Dispelling stereotypes, one character at a time — Interview with Arts student and published author Anushka Goyal

It is not every day that one comes across a 19-year old published author, brave enough to touch topics such as mental health, substance abuse, dysfunctional families, and other such issues in her book, Not so Clichéd, published on February 23, 2020. Anushka Goyal, a Liberal Arts student at Fraser Valley India, aspires to show a mirror to the society with nothing but her pen. This is the second book this self-taught author has written, but the first one to be published and making it to the shelves. ‘Not So Clichéd’ is a project composed of determination and sacrifice as she juggled with her studies and a part-time job. I recently got to sit down with this self-proclaimed “Ink-slinger” to talk about her motivations behind writing the book, how she got started as a writer? Furthermore, what advice she would give to up-and-coming authors?

How long did the entire process of writing Not so Clichéd take, from typing the first word until seeing it in print?

It took around five months to write, in that time, I had a significant writer’s block, and I edited the book myself as well. The complete process, including getting it published, took six to seven months.

Why did you decide to edit the book yourself?

This book is in a colloquial style, and I thought many editors would not understand the kind of vision I had for the story. I went through many editing styles, but I did not like any of them, so I decided to do it on my own.

So what was the vision behind the book? What inspired you in coming up with the plot, the characters, the theme?

This is my second book, which is why it was relatively more comfortable for me to write. I had several personalities in mind. For example, the protagonist, whose name is Naina, was a girl that I fancy. I want this character to be someone that readers can relate with, but at the same time, she is someone the audience can look up to and get inspired. I want this book to start a conversation, but also act as a means of diversion in day-to-day life. In India, many stereotypes subsist that I wanted to touch on. I believe the plot touched on several stereotypes, and different metaphors helped solidify these concepts.

So what were the stereotypes addressed and confronted in this book?

Primarily, I addressed the people who are unfair and who do not make society better in any way. I also wanted to talk about broken homes, substance abuse, and things on the same lines.

Did you come from a background of a broken home or have a history of yourself with substance abuse? Is that what inspired you to write about these difficult topics?

No, not at all. However, I have seen many of my friends in school who had numerous issues in their families, which they were not allowed to speak openly, and they needed help. Because of their family backgrounds and disturbances in their homes, they resorted to drinking, and slowly and steadily, this grew into substance abuse. I wanted to write this and just say, ‘it is okay to get help,’ and it was needed too. The book also talks about how only because someone is disturbed does not make it alright to abuse substances. It is not an excuse. Readers will read in the book that substance abuse is just a part of the story, and it is not what the entire book is about. There are about 12 characters in the book, and they all have their own unique stories.

What is the process behind developing characters?

Every character I had in mind has a particular personality that I wanted to portray through their story. It took about three weeks just to come up with the character’s personalities because I just wanted to get it right. I started with names and basic personalities and basic temperaments. Gradually, as each character’s story progressed throughout the story, I tried to portray different sides to them and disclose reasons as to why they have that particular personality. A reader can not say they know each character in the book until they reach the end.

What is the writing process like for a fiction novel?

For this book, I knew it would have 26 chapters from the very beginning. For the first five chapters, I did not have any plan, I just kept writing, and gradually as the story was building, I outlined the stories I wanted to include in each chapter. Every character has at least one dedicated chapter that is all about them. For me, I did not know the end of the book until I reached the end myself, so for this book, I had three to four endings in mind, and I just had to choose one. I wrote all four possible endings for chapter 26, and the one that struck me the most is the one that made it in the final copy. The conclusion is close to my heart, and I like people understanding why I chose to end the book in this manner.

Who was involved in the production of the book? You wrote and edited the book yourself, and then how did you get it into publication?

I had several publishers in mind whom I approached, and gradually I stumbled across this publisher through this printing press that I knew and reached an agreement with them to publish my book.

How will the book be distributed or marketed? Are you involved in this side as well, or is this mostly the publisher’s job?

It will be sold both in bookstores and online. Marketing is mostly the publisher’s job, but I can do my part on my own as well since I worked for a marketing company as a business development intern for five months. I’m trying to develop a presence on social media. I am not a social media person, so I’m currently trying to build a following on my social media handles.

How has a degree in psychology majors helped with writing this book?

I think my psychology major is what made me as open as I am. There is this stigma about psychology in India, and I honestly wanted to write about how psychology can help people. It is regretful how people continuously think that if they go and seek help, then they will be termed as “retarded.” I just want to tell people that it’s not true, one have to go to a trained psychologist if they need help, it makes a difference.

What is hindering people from seeing a psychologist here in India?

I think most people aren’t aware of it. On a day-to-day basis, even as a child, I have a problem with anxiety, especially around exams, I get anxious quickly. I was told, “that’s normal, it happens with everybody.” I just feel that in India, we take mental health issues very lightly, saying that it’s “not a big deal.” For example, when talking about depression, people say, “no, you’re just getting sad, unnecessarily, it’s not depression.”

So the character’s in your book struggle with mental health issues as well?

Yes, they’re all flawed, but it is not glorifying the problem either. It is just as real as it can get.

Did you base any characters off of the people you know personally?

This is a question that a lot of people ask me, I feel like no story is entirely fiction, ‘some reality inspires every fiction.’ Maybe it’s my story, and perhaps it’s one of my friend’s stories or an amalgamation of other stories. You always get inspired by the fact when you’re writing fiction.

So what do you do for your personal development to be inspired to write stories like this?

It’s a very cliched answer but just read. By reading a lot, you learn how to write. I also just want to say to people not to lose patience. When I wrote my first book, I deleted anywhere from 10 to 25 drafts because I was impatient, and it was not getting finished. Perseverance is the key, just sit in your own space, wherever you feel comfortable. I usually write when I am around people so that I can get more inspiration. For example, A lot of my characters are based on people I’ve met, maybe in a cafe. I’m just sitting and observing people, and I think “this is a trait I can add to this character,” so being around people helps.

How did you end up overcoming the writer’s block you felt in the middle of writing this book?

I honestly don’t know how all of the stress could have caused the writer’s block I felt from my midterms and the fact that I was sleep-deprived and had a lot of work to do for the office as well. I was out of ideas when I re-read my work to myself. I just thought, “why would someone read this? It’s so bad.” But I never lost hope, and I always knew it would get better. Every single day I tried to write, and I told myself it was going to get better day-by-day. I used to write at least one page and then delete it. I knew that I was making progress because the story was getting better each day, and then one day I just wrote, and it seemed perfect, and I knew my writer’s block was over, that day I wrote about 10-15 pages, and I felt great.

How did you balance all your school work on top of writing this book?

For about three to four months, I would sleep for only one or two hours a night. I used to come to college and attend classes, then go back home, which is about a one-hour drive away, in Panchkula. After I came home, I would go to my job in the marketing firm, and then I would write during the night and on weekends. Those three to four months were hard, but the result is worth it.

What are any upcoming projects for you? What is next?

I also have a keen interest in film direction. I have scripted and directed a few plays in my school, so I want to pursue that as well. I have a plot in mind about the next story I will write, so once the semester is over and we have a vacation of four months, I am planning on pursuing this project, as well as writing another book. I want to have written at least two or three books before I go to Canada because I want to study at Oxford one day.

Why Oxford?

The name Oxford motivates me to the extent that I can sleep for one hour each night and still function the next day. From a very young age, I think I was ten. I decided I wanted to pursue my post-graduation from Oxford. I guess when you have a set goal in mind, things organically and gradually grow that way. You just have to be determined and work towards that goal.

In your future career, would you like to work more in the creative realm as a writer, or the clinical domain as a professional psychologist?

Honestly, I can see myself doing both of them. I don’t know how someone can be so passionate about two things at the same time. For this, I will just leave things to destiny. I’ll work hard and pursue both situations, but it’s ultimately something that destiny chooses for me.

When did you first discover your love for creative writing?

I was eight years old when I first started writing poetry. I used to read a lot, and I just knew this was the magic I wanted to create on my own one day. Reading gave me the kind of joy that nothing else did, I wanted to give that joy to other people, and I wanted people to be happy because of me. So I just gave it a try, I was sitting one day in my home library, and I just started writing. It gradually blossomed into writing articles for school and then short stories, and ultimately one day, I thought, “let’s give it a try; I’ll write a novel.”

How would you like people to respond to the book, what do you want them to take from it?

I just want people to start a conversation, although it is a bit of a diversion when you come across the genre. I don’t want people to focus on the fact that it is a love story, but to focus on the aspects, I have touched very metaphorically in the book and just start up a conversation with people. To explain someone who has not read the book that it is okay to get help if you are going through a rough time. Every significant change in society comes from a conversation. That is my main plan, I don’t expect wonders to happen from it, but just for people to start a conversation, to introspect and reflect upon their life, to think whether they have treated people the same way that the characters in the book have been treated.