As Stephen King put it, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” Inspiration, creativity, motivation, rewriting, editing – these are a few terms that belong permanently in every author’s vocabulary. For Maulik Pancholy, the author of The Best At It, his biggest challenge was looking for that inspiration every day: There are days when inspiration seems like it just won’t come! Writing is also a process which requires faith and trust. I look back at early drafts and sometimes cringe at just how unpolished the writing was. But you have to get the unformed idea onto the page before you can rewrite it and let it grow into something better.
From being an actor to releasing The Best At It and representing teens across the world in their self-exploration journey, he’s seen it all.
As an actor, I’m outspoken about the need for greater diversity in television and film. Over lunch one day, friends in the publishing world told me that the same lack of diversity exists in books for young readers. So, I went home and started reading middle grade and young adult books—something I hadn’t done in a while. The more I read, the more I realized that I had a story to tell. And if no one else is going to write, maybe I should give it a try.
I spent about a year tinkering with ideas, characters, practicing writing, drafting outlines, etc. until my literary agent said that if I actually wanted to write this book, it was time that I let her go out and pitch to publishers.
It’s not unknown that many children’s authors tend to visualize their stories as a curious young mind would. One of the shortlisted names for the Neev Book Award 2022 and the co-author of Paati’s Rasam, Janaki Sabesh shared a tale about her journey from storytelling to writing her maiden picture book, The Jungle Storytelling Festival.
I had these story sessions at a school in Chennai. And in one of the sessions, a little boy got up and he said, “I want the story of an ostrich for the next session”. So I said yeah, I’ll look for it and came back and googled it. I couldn’t find any story that resonated with the kind of storytelling I do. When I went to him, he simply told me, “Then write it (the story)”. And, he gave me the name of the ostrich, he called him Ostru, and his friend added how Ostru can even have a friend called Miyaan. So, that’s how it started, and the characters and stories went through multiple drafts and revisions. I liked the way it flowed but I didn’t know in which path it was going. Around the same time, there was a writing workshop by Karadi Tales with Shobha Viswanath and Anushka Ravishankar. It’s there I realized how picture books were a completely different ball game altogether. I understood how to balance pictures and how to be minimalistic with the writing.
Jane De Suza, who authored When The World Went Dark, recalled how much of her writing is the product of her reading habits: I was always a writer. My career was in writing and advertising and marketing, but as an author I took off much later. I had a baby, I was at home and it wasn’t as exciting as I thought having a baby would be. In fact, it was so frustrating, I began to blog about that in a humorous way. That’s my voice. And, a whole lot of hands went up and said, ‘you know, that’s me, that’s me,’ and, ‘can you write a book about this?’ So I took the advice like a good person and I wrote this wild, wacky book called The Spy Who Lost Her Head. And, it got picked up! I didn’t think it would, but I remember the publisher who picked it up saying that this is one of the most unique voices she’s ever read. That’s something I tell people in workshops, potential writers today – find your voice, find a unique voice that’s only you.
While reminiscing about her time back in the days, the author of Rain Must Fall, Nandita Basu told us that writing wasn’t a conscious decision, and that it had its own set of struggles.
I suppose I always knew somewhere I would write. The biggest challenge is, writing doesn’t support you financially for most writers. Which means, writing has to fit into everything else. And that can become a challenge and pretty exhausting physically. Writing my first book didn’t take long. It was the process of figuring out how to get published that was more daunting.
Sunaina Coelho, the author-illustrator of Ikru’s First Day of School, never perceived herself as an author-illustrator. It took her quite some time and a great amount of support from her peers to plan the book: Even though Ikru’s first Day of School is wordless, it took me quite long to write! Maybe about three or four months of incubation with a lot of support and inputs from Yamini Vijayan who was at the time an Editor at Pratham Books. This is my first wordless book and also the first book I’ve created without a script. This made it challenging- first to convince myself that it could stand on its own without words, and that I could manage making a story without a script.
What remains common across different journeys is the undying passion for writing and completing each story. Most great authors hope for a great reader. And when the reader is a child, the challenge of creating enough imagery for the mind while also instilling the core values that the author wants to convey is something writers often have to work upon. But it all starts with helping children pick up that one book, and making them read it till the end – that makes all the difference!