While the proverb assures us that practice makes perfect, writing and publishing are never without challenges. Anita Kushwaha knows this from experience. The 2014 School for Writers graduate has not one but two new books—her second and third—slated for publication. We spoke to her via email, and she shared her experiences with the publishing process and embracing vulnerability every step of the way.
Tell us about Side by Side. How did it come about?
Throughout my twenties, I started many novels, but successfully completed none of them. I never lacked ideas, but I hadn’t yet developed the confidence and stamina to work through the challenging aspects of the creative process. I essentially didn’t believe in my own voice yet, and so, I always lost steam. When I turned thirty, I suffered a deep personal loss, which caused me to pause and rethink the direction my life was taking. At the time, I was close to finishing a doctorate in Human Geography, and I was doing well, but I was unfulfilled, and honestly, quite miserable. I took a year off from my studies, and naturally gravitated to writing to process my grief. I wrote Side by Side that year. The novel is about a woman named Kavita, whose brother dies by suicide, and her journey through grief and healing. I’ll always be grateful to Kavita for allowing me to delve deeply into a loss like no other in a safe way through her.
This will be your second published book, and your third, which has the working title Asha and Mala, is already slated for publication. How have these publishing experiences been different than the first one? Has any facet been more difficult, or easier?
My first book was a novella entitled The Escape Artist. It’s about a young woman reflecting on a difficult event from her childhood and the special relationship she had with a deceased aunt, whom, she realizes as an adult, lived with a severe form of PTSD. As a new author, the main thing I struggled with at the time was nerves! The publication process with the press went very smoothly. But everything was so new, from doing readings to being reviewed. I felt like an impostor for a while.
The publication process for Side by Side has been more fraught, I think, because I’ve never written a protagonist or story that is more vulnerable. It leaves you feeling exposed. The best way I’ve learned to deal with it is by developing a little healthy detachment. Easier said than done, but once the book is out there, it won’t be just mine anymore. In terms of revisions, I’ve put more hours into this novel compared to my other work simply because it was the first manuscript I had ever written. Meaning, it was awful to start with, and needed a lot of work to make it even remotely readable.
How did you find the experience of working with your Humber writing mentor? What insight into your writing did you gain through the mentorship process?
Taking on a mentorship is not for the faint of heart. It’s a vulnerable process, and a lot of work, but if you have a compassionate mentor, it can also be a tremendous period of growth, which is what it ended up being for me. I was fortunate to work with Shyam Selvadurai. I appreciated his honesty, but also his kindness when telling me what he thought was and wasn’t working with the manuscript. He helped me recognize some of my patterns as a writer—I often found myself saying, “I do do that, don’t I?!”—and even how to overcome some of them. The most important thing I learned through my mentorship is the power of rewriting. No matter what state your story is in, you can always put in the work, and try again.
Photo Credit: Kathy Youssef