Stories have always been the lens through which children see the world, because stories highlight diversity, break gender stereotypes and define a moral compass for the society !
Devika Soni, our next pathbreaker, Assistant Editor at a Children’s Magazine, ideates and scripts stories as well as takes care of the magazine’s social media page.
Devika talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about her initial career in journalism, and how her penchant for storytelling led her to writing for children.
For students, listen to yourself and have faith in yourself, because no matter what anyone tells you, you are the best judge of yourself !
Devika, what can you tell us about your growing up years?
I was born and brought up in Mumbai and I live with a big family. My father is a travel agent with his own company and my mother is a homemaker and has her own handicrafts label. My childhood was loud, noisy and full of uncles, aunts and cousins. As an escape from this, I turned to reading and art. For as long as I can remember, I have loved reading and painting. I used to read tons of books including Panchatantra and Jataka tales. As I grew up, my choice of books widened.
While in school, I loved studying History and English. Both subjects were full of stories and interesting to learn. And although my parents didn’t share my love of reading, they would take me to bookstores every weekend to build my home library.
What did you do for graduation/post graduation?
I graduated with a BA degree and majored in Economics. After that, I got a post-graduate diploma in Journalism with a major in Print Journalism.
What were some of the key influences that led you to a career in storytelling?
While I always enjoyed reading I hadn’t traced my journey as a storyteller until very recently. While I was completing my post-graduate diploma I was advised to pursue business journalism, specifically the copy desk because of my love for reading and the language. I didn’t give this a second thought because I did find economics very interesting and with my degree, it made sense. After graduation, I got an internship at a prestigious business newspaper which then turned into a full-time job. Turns out business journalism and economics are not the same at all. No one had prepared me for the job. I had basic grammar skills and being a reader helped, but other than that, I was clueless. But I kept at it for two years and taught myself everything I needed to know. After two years I decided to change my job because I thought I had learned everything I could at the desk.
I applied at a bunch of places I found on LinkedIn and wrote to people I knew in the publishing industry. That’s how I found out about an opening at a children’s magazine. I was asked to submit a set of stories for their audience as a test. Surprisingly, they liked my stories, the interview went well and they offered me this job. A close friend of mine read every submission I sent to this magazine and helped me polish my stories. It was at his insistence that I even applied because I wasn’t sure I could write stories.
After I was offered the job, I looked back and realized I’d been making up stories my entire life. All through school and college I used to come with bizarre stories to entertain myself. I also found it easy to write an interesting story because of all that I’d read. It’s been almost three years now and every new story I write is as exciting as the first one I wrote for this magazine.
How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path
When I finished my 10th standard exams I knew I could never understand science or tolerate commerce. The obvious choice for me was to pursue arts in college. While in 11th and 12th, I wrote a few blogs for a children’s craft website as a freelancer. I found this opening in a newspaper and wrote about 6-7 pieces for them. This is how I realized that I liked writing. But at the time I only knew how to write feature pieces. After completing my 12th, though I wanted to pursue a degree in mass media, I hadn’t scored well enough in my boards. So I couldn’t get into a good college. I decided to pursue a BA and major in Economics.
While finishing that degree, I did a 6-month internship at a youth magazine and wrote feature pieces on fashion, health, sports, education, entertainment, and more. I had fun working at a magazine and writing features, but it wasn’t making me the happiest. And as graduation loomed closer, all my peers were getting jobs at top MNCs as analysts and data managers.
I tried to find a good institute in the city to pursue a degree in mass media. That’s how I came to study journalism. There I discovered the copy desk and fell in love with it because I wouldn’t have to write news stories or feature pieces. I studied really hard, topped my year and through the institute’s placement programme, I got an internship at one of the country’s top business newspapers. At the end of the internship I was offered a full-time job. At the copy desk I was responsible for sending one national page to print. This meant that the page I made in Mumbai would be printed in all 22 editions of the newspaper across the country. My boss, the desk head, would assign a set of 8-10 stories every day (I worked from 4 pm to 12:30 am). I would edit those stories and coordinate with the designer to get the page laid out. I was responsible for making graphics to go with these stories that would highlight numbers and important information plus giving the headline. This page would go to my desk head and then to the press.
After two years, I applied at a children’s magazine to work as a Sub-Editor. My job requires me to write stories and educational feature pieces. I coordinate with the designers and send various editions to print each month. I’ve conducted creative writing workshops for students. Eventually, I even managed an online game show and a talk show. While the work is the same every month because in a publishing house the process isn’t very dynamic, the fact that I get to write new stories each month is what’s most exciting.
How did you get your first break?
I got my first break through a college placement programme. However, it helped to talk to the dean who was incharge of placements and ask her what worked for me and tell her what I wanted to do. She was able to find an excellent place for me to start my career.
What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?
Challenge 1: Working at the copy desk would get monotonous sometimes. Even though the stories are different every day the scope of work is extremely limited. I used this time to pursue other creative hobbies and work on my art and writing. I was influenced by a lot of books that I read and shows that I watched and I would just come up with story concepts. Though I haven’t ever worked on them, I know now that I have a bank of ideas to turn to should I need any help.
Challenge 2 : Coming up with new stories every month. Over time this gets challenging because thinking of new plots that have never been written before is tough. In times like these, it helps to think of creativity as a well that must be replenished if you want to draw water from it. Now, I read more than ever before and I read a variety of books. I especially enjoy young-adult fiction and non-fiction. I draw inspiration from my own life and from incidents narrated by my friends and family. Taking long walks helps too. Every month, when the time comes for me to ideate a story, I go for walks every day and look around to see if I can find something or someone interesting to help create a story.
Challenge 3 : Initially, I found it very difficult to cope with the amount of work I had and meet deadlines. To tackle this, I started planning the following week, every Friday, very meticulously. I set tasks for myself everyday and checked them off (very encouraging). I also work in short bursts. For example, I work for 45 minutes non-stop and then take a 10 minute break. This helps complete a lot of tasks on time and I don’t get bored or feel tired.
Where do you work now? Can you tell us about your role as editor?
I work at a children’s magazine. I had to know how to tell a story which I learned by reading books and watching movies and shows. I have to coordinate with various teams for which I have a calendar and a to-do list with all my tasks and deadlines. I had to learn how to write comics. I read many comic books and looked up tutorials on the internet. Reading screenplays helped as well.
On any given day, I am either writing my own stories or checking my colleagues’ stories. I make schedules for the magazines and coordinate with designers and artists so that it can all be put together. I also take care of the magazine’s social media page and look for new ways to make it grow. And there are team meetings and reader emails that I have to answer. I love my job because I get to write stories every month.
How does your work benefit society?
My work benefits the society, especially children, because they can learn something new. Each story I tell, I try to make it relatable while highlighting diversity. Children can learn to break gender stereotypes and biases by reading about a variety of characters who have the same experiences as them.
Growing up, stories have shaped the way I see the world. They’ve taught me more than what I’ve learned in school. That’s what I strive to do every day through my work. I wish to change the world for the better with every story I write.
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
About a year ago, I wrote a story about a bratty girl who has a change of heart. The protagonist of the story had vitiligo (Vitiligo is a condition in which the skin loses its pigment cells (melanocytes).). It was the first time that we had a character with vitiligo in the magazine. That will always be the most memorable work I have done.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
Listen to yourself. I know people say this a lot, especially “listen to your heart”, but it’s true. I would’ve done what I do today a lot faster had I just listened to myself and had faith in myself. I knew all along what I wanted. I took some time because I did what others told me to. That being said, I don’t mean you shouldn’t listen to people because you don’t have all the answers. You never will. What I mean is, talk to people you trust, your elders, and think about what they tell you. Make a list of pros and cons and ask yourself what you think is right. If after that you still make a mistake, it’s all right because you will have learned what not to do. And that is extremely important.
I hope to write a number of books and tell stories that I wanted to read when I was growing up.