gets put through the wringer while a storm ensconces them in a bubble for one night. Can they hope to step out the following morning with their hearts intact?





Saturday, April 16, 2016

Interview On My Writing Process With Rita Lee Chapman

Author Rita Lee Chapman, who wrote a guest post on this blog earlier this month, interviewed me on her blog on my books and writing. 

Here's the full text of that interview.


This week it is my pleasure to interview Geetanjali Mukherjee. Would you please introduce yourself to my readers, Geetanjali and share something about your life.

Hi Rita, thanks so much for this opportunity to talk about my writing. I am the author of 6 non-fiction books, which are kind of all over the spectrum. Three of my books are specifically directed at students, especially the most recent one, Anyone Can Get An A+. A bit about my background – I studied law and public policy, and I bring that academic background to my writing and research. I have lived in four countries on three continents, and am based at the moment in Singapore.

When did you write your first book and how did it come about?
I published my first book while I was in my first year of college – it was actually commissioned by an Indian educational publisher. I had always wanted to be a writer, and I read a ton of writing books. I got the idea from one of these books to turn the essays that I had written for my literature class into a reference guide for students. My mom took me to the book fair in New Delhi each year, so that year I insisted that we visit each educational publisher and get their information. I sent dozens of emails pitching my book, and never heard back. I went off to college in the UK, and forgot about it.

Six months later I got an email from one of the publishers, stating that while they couldn’t publish the book I had pitched, would I be interested in writing a book for them on a related subject? I was, and I wrote my book Seamus Heaney: Select Poems, which is a student reference guide to some of the late Nobel Laureate's poetry.

Do you always write in the same genre or do you mix it up?
I have published reference and educational guides, a book of poetry, a short biography of Hitler's architect, and a legal / historical / political account of the cluster munition ban process, so my writing is kind of all over the map. I have also written a novel as well recently (for Nanowrimo 2015), and hope to publish it someday soon. Besides that, I have plans for books in several different genres, including more fiction.

When you write, do you start with an idea and sit down and let it evolve, or do you make notes and collect ideas on paper beforehand?
My process does differ from book to book, but yes, I start with an idea and take notes on paper or on Evernote. Sometimes I jot down the headings of different sections or chapters, or maybe create a mind-map if I am having trouble figuring out the structure. Some of the structure emerges while I am writing the book, and much of it changes after the first draft as well.

Would you like to give us a short excerpt from one of your books?

An excerpt from my book "Will The Real Albert Speer Please Stand Up? The Many Faces of Hitler's Architect":

"For the commission to do a great building, I would have sold my soul like Faust. Now I had found my Mephistopheles. He seemed no less engaging than Goethe's.”

Over the years Berthold Konrad Hermann Albert Speer, commonly known as Albert Speer, has been given several titles – both official and unofficial. He has been called ‘the good Nazi’, ‘Hitler’s architect’, potential successor to Hitler and future Reichchancellor, and perhaps even the only penitent defendant at the first Nuremberg trial. There is no doubt that there are many faces to Albert Speer: he was a man who had far greater power during the war than any other aside from Hitler, and was widely believed to succeed Hitler; his tremendous powers of organization raised German production to its peak at a time when resources were at an all-time low; and it was expected by all, including himself, that he would receive the death sentence like the other Nazi leaders, instead escaping the noose with only twenty years.

In light of his extended involvement in the Nazi party, both as Hitler’s architect and the Minister for Armaments, and his contributions to the illegal war waged by the regime, the question naturally arises: did Speer receive adequate punishment?  Did the atypical verdict reflect the perception that Speer was somehow ‘less culpable’ than the other defendants, or did he mastermind his defence in a way that reduced his sentence? The events leading up to the Nuremberg trial, and the trial itself, provides clues to answering these questions: what can we learn about the personality of Speer from the evidence available, and why does it matter?

In the years since the trial, biographers have been fascinated with the life of Speer, and have attempted to understand the man behind the enigma.  The reason for the fascination is as much for his proximity to Hitler and the regime as it is for his actions at the end of the war. Van Der Vat quoted author Sebastian Haffner from a profile he did for The Observer, published on 9 April 1944: “Speer was by no means a typical Nazi; as chauffeur of the war machine he was more important to the Nazis even than Hitler”. By his own admission, Speer created miracles in German production, and prolonged the war effort through his efficient handling of infrastructure and armament industries. Speer also projected an image of quiet competence and intelligence, that however calculated, set him apart from his fellow defendants. Additionally, Speer proved to be a valuable source of information, both as an interviewee, and as a writer, authoring several books on his account of the Nazi machine. Both during his time in prison and after, he wrote about the regime and his role in it, and attempted to justify his actions, both to himself and to the world. Were they justifiable? Was Speer’s biggest flaw his ambition and his turning away from obviously inhumane acts? Or did Speer manage to pull off the ultimate conjuring trick, convincing the court of his unintentional involvement, all the while wholeheartedly supporting the Nazi regimes’ treatment of those they oppressed?

The evidence presents a picture of a complex man, one who was calculated and shrewd, as well as vulnerable and na├»ve. This book argues that Speer was an opportunist; he was willing to go along with Hitler’s plans to solidify his own career, and later at Nuremberg, he was willing to lie and use his charm to hide the truth to save himself from being hanged. Speer wasn’t as cold-blooded as some of his fellow cohorts at the trial, nor was he filled with remorse when confronted with his wrongdoings; however, his self-interested behaviour in turning with the tide and securing his own position at all costs, begs the question: was he really that different from the other defendants at that first, historic trial?

Which of your books gave you the most pleasure to write?
So far, I would say my most recent book, Anyone Can Get An A+, which I found relatively easy to write, at least the first draft. It is also the book that most closely matches in its finished form what I had hoped it would be like when I first imagined it.

What is the best marketing tip you have received?
To do it! I am really not the sort of person who enjoys marketing my work, but I have read advice from many other authors who also don't necessarily enjoy selling to think of it as giving your work the best chance to be read by people who will enjoy it or learn something from it. I also think the best advice came from Austin Kleon who suggests sharing pieces of your work through all stages of the process, something I am still not great with doing, but changes the process from "marketing" and "selling" to "sharing", which is a concept that resonates with me much more.

How would you describe yourself?
I am an introvert, so that's the kind of question that makes me run for the hills! I would prefer not to describe myself and let my work speak for me. But just in case that isn’t enough – I am usually shy (although most people don't believe me when I tell them this), I like to carefully choose the people I spend time with, I spend a lot of time reading and thinking, and can enjoy long periods of solitude. However, something not everyone knows about me, is that I have a quirky personality and can be quite impulsive and fun-loving.

What do you do when you are not writing or reading?
I sometimes have research and non-book writing projects, related to my alter-ego background in law and policy. Other than that, I have been volunteering with the local chapter of a global NGO since I was in high school (in different countries), and that takes up a fair bit of time.

If you could holiday anywhere in the world, where would you choose and why?
I have a very long list of places I would like to visit, but right now my top three places (sorry, I couldn’t pick just one) are Japan, New Zealand and Egypt - Japan because it is the home of my mentor, Dr. Daisaku Ikeda and I really want to see it in cherry blossom season; I have been obsessed with New Zealand since I saw the Lord of the Rings movies; and Egypt because some of my mom's relatives recently visited and sent us a steady stream of photographs that made me want to drop everything and travel there.

If you have owned pets, do you have a funny story you would like to share with us?
I have always loved dogs my whole life, although I didn’t always have a pet at home. I have a story from when I was around 8 or 9 years old. At the time I was struggling socially at school, and didn’t have a lot of friends, which probably was of some concern to my family. One day I came home and announced to my grandmother that I had 32 friends. She was really impressed (and probably relieved), and asked me questions about my new companions. She was particularly surprised to then discover that these new friends were of the four-legged variety. I used to go on long walks around our neighbourhood after school, and I had befriended a few dozen of the neighbours' dogs! (In later years I did manage to make human friends, but I still have a particular affinity for dogs.)

What is the biggest factor for you when selecting a book to read?
I have very little patience and a short attention span when it comes to reading, so the book needs to be interesting and hook me from the beginning. There are exceptions, and I do slog through a book even if it's slow to grab my attention, but usually only when I have already decided to read it or have to because I am reviewing it for instance.

I tend to read in a select few genres, and I will probably be more patient if the book is from one of those genres, but generally I prefer books that are easy to read. By which I mean, that the writing or story (this goes for both fiction and non-fiction) is so engaging that I am pulled along the page, setting aside everything else I am supposed to be doing. I usually read books to learn something, whether non-fiction or memoir, but even then I like the style to be simple and accessible. This is probably why I didn’t exactly read most of my textbooks in law school!

When I read for pleasure, I usually stick to a few authors I know I will enjoy, although lately I have expanded a bit, and found some new favourites. I guess like most readers, factors such as a good cover and an interesting blurb make me take a closer look, and definitely too many typos and grammatical errors put me off. Being a self-published author myself at the moment, I would never discount a book simply because it was self-published.

Do you have your own website?
My own website is on my list of projects to get to, in the meantime I have a blog where I write my thoughts and lessons learned in being more creative and productive. I have also begun to interview other writers on their writing process.

Are you working on a new book at the moment?
At the moment I am working on a book of humorous essays on my time at university in England. This is my first foray into comedy, which I consider one of the most difficult genres to write in, which is probably why it is taking me so long. I believe that only by trying to do something outside your current ability can you get better at your craft.

Do you have any events or book promotions coming up that you would like to tell us about?

Yes. My book Will The Real Albert Speer Please Stand Up? The Many Faces of Hitler's Architect, a short biography on Hitler's architect and cabinet minister, who was rumoured to be intended as his successor, will be available free on Amazon from April 2nd to April 5th, 2016. You can get it here: http://hyperurl.co/qk9bbd

Update: I was also interviewed by author Coreena McBurnie on her blog here.
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