Sandhya Menon: writer of things for teens.

by the oatmeal

I am now the published author of FOUR whole novels, to be FIVE later this year. Exclamation points! Happiness! Excitement! Gratitude! Wonder! Those are all the feelings erupting in my brain, in case you were wondering. But “exclamation points” isn’t a feeling, you say? I respectfully disagree.

In any case, I’ve had a lot of time to think and ponder about my publishing adventure thus far and what I’ve learned along the way. Because, sure, sometimes I feel like I’m stagnating and haven’t learned a single thing, but when I truly sit back and take stock, hey-o! Lessons galore. I did a post like this on Instagram lately (are you following me there? Because you totally should), but once more for the blog!

Lesson #1: This is a writing process lesson. I used to get super caught up in whether I was writing for the readers or for me, and if for the readers, which readers, and if for me, which me (because all writers have many “me”s inside them). But recently, I’ve realized something. I like to draft for me (whichever me is most going to enjoy the particular story I’m working on) and I like to edit for my readers (the most enthusiastic readers, the ones who say I’m an autobuy author, the ones who will literally read everything I write and whom I love dearly for their ardent enthusiasm). This way, I get to totally immerse myself in the story and not worry so much about writing to brand or genre conventions or being clever or pithy. I’m simply stepping over the garden wall into another universe and disappearing there for months. And when I emerge, I get to dust off the manuscript and begin reading it with an eye to my readers. It’s really a win-win strategy.

Lesson #2: Compare yourself not to others, but only to your past self. I learned this when I was writing my second book, From Twinkle, with Love, and ever since then, I’ve tried to abide by it. I’m not really a glutton for punishment, so for the most part, I’ve found it relatively easy to follow. And wow, it’s a life-changer. It freed up so much of the time I didn’t even realize I was spending putting unnecessary and unfair pressure on myself to do something someone else’s way, or to compare my own wins to someone else’s. I’m a lot happier just looking back on my own journey going, “Wow! Can you believe how far I’ve come??”

Lesson #3: Approach each major event/project with a grateful and kind heart. I have anxiety. This is probably not news to you, as many authors suffer from it. But I found I’d make my anxiety so much worse before every event or big project I had to tackle. I’d find myself playing the what-if game in my head: What if I’m not talented enough to write this book in the way it deserves to be written? What if readers are disappointed? What if I go to this event and totally bomb on stage? It was madness! Madness, I tell you! I realized I have absolutely no control over the universe (darn). The only thing I can control is myself. I can change how I view things, and I can go to every new experience with a sense of wonder and gratitude that I get to do this at all. And then, every single time, I’m so, so impressed and happy with how things turned out. And being kind to everyone along the way? A surefire way to feel good about yourself at the end of the day.

Lesson #4: There will be ups and downs along the way. Just because I’ve learned these lessons doesn’t mean I can’t or won’t forget them or un-learn them along the way. Some days I’m really, really confident and other days I’m a mess of anxiety and insecurity in spite of my best efforts. That’s okay. I’m a living, breathing, changing organism, and I will live, breathe, and change along the way. I accept all my ways of being and thinking and feeling with no judgment. And when I feel they aren’t conducive to my mental health and happiness, I’ll change them again.

Four lessons for four books! For me, they’ve been mind-bogglingly exciting. I’m really so, so grateful to be here, to be building this wild and wonderful career book by book, page by page, word by word. Onto more adventures!