The job of an optometrist is to prescribe and fit lenses to improve vision, and to diagnose and treat various eye diseases. Swaying very far from that, a lady chose to treat the human eyes through a totally different medium – words on paper. Optometrist turned professional writer, Shuchi Kalra carved her own way into the world of professional writing with credits in national and international publications. She has also been the first runner-up of the “Writer of the Year” award from The Writers Bureau, UK. And recently, she has also been recognized as the No#1 among the 12 Highly Successful Non-Native English Freelance Writers.
Shuchi Kalra, in an exclusive conversation with LifeBeyondNumbers, talks about her career shift to pursue her passion, business and much more…
Shuchi Kalra – The Person:
For the most part I am a thinker and a dreamer who spends her time poring over books. I live in my own idealistic little world and am cruelly jolted back to reality every once in a while when earthly responsibilities beckon. I have been writing all my life but took to it professionally only in 2005 and have since been freelancing with publications and corporate clients. I hold a degree in Optometry from the Bausch & Lomb School of Optometry. Realizing that I wasn’t really cut out for the profession, I went on to pursue a Masters in English Literature just for the sheer love of it. I spent my growing up years between Libya, Lucknow and Hyderabad, and now I roam the length and breadth of the country with my fauji husband. When someone asks me “Where are you from?” I really have no answer because I feel that I belong everywhere and yet nowhere. I love traveling, books and food, not necessarily in that order. Oh, and Bollywood!
Optometrist To A Freelance Writer:
Let’s just say that I thrive on uncertainty and adventure. I’m not really a 9-5 job, stability-loving kind of a person. My full-time job as an optometrist in one of India’s leading eye hospitals offered job security and bright career prospects but I found that whole routine very stifling and monotonous. I wanted to be free, do my own thing and be my own boss, without anyone breathing down my neck and telling me what to do. I am a solitary worker and being around too many people drains me out. Freelance writing, therefore, was a perfect fit for my lifestyle and personality. The first year was tough but I was lucky to have a husband with a full-time job so I could afford not to earn enough for a while. If your family depends on you for food and shelter, I suggest you hold on to your regular job and freelance on the side until you are able to establish a consistent revenue stream.
Being A Business-Woman:
I belong to a family of academicians, mostly doctors and professors. Both my parents are independent medical practitioners so yes, there definitely is a business angle to their work. However, I am the first in my family to go the freelancing route and take up writing as a profession. My decision was initially met with a lot of apprehension from family (which did not surprise me at all), but once I found a foothold in the profession and had earnings to show, they realized it wasn’t very different from what they did for a living.
I launched Pixie Dust Writing Studio (PDWS) in May 2011 when my assignments became too much for me to handle. I was pregnant at that time, and on complete bed rest, so I thought why not launch a writing firm of my own. The timing was perfect because I had all the time in the world to ideate over the website design, create content, plan out the operational mechanism, rope in writers and get the other nitty-gritties in place. By the time my daughter was born in November 2011, all the kinks had been ironed out and the firm was up and running smoothly, almost on auto-mode.
The idea behind launching PDWS was to be able to take on bigger and bulkier projects, which I could not have managed on my own. The kind of assignments that are routed through PDWS are very different from the ones that I do on an individual level. While I focus primarily on magazines articles/columns, blogs, editing and copy-writing assignments for select clients, PDWS mostly deals with bulk orders for articles and web content. We have had happy and satisfied clients from India, UK, US, Singapore, Canada and France, and we hope to add many more to this steadily growing list.
It is challenging to break into professional writing primarily because the market is a bit unorganized at the moment, at least in India. There are hardly any credible platforms where writers and prospective clients can engage and interact with each other. When it comes to hunting for good projects, writers are pretty much left to their own devices. The lack of credible clients (and credible writers) further compounds the problem. Both writers and recruiters have to hack through a lot of chaff to get to the wheat. The encouraging news is that once you have found grounding, it isn’t too difficult to sustain yourself, although it does require consistent effort.
When I look back, I realize I indeed have come a long way. When I started out, I didn’t even know what copy-writing and content writing meant. I just knew that I could write and that’s what I wanted to do for a living. I had a shaky beginning but over the years I have grown surer of my capabilities as a writer. While I didn’t make any conscious effort to nurture the business side of writing, in retrospect I realize that I wouldn’t have been anywhere without it. That’s why I advice all budding writers to treat writing like any other profession or business, and market themselves well.
There have been tremendous changes on the personal front too. I am a mom now and I constantly have to juggle between my professional commitments and the demands of my baby. It is all the more difficult because I work from home. There are times when I have to type out drafts on my smart-phone while feeding her or cradling her to sleep, but I’m getting better at it every day!
Writing As A Career:
First off, we need to push the romanticized caricature of the poor, starving, miserable writer out of our minds. Freelance writing is a profession like any other, and there are good earning prospects for anyone who has above average writing skills and the right attitude. The only difference is that when you are an independent professional, you cannot afford to be complacent, no matter how well you are doing. The freelance writing market is a highly competitive one and keeping yourself afloat while sustaining your client base is a constant struggle. Writers also have to walk that extra mile and put in considerable unpaid hours in networking, marketing themselves and actively looking out for projects. Acquiring new skills is definitely helpful and can give a significant boost to a writer’s earnings. Depending on the kind of writing you do or want to do, you may specialize in SEO or build upon your expertise/education in niche areas like finance, technology, management and healthcare. Print and online mediums pay handsomely for content written by industry or subject matter experts.
Finding success as a freelance writer may not be a cakewalk but it is definitely not impossible. I believe that for any self-employed person, initial hiccups and starting troubles are all a part of the game. However, once you are past that stage, it is actually very rewarding.
The Way Ahead:
I would want to see myself as a best-selling author, hopefully! The ultimate dream is to write and publish a book and I think I’m slowly inching towards that. My short stories recently found a place in the “Love Across Borders” anthology and the NAW Anthology-2013. My first novella has been accepted by Indireads and is expected to be published later this year. All this time I’d been focusing on the commercial kind of writing but I guess it’s time now to nurture my creative side and test new waters.
Read an interesting article by Shuchi on 6 Foolproof Ways To Lead An Unhappy Life