Community, by Anushi Mehta
Updated: Sep 9
Five years ago I dabbled at writing for children. A scan through books by Julia Donaldson, Mem Fox, and Dr. Seuss convinced me that to be a picture book writer, I must write in rhyme. I obliged. My daughter’s first day of nursery, bedtime monsters, a world turned upside down. Writing in rhyme was fun, but limiting. I couldn’t tell all the stories I wanted to through rhyme. Moreover, I spent hours swirling a mere hundred words for a story, only to be left with writer’s block.
Uninspired. Unmotivated. Unsure.
For once, I didn’t mind my data being shared and utilized by the online mafia. Instagram and Facebook showed me ads for children’s literature and a day of browsing helped me discover the most powerful asset to my writing to date.
Wait...I have a full time job, children, chores and I am trying to make time to write. Now, you are telling me to invest time in finding friends?!
I found critique partners through social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. On Facebook, I am a member of KidLit411, Desi KidLit Community, NFFest, 12x12 (paid) amongst others. Through 12x12, I formed one of my first picture book critique groups. Here, we submitted manuscripts once a month for feedback. When I was exploring other forms of children’s writing, I formed another group specifically for chapter books. Twitter Pitch Parties and events such as #Pitchwars has helped me make friends, too. In fact, we have a Slack group with 30 Middle-Grade writers, where we discuss craft, current MG books and host Zoom Q&As agents, writers and editors. I enjoy being part of various communities of writers, each serving different purposes.
I think of my writing groups as lifelong, unquestioning support, unlike everything else a career as an author expects from you. Publishing is a rejection heavy and complex industry to be part of. I would not have attempted my third round of querying (when I landed an agent) if it weren’t for the encouragement of my writing friends. Currently, I am out on submission with a chapter book. It is a grueling, lonely experience and one that requires the patience of a yogi. Having peers that I can whine to, helps make the process slightly more bearable.
I would not have attempted my third round of querying (when I landed an agent) if it weren’t for the encouragement of my writing friends.
Writing groups also gave me some accountability. Every course leader, established writer, editor and agent always gives one piece of advice: keep writing. I have realized that accountability is crucial to a journey that often feels based on bursts of creativity. For instance, in one of my groups, we submit 1500 words every two weeks. In another group we submit a picture book once a month. Having said that, if there are months or years where you are not ready to share it with peers, that is perfectly fine, too! In fact, I have taken a hiatus from my writing groups for a year because I am focusing on a Middle-Grade Novel.
In my critique groups we have various ways of providing feedback, but the common thread I always look for is: constructive criticism. When I critique a piece of work, I state what I enjoyed. When there are moments of doubt, I ask questions to clarify rather than rejecting an element. Eventually, the goal is to help the writer to suss out of the best version of their story. Yes, it is helpful to hint at potential plot holes, grammar and punctuation and suggestions on widening knowledge on craft, but the tone should never feel condescending. I have seen that a good writing group provides honest evaluation within a positive framework.
Even if you are not ready to take an active role, do consider being a member. Reading through conversations can go a long way to help you understand the world of publication. I learn so much about authenticity, voice, sensitivity readers, workshops and mentorship programs!
A caveat to everything I have expressed above is coping with mental and emotional overload. You may read this post and sign yourself up for all the suggestions made above (like I did). Suddenly, you might find yourself on multiple Slack chats, Facebook groups and in other writers' Twitter DMs. I had made such wonderful friends on every social media platform I was part of, but I also spread myself far too thin.
I tend to become an excited little kangaroo when it comes to making new friends. But I always feel equally guilty when I can’t manage to keep up. In retrospect, it may have been better to pick one social media platform to meet writing friends. Alternatively, I could have capped the number of groups I associated with. (Perhaps I could have skipped the Graphic Novel group, since I don’t even write GN.)
Over the last three years, my writing partners have become my friends, confidants (yes, I’m guilty of sharing news with my online writerly friend before my husband), guides, therapists and cheerleaders. I’ll leave you with this: find yourself a tribe, but make sure they don’t kill your vibe!
RESOURCES for writers looking for groups:
https://www.lighthousewriters.org/ (We love Lighthouse!)
Anushi Mehta is a first generation Belgian-Indian who grew up in charming Antwerp. She pursued degrees in psychology and primary teaching at Warwick University and met her husband while working in London. Now, they live in Mumbai and everyone from her two-year-old to her 88-year-old grandma teases her for always feeling cold.
After moving to Mumbai, Anushi completed an introductory course on learning disabilities and ‘Yoga for the Special Child’ by Sonia Sumar and then worked as a special educator until her son was born. Moreover, she oversees a primary school in her ancestral hometown, where she focuses on raising literacy levels.
Anushi discovered the power of voice when she began inventing stories about spunky Indian girls for her daughter. It is her dream that each of her stories feature masala chai. In addition to honing her craft with courses at Highlights Foundation and The Writing Barn, she is an active participant of 12x12 and Desi Kidlit, a community of writers from the Asian Diaspora.
Anushi has also been selected by WeNeedDiverseBooks as one of the “sixteen creative, rising voices”. Alan Gratz is mentoring her for her MG, LEVEL PLAYING FIELD. She is also a chronicler at #LOVEnotfear, a mental health awareness campaign on the psychological impact of the pandemic encouraging values of love, hope & unity, one story at a time. Finally, Anushi is an interviewer at WeNeedDiverseBooks and a contributor at The Word - A Storytelling Sanctuary.