I started writing as soon as I learned how to string words into sentences. I would curl up into a quiet corner with a notepad and write – little poems and short stories. I remember this one character I made up, an amalgam of a bunch of different animals, that my mom loved and probably saw as evidence that I would become a writer one day.
Unfortunately English class intervened, and the inevitable criticism and dreaded comments in red pen sent my imagination packing, where it cowered in a corner for the next decade or so. I decided that I would become a writer, one day. I just needed to get over my decade-long writer's block first.
In the meantime, since I couldn’t write, I read. Not just every book of fiction I could get my hands on, but also every writing reference book that was available in the library. If I couldn’t write myself, I could read how others were doing it. And the entire time, I repressed the slight feeling of disappointment that I felt in myself, for not being able to write. And I kept writing, but it wasn’t "real" writing, and it wasn’t what I really wanted to write.
I wrote essays and stories for class assignments. By this time I had moved cities and schools, and my new English teachers raved about my work. They wrote glowing praise on my assignments, this time with blue pen. And somehow whether it was that I was in a kinder environment, or perhaps the lack of that loud red ink, I didn’t quite believe that my work merited the praise. I thought maybe my teachers were just being nice. They continued to be nice by sending me to every creative writing competition the school entered. I still didn’t think of myself as a writer. By this time, I had graduated to writing poems. I wrote several poems a week. Especially when I was feeling heartbroken over a boy. Which of course was a regular occurrence.
One of the writing advice books I read at the time recommended never wasting any of your research. I had written around 40 essays analyzing the poems we were assigned in our Elective English class, and I decided that it would be a good resource for other literature students if it was compiled into a book. Around that time I happened to visit the Delhi Book Fair with my mom, and I went around to all the booths of the educational publishers, collecting their card. Once home, I sent each of them a query (I must have broken every rule concerning query submissions), explaining my idea for the book. And I never heard back from a single one of them.
Till I was at my first semester at university, and I got an email from one of the publishers, expressing regret that they couldn’t publish my book, but on a separate note, would I be interested in writing something else for them? So that's how my first book came into being, and I was a published author at the age of 19.
The funny thing is, I still didn’t see myself as an author. After the initial euphoria regarding my book died down, I went back to life as it was before – I still couldn’t muster up the courage to write what I wanted, or complete a single story or article idea. And the few pieces that I did write for the university student paper were either edited heavily or not published at all. It was quite clear that the editors there really didn’t care for my writing. Obviously, none of this encouraged me to write more, and I more or less stopped writing.
Until after graduation, when I was visiting my grandmother, and went to the local bookstore. And I stumbled onto Julia Cameron's The Right to Write. That book changed my perspective completely, and I realized that I simply had to write. And that I was worthy of being a writer, if that was something that I wanted to do. So I wrote. A lot. It was like some sort of dam had burst, and words gushed from me in waves. And although I still hadn’t completed anything, I was writing far more regularly.
Skipping the many other little detours and scenic stops along the journey, in 2013 I discovered Smashwords, and in 2014 I started publishing with Amazon KDP. I published 4 books in 2014, mostly versions of books and manuscripts that I had already written in some form. It was then that finally I practiced calling myself an author. People would ask me what I did, and I would mumble, and say that I did research and also wrote books. The last I would say so quietly, most people didn’t catch it. After the twentieth time, I started to say, and I am also a writer. And would say this a little louder. And someone might ask me what I wrote, and I would tell them. Usually people were so impressed I blushed, and looked down at my feet. I couldn’t handle either the blank looks and pitying glances when people thought I was a loser, and neither did I feel comfortable when someone was in awe of my accomplishments. I wanted a middle ground, a matter-of-fact response, same as if I had told them that I was an accountant or a lawyer.
I used to think that other people were the problem. That I needed validation. I needed someone to tell me that my writing was good. Or that I had accomplished enough to be able to use that term. Written enough books, sold enough books, had gotten enough reviews. Every time I reached a milestone, I moved the bar. Until I realized that I had to validate myself. I got to decide whether or not I was an author. I got to decide how I saw myself, and others would follow. The day I understood that, I was able to start telling people that I was an author. Loudly. Confidently. And then I no longer needed to. Because everywhere I went, whenever someone asked me what I did, even before I could respond, someone else would tell them, "Oh do you know, she's an author". In fact, I couldn’t walk into a room without hearing that introduction about myself.
And then I realized, I had never needed anyone else's validation. Only my own.
About Geetanjali Mukherjee
Geetanjali Mukherjee grew up in India, spending her early years in Kolkata, and then attending high school in New Delhi. She went on to read law as an undergraduate at the University of Warwick, United Kingdom, where she joined as many clubs as possible while still giving the impression she understood the intricacies of trusts law. She went on to earn a Masters' in Public Administration from Cornell University, United States, while trying not to freeze along with the famed Ithaca lakes. She is also a member of Pi Alpha Alpha, the Global Honor Society for Public Affairs and Administration. Geetanjali is the author of 6 books, although sometimes it feels like the one she is writing is the very first one. Her latest book Anyone Can Get An A+: How To Beat Procrastination, Reduce Stress and Improve Your Grades is available at Amazon.
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A Writer's Tale
Scarlett Van Dijk
Writer of young adult, fantasy series, the Sky Stone series, poetry and short stories.
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