Want to Make a Living as an Award-Winning Writer? Minal Shows Us How.

Mei Li Fund Your Passion - Project - 004-01

Write a kickass book proposal, hook an agent and land a publisher – every writer’s fantasy, right? That’s exactly what happened to Minal Hajratwala back in 2001. Except instead of living her dream, she felt mired in a nightmare.

The book she finally wrote, Leaving India, ended up winning a bunch of awards. And Minal now does live her dream. Here, she spills on what helped her wake up to her creative and financial nirvana.

The Goal: Overcome Major Blocks
I thought that I could take one year for research, which I did, and one year for writing. But that one year of writing turned into six years. At the time, it felt like, Oh my god, I’m so behind, I’m a failure.

The Plan: Ramp Up Self-Care
The book was about my family so there was a whole cluster of giant fears. Were they going to hate it? Were they going to hate me? Who was I to write their stories?

Part of why it had taken me a really long time to write my book was that I was really blocked. In the process of unblocking myself, I became really intimate with my own fears and process. I learned I had to ramp up my self-care strategies to match the difficulty of the task I was undertaking.

The Self-Care Diet
What the trial and error led me to was to learn to ask for help.

I Got a Writing Coach
The first thing was having a very good writing coach who had wrestled with the issues herself and knew how to hold the space for it and had very sage advice.

I Found a Community
Having a community of writers of color, many of whom were dealing with similar issues, helped. We could compare and share our fears and depersonalize them. We could recognize that this was part of the path we’d chosen to walk.

I Meditated
I was very committed to a meditation practice at the time and I did meditation retreats. It was very helpful for me to clear a space to examine my own stories. And recognize them as just stories, just ideas, not reality.

I Tried Somatic Therapy
It’s very easy for us as writers to live in the top three inches of our head. It’s really important to have the understanding of the body. To really allow everything to move all the way through the body and be released. Or maybe not released, maybe be held. But know what we’re holding and why we’re holding it.

The Hours
I’m not a schedule person. It’s about clearing the time and the space to let the creative energy be what it needs to be. I’m really an immersion person. There are a couple of ways I find really helpful to do that. One is residencies. Another is Nanowrimo. Having that solid month where I don’t take on other work.

I usually have more than one project in the air at a time. I have days where I sit and write a short story for 12 hours. And days where I do a little work on the novel and then take a nap. Then edit some poems. Then go for a walk. Then talk to the dog! Then maybe at midnight I have an idea and work for two hours.

If someone was watching me, it would look like nothing was happening at all. Like I’m just lying on the bed looking at the ceiling. And that is writing time if I’m in a space of immersion and thinking about, you know, the texture of the ceiling and how that texture comes into the work in some way, you know?

The Income: Buyouts, Advances, Grantwriting and Fellowships
In 2001, the Internet bubble burst. My newspaper, the San Jose Mercury News, was offering buyout packages. I took it and that gave me six months salary to start a research trip. While I was on the research trip, my agent sold the book to a publisher. Then I had an advance. That was another year or two that I lived off that.

As it became clear that writing the book was going to take a lot longer than I thought, I picked up part-time work for a friend who had a small grant writing business. I worked with her for several years while I was finishing the book.

I’ve also relied on grants and fellowships for substantial income at various times. And I’m always applying for them. And I teach others how to do it now.

Most of all, I keep my expenses low.

Minal Hajratwala‘s latest book is Bountiful Instructions for Enlightenment, published by The (Great) Indian Poetry Collective. She is a writing coach, author of the award-winning Leaving India: My Family’s Journey from Five Villages to Five Continents, and editor of Out! Stories from the New Queer India.


About Mei Li Ooi

Writer. Editor. Diet Rebel.

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