The Woman Inc. talks with Sweta Vikram about her latest book, A Piece of Peace.
Congratulations on your new book! How would you describe the journey of writing and publishing your book so far?
Thank you so much! I am a big believer that nothing in life is ever all good or all bad. It’s our perspective and attitude that influence how we experience anything. In the pre-pandemic days, I would have done a 6-month book tour. I’d have collaborated with yoga studios and wellness spaces for integrated events. I might have partnered up with wellness clothing or tea brands. Honestly, I love meeting with my readers and connecting deeply. But with COVID spikes and variants, I have only been doing virtual events. On one hand, I miss the energy of human connection from being in the same space; on some cold nights, I am grateful for Zoom events, so I don’t have to schlep myself around the city or country in the cold.
Well, writing during the pandemic was interesting as I had no access to writing residencies or coffee shops or a writing studio or even the subway. I had to show up to words every day and find the fire within. In yoga, we talk about the power of daily practice and dedication. Having that background and mindset helped me carve out intentional time for my creativity.
You wrote this book after your journey with health challenges and recovery. How was the experience of sharing something so intimate with a larger audience? What was the motivation for it?
Honestly, I write because that’s how I make sense of the world. I looked fit and fine but then ended up in the ER. The doctors were in shock. I had no clue what hit me. Writing about the “unknown” centred me on some days. I started to write A PIECE OF PEACE because my healing (from any situation) requires me giving a voice to my emotions and experiences. Once the healing began, I also realized that my story can’t be that unique. Social media puts this pressure on people to curate their lives, so it looks all jazzed up. But that’s not healthy. It was amazing how many people (especially women) started to feel seen and heard and shared their stories of survival once my essays from the collection were published. More people reached out for help. A PIECE OF PEACE became a guide and a manual for every person who read the book. What started as an expression of a very personal journey became a collection to help others. I have to say, I have good boundaries in terms of what I share. I touch upon certain aspects and issues but don’t go into details intentionally. That’s where meditation and yoga practice help—they remind you to do what works for you, not what others expect of you.
Did the book help you gain closure or a new perspective on your life in the process of writing it? Do share some memorable moments from when you were writing your book.
Every book, every essay, every poem helps me move on. Unless I write about it, I can’t find closure or heal on an emotional level. While writing the book, the pandemic hit. In some ways, it was triggering; my words and I were in lockdown mode, just like when I was sick. But with this book, I interviewed experts and women leaders, so sharing their stories and promoting their work felt very memorable. Even though A PIECE OF PEACE is a book I wrote, so many people helped shape it. Because we were all on PAUSE at the start of the pandemic, it was easier for me to get time on people’s calendars. I have learned that even in the worst of situations…you can always find good. You need to have an open mind.
We are seeing a revival of traditional methods of healing. Would you like to share thoughts about that?
Several corporations, colleges, and high schools hired me to speak about mindfulness to their employees/students. Individuals reached out for one-on-one Ayurvedic coaching and asked for help with their diet and lifestyle. I think prior to the pandemic, people were always on go-mode. There was a lot of mindless consumption of everything—food, beverages, lifestyle choices, and social aspects. Popping a pill seemed like an easy option as did drinking that unwarranted 3rd glass of wine at the end of a stressful day or attending every social gathering, even when you didn’t want to. Most didn’t have the mindset or confidence to turn inward and check in with themselves what they needed. A lot of my clients had never asked themselves bigger questions: What else is out there? Or do I really want this? Why do I have a headache? Can I do something “natural” for the cold and cough? How can I calm my mind? Why do people walk on eggshells around me?
With shelter-in-place orders and people hunkering down at home, there was more time for self-discovery. Many started to make the time to try out that virtual yoga or meditation or weight training or Pilates class that had been pushed on the back burner. Building one’s immunity became the buzz word hence the search for alternative healing modalities. Employers started to see the connection between mental health and productivity. Individuals started to acknowledge that the pandemic was the universe’s way of asking us to slow down and take stock of everything, health being a priority.
Not everyone has made a choice to connect with themselves. But for those who have picked the path of mindful living, alternate healing modalities seem just intuitive.
What is next on your plan?
Honestly, I don’t know yet. When a story or a theme is ready (I am sure it’s percolating somewhere), the book will start to happen. In the meantime, I am being called to write personal essays and wellness columns for several magazines. I am loving sharing Ayurveda diet & lifestyle, yoga, and meditation tips to help people lead a more fulfilling, productive, kinder, creative, and healthier life. I bring ancient wisdom from Carak Samhita and Yoga Sutras and present them in byte size pieces for modern day living. Honestly, we are nothing without our wellness.
What do you like to do when you are not writing?
I am an extroverted introvert, so my life is about being around people to recharge and then also spending quality time alone to replenish. I try to be mindful and intentional with how I live my life. I have a day job, a growing wellness company, PhD studies, clients, yoga teaching, and a home to juggle when not writing. But I love movement. Be it hiking or yoga or dancing or weight training or just anything which isn’t stationary. I also love reading and throwing dinner parties. There is space for pause as much as there is for movement.
Who are your favorite authors? What are you reading right now?
I have to be honest; the names and lists keep changing and evolving depending on where I am in life and what I need on the inside. Jane Austen has been an old-time favorite for the creation of progressive female characters, but I am equally happy with Russian literature, South Asian writing, and books on wellness. During the pandemic, I’ve been reading a lot of nonfiction. A blend of wellness meets mindfulness and self-help. I am fascinated by the mind-body connection, as in the role of what we eat and its impact on our mental and emotional well-being. I always read multiple books at the same time. Current reads include: The Girl with the Louding Voice, Prana and Pranayama, Brain Maker, and Happy Gut.
If there was a book or poem or essay you would universally recommend, which one would that be?
I loved every aspect of The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. The poise and the prose. The eloquent writing. The rich narrative. Everyone can learn something about writing from this book. Still Writing by Dani Shapiro is filled with practical lessons and wisdom and is handy for every level of writer (newbie or seasoned).
Do you think writing and publishing gets easier with each book published?
If you use the writing muscles diligently and make it a part of your daily practice (not something you do when you have nothing else to do), then the writing journey does get easier with each book published. We get better at showing up, being patient, handling rejections, not personalizing every negative review, carving out intentional writing time, and not over-labeling what writing should look like on any given day. But I don’t think the publishing process gets any easier unless you have contracts for multiple books or if you write in one genre. And I quite like that every book requires you to start from a beginner’s spot. It’s humbling and helps you evolve as a writer.
What is your advice for other writers? Are there certain takeaways as a woman writer of color?
Write (and read) more than you talk about writing. A lot of people talk about publishing and how that can be daunting without ever having written a word. Write because you want to, because it fuels you, because that’s how you navigate the world. Be protective of your writing time. Be consistent with writing. After reading all the writing advice columns, ask yourself what you need. Because no one knows you better than YOU. I will not deny that sexism, racism, and other kinds of pathetic discrimination exists in this world. Some people might want to pigeon-hole your work and words. But one person’s opinion doesn’t change who you are as a writer or your place in the world. The only thing you can control is your attitude and thoughts. Believe in your writing, believe that good exists in the world, believe that you will achieve your goals, and believe in yourself. Keep showing up to writing without any ego and lots of dedication. You’ll be amazed how when one door closes, other doors open. You have to be present to notice these opportunities. When our mindset is positive and aspirational, we can conquer the world.
About the book:
A Piece of Peace by Sweta Vikram is a work of power. How can so much be packed into one small book? This is an autobiographical account of one unique woman’s struggle with near-fatal disease. It is a rejection of discrimination and exploitation, of women in particular. It is the reaching out of a helping hand to other writers, creative professionals, and anyone else who needs a reminder about the role of wellness in their lives. Above all, it is as the title states, a path to inner peace and personal power.