Don’t Be A Writer Who Can’t Support Herself: Prachi Joshi Johar’s Advice To Budding Authors
- IWB Post
- March 16, 2018
From PR and business journalism to English communication teacher and pre-primary school principal, Prachi Joshi Johar is an English language specialist who has worn many hats.
She is the author of several books and board games for children between the ages of four and 14. Her latest book, Of Desires, Dilemmas, and Divinity is a collection of soulful poems. She describes it as a soliloquy of unfulfilled passion and an uninhibited celebration of the tossing of the human mind in all its nebulous glory.
In this interview, Prachi talks about her love for writing and advice for people who want to pursue unconventional career paths. Excerpts:
Tell us about your love for writing and when did you discover it?
My love for writing is as old as the time I used to be in school. I could speak and write the English language very well as a teen, and most of the unconventional ideas used to surface in academic essays and the articles I wrote for the monthly school magazine called The Academician. So I wouldn’t really call it a discovery of sorts, I used to write and it was ascertained as good writing by people who were maestros of the language at that particular point in time. I was writing poems and stories in school, though none from the perspective of getting them published but simply out of the urge to write.
Seems like it’s in your blood.
I would define it as a strange sense of vacuum, which paradoxically used to fill me up to the brim and would find a release the moment I managed to spill it out on paper. The same syndrome exists even today, wherein angst, restlessness, void and even boredom to a great extent lead to my putting words in writing. Even now I do not stake claim to the surreal element that emerges in my writing, I feel it is a bigger force in the Universe working through me to find a tangible form in poetry.
Regarding the poems you have written, were there instances where you felt reduced to your gender?
There have been various instances where I have felt circumscribed on account of my gender when it comes to taking up specific assignments and also felt empowered and ideal as a woman while taking up others. The poem that you are talking about was actually a reaction to the Women’s Day messages, which in my opinion didn’t do much to really alleviate the status of women, especially in the places and strata where it matters the most. But it would be unfair to say that I have felt reduced to mere gender. I haven’t had the experience of being looked down upon or considered inadequate because of being a woman.
You also teach board games to children. What essential concepts do you aim to teach?
These are academic and critical thinking concepts combined. For instance, in the world board game, it does not suffice to know that Angel Falls in Venezuela is the highest falls in the world. There is an anagram that you have to unscramble to arrive at the right answer. So you’re not just applying what Geography you know but also exercising a brain muscle wherein you have to do some on the spot thinking. I would say the concepts are reinforcing academics in a nonacademic competitive gaming format as also enabling kids to be quick thinkers right at that moment of time.
Do your games empower girls in any way?
My games are gender neutral. They are based on the premise that equality is foremost in a school environment whether it comes to academics or co-curriculars. To say that they empower only girls would be doing a disservice to the entire belief of my reaching out to kids as a whole and not any gender in particular. So yes, the games do empower girls, but not just girls. They enable boys too.
How can your games be a part of the regular learning routine of a child? Any memorable experiences from the class?
There is a game of mine published by Frank called ‘Fun Match’, and also ‘Spot’s Ball.’ I devised both games while playing it with my own kids who were pre-schoolers then. In that light, you can pick up a game at home and play it with your kid or employ it as a teaching aid in the classroom. Another game published by Scholastic called ‘Space Rescue’ can be used in the classroom for reinforcing planetary and space information. When I was a communication teacher for Grades 9 and 10 in Indore, I used to play Memory Games for adjectives. I used to give different scenarios like a dump of garbage, or the Taj Mahal and ask students to provide it with an apt adjective. With 14 students in each row, we had different adjectives like repulsive, offensive, odious, disgusting for the garbage dump and this helped in vocabulary building.
What kind of books have you written and what has been your inspiration?
The published books include five different levels of critical thinking series. Most of my inspiration stemmed from the fact that we do not have enough within the curriculum for our kids to practice logical reasoning in different ways. So I wanted to have a series of puzzles in deductive reasoning, sequencing, analogies and spatial reasoning to enable the kids and teens to be able to think for themselves.
The inspiration behind my poetry book has been about restlessness, chaos within the soul, the purpose of existence and at times, even an existential crisis. It also emanated from a deep sense of turbulence which would find a temporary calm with each poem, as also in finding romance and love in different aspects of human existence.
How has the transformation been from being an economics teacher to a writer?
I was an Economics teacher for a very brief period. It was challenging yet enjoyable to teach Class XII what my core subject was at the university. It meant working within an established syllabus and having specifics to teach. So it was focussed, with a pre-determined objective of making kids understand difficult concepts and prepare them from an examination point of view.
Writing, on the other hand, is more diverse, nebulous, creative and a freewheeling zone. Each piece of my writing has been as different from the other as chalk and cheese. Therefore if you’re talking of my transformation from a personal perspective, I would say, it is moving from a focussed, pre-determined goals kind of a job to something which has a larger, vaguer and more relevant potential to influence humans in a big way.
While transitioning from one career to another, which are entirely unrelated to each other, what kind of challenges did you face and what factors helped you make it a smoother process?
While the jobs have been totally unrelated, you have to see the common skill set that runs through all. And that is being an able communicator, verbally and in writing. I was armed with strong subject knowledge which became better with each new job experience. However, some employers wanted a consistent work experience in a given field.
So the challenge was huge, I had to start from the bottom rung of the ladder each time I moved to a new place and also needed a lot of convincing skills to tell prospective employers that either they could see my varied work profile as bringing diverse skill sets to the table or simply as having not enough experience in a given field. Fortunately, most employers saw me as an asset and were very kind to my limitations as a young mother and gave me a lot more leeway to work around that primary role.
You seem to have experimented a lot with your career. Most people today are hesitant to make such bold choices. What do you have to say about it? Is it worth taking the risk in today’s competitive world?
My experimenting with career choices is more a function of circumstance than choice. With my husband being in the army, I’ve had to move to remote places like Imphal in Manipur and Binnaguri in West Bengal where work opportunities were few and far between. In today’s competitive world, if you are the main breadwinner, taking a risk is inadvisable. However, having said that, I feel there comes a time in each individual’s life where he wants to be more than just an earning source to keep the kitchen fires burning. When that moment of angst comes in your life, it will do well to take some calculated risks and take a stab at what you feel is really going to move you up your pyramid of self-actualization.
What’s the fodder for your creativity?
Restlessness, angst, the constant search for the self, nature’s varying colours and moods and last but not the least, love, in all its forms, romantic, carnal, spiritual, banal, et al.
Tell us some of the challenges and hardships you went through while starting out as a writer, and how did you overcome it?
It’s not just when I started out as a writer but even till now that the hardships continue. What you write may be brilliant stuff, but it is not what a particular publisher wants. They take ages to respond to a manuscript. There’s fear of your manuscript being plagiarised if you’re going to submit it to a publisher you don’t know about. So your work finding its place under the sun, is always a painful uncertainty. When you read some trashy pop literature, you wonder why isn’t your work out there, and it’s merely because the publisher, one single dimensional point of view has not found your work in keeping with the kind of work they publish or what appeals to their mindset.
Tell us about the biggest inspiration in your life.
Some people and books have influenced me, but there’s no one person or book I would call inspiration. I think nature influences me in a big way, so perhaps that could be a big source of inspiration.
What direction, in your opinion, should children’s literature take?
In the Indian context, I think literature should be a mix of real and unreal. While fantasy and fairy tales will always have their place, if there are books which pick up real places and real people and some real issues, without making it too heavy, it would all be very relatable to the readers.
What issues books for teens should cover more intensely?
Relationships, responsible behavior, life skills.
Do you remember the library from your childhood?
Of course, it was the most crucial part of our school life, covering an entire wing on the first floor, breezy, well ventilated and with a large balcony running around it on two sides, filled with books of every possible genre and for each age group.
Can we find your family as prototypes in your books?
Yes. Certainly. The poem Middle Ages of Matrimony is about my marriage and the man I have married. Footfalls has many people, family and friends, that fall into the categories of success seekers and dreamers and salvation seekers.
One draft of a book or a poem that you haven’t made public yet.
It’s not yet public, but I would like to see it published someday. It is about a very personal experience of having a teenage crush on someone and then letting it go because well, all that it was, was just a crush. However, there are thoughts that often go back to the same person, not in the sense of loss but in a pleasant kind of a way. It is fiction built around real incidents in my life.
Tell us about your publishing experience. Any advice for budding writers?
Well, there are very few takers for poetry, so I had to take the self-publishing route there. Critical thinking books have more potential, so publishers are more willing to accept that. Also, it is tough to ascertain who are the real people out there who would take your work seriously or be honest about royalty and sales. My advice wouldn’t really be relevant here as I am yet to make a breakthrough in the fiction space myself.
One advice you’d give to anyone who wants to pursue an unconventional career path.
One advice, discretion is the better part of valor. So while you may be bold in saying that you’re going to make writing a bread and butter story, be realistic. It will take time for you to be a JK Rowling or a Ruskin Bond or a Roald Dahl. To ensure that you have a stable source of income while you explore your talent by giving a bit of yourself each day to writing. There’s nothing glamorous about poverty. Don’t be a writer who can’t support himself. Keep writing and don’t give up.