Welcome all, to yet another inspiring interview of In-Conversation with.
Manali is someone who has been into various multi-disciplinary profiles working as a Marketing Executive( post her MBA) and then as a primary school English teacher (post her M.A) and then she realized she is passionate about writing.
Currently, she is a blogger, freelance writer and editor and obviously an author.
I think she has quite an interesting story to share with all of us and I hope this interview provides enormous inspiration and value to everyone reading this conversation in helping you live a life you always wanted to.
In Conversation with Manali Desai – A Rustic Mind
Arjun: Manali, tell us something about yourself as I want the readers to know about your story? Where do you come from and what you studied and everything you want to share with the people?
Manali: Hello, Arjun. Firstly, thank you for this wonderful opportunity. After reading the rave review you wrote for my latest book, I’m really excited to answer all the questions you have for me.
About me, well I’ll try to answer that without it seeming like reading from my CV. So, I’m Manali Desai, and if you Google me, the first search that shows up is unfortunately not me, but my books (A Rustic Mind, The Untold Stories, Ten Tales and Zista) will definitely come up on the top itself, so I’m happy about that.
Besides authoring these books, I do freelance content and creative writing + editing. I also maintain my blog by the name of A Rustic Mind.
How did she realize her calling?
Arjun: Manali, how and when did you realize that writing is your calling? From corporate to writing, please share the interesting story?
Manali: I call my professional journey a ‘long process of elimination’. I began as a Marketing Executive in a jewellery studio after completing my MBA. Though many people find such a job to be fulfilling, which includes selling as well, I did not find it charming.
I quit in a year and decided to pursue an M.A in English Literature because I always had an attachment to books and the English language itself. While pursuing this 2-year rigorous course, I also started taking up freelance content writing work.
After MA, teaching seemed to be a good option as a fulltime job, hence I joined a school where I taught English to primary section students. Though I quite enjoyed this, I did not find it as satisfying and exciting as I had expected it to. Something was amiss, as it did not feel right. So, I quit this job and landed up in a proper fulltime content writing job at an Edutech firm. This time I wasn’t teaching, but I was creating the tools for teaching, which excited me way more than the actual teaching. I was finally able to experience the job satisfaction I had been craving for.
However, this job lasted only for two years. Like most startups, the one I had been working for, also faced investment issues and there were delays in timely payments, hence I thought it was time to move on, though with a heavy heart.
Around this time, a huge personal life change came in, in the form of matrimony. I stayed out of fulltime jobs for a couple of months leading to the wedding but continued doing freelance work. After getting married, I started hunting for my next option as a fulltime job, and it was then that my husband suggested I rather focus on just freelance writing and blogging on my own page, rather than doing a fulltime job.
So, we monetized the blog and I focused completely on freelance work and the maintenance of A Rustic Mind, where I blog regularly. Thanks to no pressure of work deadlines, daily commute, etc., I was able to think about publishing my work (in the form of books) as well.
My debut book A Rustic Mind came out in January 2018, exactly 10 months after my marriage, and 9 months after making the decision of not doing a fulltime job.
After that, I got the opportunity to become an editor for another debut author’s book, then came my second solo book, closely followed by two anthologies in which two my short stories were published. And on July 15th, 2020, my third solo book came out.
So, I guess that decision of not settling for a job which didn’t give me satisfaction and then deciding not to do a job at all, has paid off quite well, at least so far.
3 all-time favourite books
Arjun: Manali, tell me your 3 most favourite books and what in particular did you like in it that they became your personal favourite?
Manali: Oh boy! This is a tricky one, but I’m going to answer it in a different way, going by my favourite books during various ages in my life. This will also give people some context and an understanding of which books to read at which stages/ages of their life.
- Black Beauty by Anna Sewell: Because it was the first book that I ever read and it made me realize the power of the written word and how a few pages can make one feel so many emotions (also because it made me cry)
- Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling: Because this book taught me virtues like loyalty and bravery. And also, because it gave me my lifetime crush in the form of Sirius Black.
- Rage of Angels by Sidney Sheldon: Because it was my first encounter with a mafia story and a strong female protagonist.
- The Godfather by Mario Puzo: My second encounter with a mafia story and the first one with a book that talked about lead characters with flaws and so much grey matter.
- Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell: Do I really need to explain why this one is on the list? The strong female lead, the chemistry between Scarlett and Rhett, oh! I can talk about this one endlessly!!
- Five Point Someone by Chetan Bhagat: You can judge me all you want for this, but I read this one at a stage in my life when I was myself living away from home for the first time and could relate to the friendship between Ryan, Alok and Hari. Also, let’s not forget that it was this book which commercialized Indian writing industry like never before. Oh and, this one remains the only book of Chetan Bhagat I like till date (against the popular choice of Two States)
- The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand: This book blew my mind as I had never read about or understood the importance of design and architecture in our lives. A simple design could start a revolution. Who knew, at least the 20 something Manali never thought that!!
- Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts: A book about Bombay and my favorite spots in the city combined with mafia and underworld, I mean who wouldn’t like that combo?!! This one had everything I wanted as a mature reader.
- The Kite Runner by Khalid Hosseini: The first book I read which talked about male child abuse. To this day, that scene and the way it is written remains etched in my mind, as it is one of the most heartbreaking ones.
- The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. My first encounter with a post-modern text that dealt with the Soviet occupation of Prague, during the late 1960s and the struggles of the common people against communism. I recommend this book to anyone who asks my favourite book!!
- The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy: If you’re looking for a book that talks about communism (and the stark caste and class differences) a little closer to home, this one is it. Another book I recommend to one and all. Also, the story is weaved around my absolutely favourite travel destination in India, God’s Own Country aka Kerala.
- Midnight’s Children by Salman Rusdhie: If I had to pick one book from the genre of magical realism, this would be it. But, that’s not the only bit I liked about it, there’s so much in this novel which makes it a must-read, right from the way it deals with important historical events like the Indo-Pak partition to the time of emergency under Indira Gandhi’s regime, and the two lead nemesis characters, there’s nothing in this book that I do not like!
Manali Desai on gifting books
Arjun: Do you gift books to people, because I have observed a lot of readers gifting books to their near and dear ones. If you do gift books what are your most gifted books till date?
Manali: Unfortunately, in my close circle, nobody is as avid a reader as I am. Despite that, I do pass on books that I have already read and feel that a particular person will be able to enjoy and appreciate them as much as I did (sometimes even those books which I do not enjoy but feel that someone else would appreciate them more)
For instance, I have gifted Chetan Bhagat books to many of my Indian friends, because I know most of them will enjoy his books rather than something like Gone with The Wind or The God of Small Things.
Manali Desai on practising gratefulness
Arjun: Manali, I read the book “The Art of being grateful”, what is the role of gratitude in your life? And share your viewpoint on why gratitude is so very important in life?
Manali: Gratitude for me is being thankful for each small and big thing in life.
I feel it is important to practice gratefulness in order to appreciate and live life to the fullest.
Meaning of Success and advice to your younger self
Arjun: Success has a different meaning for everyone. How does Manali Desai define success for herself?
Manali: To me, success is being able to find your calling and then working on it every single day.
I don’t like to look at success in numbers or monetary gains. For me, even if 50 people are reading my work, and out of that 45 are able to appreciate it, that’s a success!
Arjun: If you could speak to 15-year-old Manali, what would some of your advice to her be?
Manali: READ MORE!! And read better books by being part of reading groups and discussing books with like-minded people.
On Habits, routines, limiting-beliefs and challenges
Arjun: What is that one habit, which has been a life-changer for you and you definitely won’t ignore this habit till the end of your life?
Manali: Regular reading (literary articles, books, newspapers, opinion pieces, and all forms of media) and being open to new things, be it at the work front or even otherwise.
Because I have learnt that living in a shell is not going to get me anywhere.
Arjun: Manali, you are aware that people restrict themselves to take action just because of the limiting beliefs they have in their mind. You also must have conquered your limiting beliefs in order to get to where you are today. Some tips you want to share to clear the limiting beliefs that people have?
Manali: I have come to learn that the only thing that stops us from achieving what we want is self-doubt. And the only way to overcome this doubt is by not bothering about the results. So without worrying about whether or not you will be successful, just take the plunge; if you win, that’s great but even if you lose, you learn what not to do.
Arjun: No person can be successful without challenges. What are the challenges you faced in your journey to where you are today?
Manali: Honestly, the challenges haven’t stopped even today. I mean, life is no fun without challenges anyway, right?
The biggest challenge I believe is finding one’s purpose and for me, that took a little longer than others to figure out. But I’ve no qualms about it because even while trying to find my calling, I ended up learning a lot about myself and about the world.
On core values and investments
Arjun: What do you think has been your best investment till date not necessarily in terms of money, but maybe in terms of time and energy which you think have yielded something which you love or admire or be proud of?
Manali: Well, let me tell you about both time and money.
In terms of monetary investment, getting A Rustic Mind monetized was definitely the best decision.
In terms of time investment, focusing on ‘work satisfaction’ rather than settling for just any ‘9 to 5 job’ was the best decision and investment.
Arjun: This is my favourite question which I ask everyone I interview. What do you think is one core value or personality trait in you that has brought you where you are today?
Manali: Patience. How else would someone survive three jobs in varied fields and then end up being a bestselling author?
Manali Desai on her favourite quotes
Arjun: Some of your most favourite quotations. By the way, I am a big fan of quotations. So, I want to learn some great quotations from you too. If you want to share some of your own quotations that would be great too.
Quotes by others:
- The woods are lovely, dark and deep But I have promises to keep And miles to go before I sleep And miles to go before I sleep
- Love the life you live. Live the life you love.
- If you look closely, most overnight successes took a long time.
- Someone who is unrelentingly cheerful can be a pain in the ass.
Quotes by me (Manali Desai)
- Instead of thinking “I am what I am today, because of me, my good deeds and my hard work”, we should rather think, “I am what I am today, because of me, because of my good and bad experiences and because others helped me along the way.”
- Gratefulness is not a ‘one size fits all’ practice, but one which, just like any other feelings, is acquired over time and with one’s own experiences.
Advice and tips from Manali Desai
Arjun: As an author, what are some of the challenges a newbie faces when he/she tries to publish their book. If you are aware, please share some challenges and also if possible some tips on how one can overcome such challenges and find a solution.
Manali: The biggest challenge is overcoming the myths you have about publishing through what you have heard from other people. Unlike what is popularly believed, getting published is not so tough. There are ample publishers out there who would be willing to publish your work, but you need to be clear about what type of publishing you want to go ahead with (vanity, partner or traditional)
- The decision to start sending out the manuscript/book proposal.
- Finding the right publisher.
- Understanding the different types of publishing options available.
- Overcoming the challenges:
- Talk to published authors.
- Read the publishing contract (if you have received any) very carefully and clear all doubts about royalties, any payments you need to make, etc.
- Be patient if you are looking for traditional publishing.
Arjun: What role do you think has social media played in your writing career, I know you have used social media as a resource to reach to a larger audience and provide value to them. Share some strategies for newbie writers to leverage social media and reach out to more people.
Manali: Honestly, if not for social media, I don’t think I would have sold more than 50 copies of any of my books, because as I pointed out earlier, nobody in my close circle is an avid reader. And me being an introvert, initially felt very shy about promoting my writing through offline modes like book readings, participating in open mics, etc. So, promoting online worked best for me.
Some strategies that worked for me were:
- Consistent posting on any two platforms (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc., al)
- Connecting with authors and readers (via public groups and forums)
- Engaging with followers on a regular basis.
Arjun: You understand that what you are doing is starting to make a difference to the society/ to the readers. How do you feel knowing that what you are doing is making someone’s life better?
Manali: This is honestly the biggest motivation for me to continue writing. Knowing that my work is making a difference in people’s lives, even if just a small percentage of people, makes me feel more accomplished than a big fat paycheque.
Arjun: As a person who had her share of experiences working in various fields, one advice that you want to give to current teen generation to do what they are passionate about?
Manali: Focus on the little things that make you happy. It could be something as simple as being able to make people laugh or something as big as asking people to be more socially responsible; don’t shy away from these even if people chide you, because these are the actions and their resulting outcomes, which will help you find your purpose and calling.
Something personal with Manali Desai
Arjun: What’s something you are really good at, that few people know about or that you are not known for?
Manali: Okay, so I know that this is going to come off sounding negative, but I am really good at convincing people to follow through with my plans.
Apart from this, I’m also good at making people feel comfortable and believing that they can confide in me ( and yes I am a really good listener plus a confidante)
Arjun: Everyone has their share of guilty pleasures. What are some of your guilty pleasures?
Manali: I enjoy romcoms (both books and movies) more than I like to admit in public. I also enjoy reading gossip columns once in a while and my favourite guilty pleasure is procrastinating on the household chores, especially kitchen work.
Arjun: Manali, share some experiences when someone messaged you about your books that it moved them. How was that feeling like?
Manali: I once received an Instagram DM which said ‘Your book helped me come out of a very dark phase in my life. I was feeling low and depressed, but your book made me feel better’. As a writer, this was that one moment which made me feel most accomplished.
That’s all Manali, I think I had asked you enough questions and I hope the questions excited you, again I am very grateful to you for your very precious time.
I am also very grateful to all the people who have read it till here, I hope this conversation was worth your time and it has served it the purpose of providing you immense value and inspiration.
If you want to contact Manali Desai, here is her website: A rustic mind
and here is her Instagram page: A rustic mind