Shilpa Jain: Did you always enjoy writing? When did you decide to take up writing as a career?
Jane De Suza: I speak better through my pen. I’ve always doodled and sketched stories in the margins of my school text books, on my walls at home. I’ve read hungrily, I’ve listened to stories over coffee… and that is fuel for my own.
I took to writing because it is how I interact with the world. I can challenge stereotypes, start conversations. It’s what makes my day worth waking up to – and that, I am clear, is what I look for in work.
SJ: At the onset of your career, did you first get into a corporate job which involved some level of creativity?
JD: Yes, right after my MBA, I opted for a campus job with Ogilvy Advertising. I had interned at a foreign bank, found the money delightful, but that I couldn’t get through a month of it without falling asleep over my laptop. It wasn’t a fit. It wasn’t for me. It was for those who had different skills and different ambitions. The opportunity to get into an industry where I could create, and where every new job, every day would offer that chance – was something I chose over the ‘safe’.
SJ: How did you go about achieving your dreams to get into print media?
JD: I’d started blogging about being a first-time mom, and that led to a parenting column at Good Housekeeping, followed by many magazine articles, travel writing. On reader persuasion, I wrote my first novel ‘The Spy who lost her Head’ and because it fit no existing genres or norms – funny detective fiction, it got commissioned by HarperCollins. Literature fests and great reviews and other contracts for books then followed, and a newspaper satire column. It’s like a snowball rolling downhill. It starts small, then gains mass and momentum.
SJ: What does a job writing professionally entail?
JD: Writing professionally is hard work. If you’re freelancing, writing a book for example – you’ve got to promote your work, help sell, do PR, post on social media, take rejections, listen to those who have Swiss bank accounts ramble on.
It offers flexible work hours, crazy deadlines, continuous thrill, fantastic peers, fan mail – but none of that may pay the bills.
Take it up only if you are clear about your priorities. This won’t start you off on a fat salary. But getting famous (or infamous) and leaving your imprint on the world – may just happen one day.
SJ: You have written 9 books so far. Has your genre of writing always been humour? Who is your inspiration?
JD: The first brick to build a career on is authenticity. Knowing who we are is vital to keeping a lifelong career going, and not letting that flame burn out somewhere along the way. I look at things, introspect, interact with humour. It is my voice. Writing from any other space would be forced, and not half as good. However, I do write about deep, dark and disturbing issues (my latest book about death is called ‘When the World Went Dark’) but I am able to bring in light, humour, hope.
I spent a lovely childhood laughing, thanks to Richmal Crompton, who created the William series of books. Now, my all-time favourite writer is Roddy Doyle who attacks the most serious of societal issues with rib-tickling humour.
SJ: Would one be able to achieve financial freedom by just pursuing writing?
JD: It is difficult, but achievable in India.
Most people can be trained to do a desk job, number-crunch, sell, make presentations. A very few can be trained to ‘create’. The young are told here to opt for a ‘safe’ career, and to keep the creative talents to hobby-level pursuits. Those who are passionate about writing/ art, and excel in it, can honestly zoom straight up to the top of the pyramid in their creative industry, without the steps on the ladder that other industries have.
There are also many, many opportunities in writing today. From the more corporate technical writing, to writing for PR, social media management, journalism, website writing, professional blogging, content creation for corporates – and finally, creating stories for the ever-expanding digital world.
SJ: What is your advice to young women who are passionate about writing?
JD: Start! Write every time an idea hits you. Even in the middle of the night. Or in the loo. And get serious about it. Work on your grammar (bad grammar is inexcusable). Get reviews – even if it scares you – let people read and critique it. Once you’ve got 5 drafts at least done, research sites worldwide that look for new writing and mail them.
Realistic advice is to get yourself a day job meanwhile to pay the bills. If you’re passionate about writing, and good at it (which you’ll get to know once your responses/ reviews come in), then some day you can kick out your day job and park yourself near a window – and begin your life as a professional writer.
SJ: As our primary cause is aiming to make young women financially independent, why is being financially independent important to you?
JD: Subconsciously, we pin our self-worth onto something. It is disturbing to see many women pin it, for example, on their kids and the achievements of their kids. We need to find something within ourselves to anchor us. A job in its most basic form, gives us this. Financial independence and the recognition of one’s work by professionals and peers are strong pillars of self-worth. The job, the money we earn aren’t just to allow us to live on our own if we need to, but to validate to ourselves, that we’re good, we’re strong, we aren’t second to anyone else.
SJ: Any message to the members of Aspire for Her? And any message for the Foundation in general
JD: You’re playing a much-needed role for young women today. Choosing work to my mind, is at 2 levels:
- Earning a livelihood: Find a field which gives you financial stability.
- Making your life worthwhile: Channel what you love doing into something concrete.
Question: One person, fictional/real and dead/alive that you want to have dinner with
Answer: Jane Goodall, the primatologist, who spent 50 years in the wild, to talk to her about her courage and conviction.
Question: A book on your career field that you would recommend to or readers
A whack on the side of the head – by Roger Von Oech
Question: 3 things on your bucket list – strictly career-wise.
- Write for a film. (It’s begun… if this one doesn’t happen, another will).
- Give back – to the helpless. (Started with animal NGOs).
- Start a project to make the world a kinder place. (2 ideas in the furnace!)