I was born and raised in India and had always been a reader since I was a child. Most of my time while in school and outside school was spent in the library. We didn’t travel much. We couldn’t afford to travel much. But my parents filled my life with books. They made sure that books were the sanctuary I needed outside study.
With a meager income, my parents made school education and library memberships a priority. They enrolled me in a school where speaking and writing in English was a priority. No matter how many financial difficulties we suffered, they made sure to keep the library memberships and cut other expenses. They believed in the power of stories.
But even with this most precious gift, I did not choose the writing life until I got married and moved to the United States in 2005. In his book, Outliers (Little, Brown, 2008), Malcolm Gladwell writes that to be successful at anything, you need ten thousand hours or ten years in the pursuit. It took me more than ten thousand hours and more than ten years to find my way into writing.
After immigrating to Seattle, I spent most of those initial years, trying to make sense of my new life, working jobs, and finding my community in a new country.
At VCFA, I met many great advisors and worked closely with Martine Leavitt, Amanda Jenkins, Jane Kurtz, and Margaret Bechard on honing my craft. I spent long hours reading and analyzing the craft of writing in a ton of children’s books. The writing didn’t come easily. It took many years to develop a daily writing routine. I’m still a work-in-progress.
At VCFA, Martine Leavitt said, “You become a writer by writing. If you really want to be a writer, it should be the first thing you do every morning.”
Amanda Jenkins said, “A book can only connect with readers if the writer is writing from her raw and honest heart. Connect with your character’s emotional story.”
Jane Kurtz said, “Think about story structure in terms of setup and payoff. Like a chef, you’re cooking and putting a dish together by tasting and figuring out what it needs.”
Margaret Bechard said, “Slow down. Make sure you’re showing. Not telling.”
I found their advice valuable. In 2019, I became a contributing author of The Hero Next Door (Penguin Random House, 2019), a middle-grade anthology, and signed with Miranda Paul of Erin Murphy Literary Agency. In 2020, I announced two debut picture book deals. Along the way, all these years, I met many wonderful people and some of them became my very good friends.
These days, writing is the first thing I do every morning and reading is the last thing I do every night.
When I’m not writing or working my day job, I volunteer for SCBWI Western Washington as the Mentorship Program Coordinator and We Need Diverse Books as the Director of the Internship Grants Committee.
Working multiple jobs and living the writing life gives me the opportunity to value the time I have, and develop the habit of being a lifelong learner of the craft. It takes time to get back on the horse some days, but putting pen to paper, word after word after word, is the only way to beat the demons of self-doubt and tell my stories.
Writing has become a part of me, and I’m ready to share it with the world. I would not want it any other way.
Suma Subramaniam is the contributing author of The Hero Next Door (Penguin Random House, July 2019). She is also the author of She Sang For India: How MS Subbulakshmi Used Her Voice For Change (Macmillan FSG, Winter 2022) and Namaste Is A Greeting (Candlewick, Fall 2022). She is the Mentorship Program Coordinator of SCBWI Western Washington and the Director of the Internships Grants Committee at We Need Diverse Books. She hires tech professionals for a leading software company during the day and is a writer by night.