It’s been 6 months since I wrote my very first picture book draft! I know that means I’m basically an infant when it comes to experience, but for some reason, this is not an excuse I’m using this time. Because unlike paper qualifications, I truly believe being a good writer is something you just are. It’s when writing is what you turn to when you feel stuck up inside, and when you finally do write, it brings you so much joy and happiness. It makes you proud, even if you are the only one to see it, and other opinions may make the experience better, but they don’t really affect how you feel about it. If this is how you feel, then congratulations, you’re a writer! 😀
Craft, technicality, plot- those can be worked on, and they must be worked on. This is what’s needed to make your writing acceptable and held in high regard by those who can afford to have an opinion on what constitutes ‘good writing’ (but as always, this is subjective too). But all this is secondary, as long as you know you have the talent to first write well. And I think that if you know you have it (deep down, it’s just one of those things you know), you should own it, and nurture it. It would be a disservice not to. Never mind that I took 36 years to realize this, but oh well! Never too late, eh?
My first manuscript, Seeya’s spells, was inspired by my father’s stories about his childhood, as related to my then four-year old during lockdown. I still remember overhearing the conversation and being carried away…away from my anxiety about the virus, about groceries – or the lack of it – in the house, and how we were going to survive who knew how long stuck at home. That feeling of being transported made me write it down as a very short story, and that’s when it struck me. My father’s experience growing up in multiple villages in 1940-50s Sri Lanka was so special, even to me as a Gen-Y Sri Lankan who grew up in Colombo, that I wanted to make them timeless by sharing that awe and beauty. This is what painstakingly progressed to being the manuscript it is today.
This didn’t happen overnight. I first spoke to Amanda Jayatissa, a friend from school and popular local writer who recently landed a two-book deal with Berkeley. She directed me to Twitter, and I soon became a part of the amazing #kidlit community on Twitter. I made connections, became a member of SCBWI, asked questions, read blogs, and watched webinars. I kept participating in pitch parties, of which fortunately there are many (#PBPitch, #PitMad to name a few, as well as #DVPit for marginalised writers). With each event I saw my pitching improve and I also made lots of fellow writer friends!
The playing field seemed pretty much level, to my relief, and even when it wasn’t I saw a concentrated effort to make it less so. Ironically, the world was in lockdown with Sri Lanka, and this meant that many in-person only events moved to being conducted online, thus making it more accessible. I truly felt grateful to be living in this time.
I was then lucky to be extended an invitation by Jessica Whipple, another picture book writer, to join a newly formed Zoom critique group, and found my own ‘gang’ of writers to share my writing with. Even though I had to wake up at 4.15am every other Thursday!
Along the way, I kept participating in everything I could. I was able to win pitch critiques, and even manuscript critiques by published picture book writers, and we managed to snag a coveted spot with agent James McGowan who graciously offered to join our critique group for a Q&A session. I also won an honorable mention at the annual #PBChat mentorship programme organized by the wonderful Justin Colon, where I won a zoom critique session with author Hallee Adelman, who was so helpful, and the best cheerleader I could have asked for.
I had also started querying quite early on, perhaps even before I was ready, but again this helped me learn and grow. I was rejected – and probably will be – many times, but there is a silver lining. Seeya’s Spells, my original manuscript was LOVED by a wonderful agent I queried, who thereafter read more of my stories, and then spoke to me in length about how I could improve them. Although this didn’t culminate in an offer of rep (for now! Maybe someday?!), it gave me so much hope and confidence to keep going forward.
And this is how I know that this is something I’m meant to pursue. Anyone who knows me closely, knows I’m USUALLY a quitter. I quit diets and fitness routines all the time, even though I constantly complain about my weight. I quit jobs when they get toxic, and distance myself from friends who I feel at odds with for whatever reasons. The only thing things I’ve never felt like quitting are my family – my husband, and kids – and that’s because I love them. With all my heart. Quitting is not even an option.
And I’m starting to see that maybe the reason I’m not quitting writing is the same. I love it. With all my heart. I love sharing it and having others feel the same way about it. And with time, I know I’ll be able to move closer to every writer’s goal of sharing that feeling with as many people as possible, even if it takes another 6 months. Or 6 years.