Tell us about yourself and how many books you have written.
Hi, this is Geetanjali, and thanks for reading this interview. So far I have published 6 non-fiction books. I also have a completed novel that I wrote for Nanowrimo last year.
What is the name of your latest book and what inspired it?
My latest book, which came out in September of 2015, is Anyone Can Get An A+: How To Beat Procrastination, Reduce Stress and Improve Your Grade. I was first inspired to write it years ago while still in high school, when I went from barely passing some of my subjects to getting the top marks in the O-level equivalent board examinations. From that experience I realized that it was possible to dramatically change not only your grades in school, but also your perception of yourself as a student, with just a few changes in study habits. I also realized that our schools and teachers, no matter how well-meaning, are not only not teaching us many crucial study skills, but they also contribute to entrenching the self-perception of certain students as “stupid” or “bad at math” or “lazy and un-motivated”.
I wasn’t labeled any of these things in school, but I definitely felt the judgement from my math and science teachers, because I happened to be struggling with those subjects. Instead of giving more attention to the struggling students, I noticed they were ignored, and left to fend for themselves. Others with poor grades seemed resigned, even belligerent about the notion that they could improve significantly. And when I did do well? No one asked me how I did it – instead they simply assumed that I was “really smart”. I am on a personal mission of sorts with this book – at a time when it is crucial that we all have the technical skills to keep up with a changing world, no child should be made to feel that they don’t have the intelligence or ability to learn and do well in school.
Do you have any unusual writing habits?
I don’t know if my habits are unusual, but I do tend to have a different writing process for each book. The most recent book I was able to sit down and write the draft in only 3 weeks, and I wrote it long-hand on A4-sized paper. The book I am writing at the moment, I have found it really hard to get into the right frame of mind to work on it, except in coffee shops with incredibly sweet coffee concoctions. My waistline is not happy about that, I can assure you!
What authors, or books have influenced you?
I am sure I have been influenced in some way by every book I have read, and my writing has been richer for all the reading that I did before it. Specifically, my style of nonfiction writing, especially for my latest release, was inspired by the hundreds of self-help and general nonfiction books I have read over the years. I wanted to write a book that was readable, full of stories and anecdotes, and yet contained research from scientific studies and principles that the reader could begin to apply immediately. In that way I suppose, I was influenced most by Malcolm Gladwell, and the genre of writing that his work inspired.
What are you working on now?
I am currently working on a book of light-hearted essays on my time at college. I am about halfway through the first draft.
What is your best method or website when it comes to promoting your books?
I am still learning a lot about marketing and promotion, so probably the answer would change in a few months; but at the time I would say Twitter. I was initially very intimidated by Twitter, but so far it is my best method for putting the word out, and connecting with other authors in general.
I think in terms of the best method, I would say it is whatever you can spend more time on and enjoy most. I read this advice somewhere, that the social platform you get the most out of is the one you enjoy spending time on the most. The one where you are most authentically your real self. It is strange that as a writer I would pick the one platform which constrains how much you can say, but in a way I find constraints actually force you to be more creative. Plus it feels like the stakes are so much lower, and I feel like Twitter is a lot more forgiving as a medium.
Do you have any advice for new authors?
The best advice that I could give would be to figure out for yourself what you really want from your writing career, and don’t feel like you have to go at the pace that others are going at. What is most important is that you write, as often as you can, take risks in your writing, and really see what you can accomplish. Don’t get overwhelmed by the enormous amount of advice out there – on building a platform, on finding a niche, on choosing between traditional and self-publishing. Do what works for you, but most importantly, focus on writing the best books you can. Don’t waste too much time on anything that detracts from writing more, even if it is marketing and promotion. I firmly believe that if you write really good books, and also invest time in promoting yourself, eventually you will find readers and create your own little space in which to make an impact as an author.
What is the best advice you have ever heard?
I have read more writing books than I can count, and most of them were chock-ful of great advice, so it is pretty difficult to isolate any one thing. But the advice that has helped me the most is this – write shitty first drafts. Lay track. Don’t edit, don’t judge, just put down one thing and another until you have a draft. A pretty crappy one. And then fix the easiest things that you can fix. And do that again. And keep doing that till you have a less shitty draft. Till you get somewhere that actually looks good.
As a writer sometimes, starting is the hardest part. You get the flash of inspiration, and suddenly you see this brilliant book, in all its glory, and you fall in love with it. And then you sit down to write, and all the garbage that comes out resembles that glorious image in your head in no way. And in despair, you stop writing. You think maybe you should wait, till you get some more inspiration. Till the words start to come out better. But that never happens. Don’t wait, write. Right now. Lay track.
What are you reading now?
I am reading Shonda Rhiimes’ memoir, Year of Yes. It’s a really wonderful read, which is not surprising since she spins such incredible stories on TV. I am also reading a book of essays by Lisa Scottoline, My Nest Isn’t Empty, It Just Has More Closet Space. I love her non-fiction books. I recently finished reading a wonderful book by Susan Jane Gilman, The Ice-Cream Queen of Orchard Street. The only problem is that I kept craving ice-cream the entire time I was reading the book!
What’s next for you as a writer?
I have ideas for my next 3-4 books. I have an unedited Nanowrimo novel that I hope to edit and publish. I have plans for a historical novel set in my hometown. I also hope to take my marketing and promotion to the next level, and reach out to more readers. I also hope one day to take on more formats – write a play, maybe even a musical.
If you were going to be stranded on a desert island and allowed to take 3 or 4 books with you what books would you bring?
I love non-fiction books, so perhaps How To Thrive On (and Get Off) A Deserted Island would be first on my list. I would also take Anna Karenina – which I have been trying to read for a while, there would definitely be enough time on that island, Pride and Prejudice, because who could be better company than witty Elizabeth and dreamy Mr. Darcy, and the boxed set of Harry Potter books, because well, one always needs a little magic.