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How a School Assignment Became a Book

November 16, 2021


Note From Rochelle


Dear Writers,

Today’s tip features one of my clients, Shivani Ganeshan, who wrote her first book at ten (!), and then worked hard to revise and publish it. Shivani’s process reminds me:

  • Write what you are passionate about reading. You’ll have more fun.
  • Use your imagination to create vivid characters and send them on exciting adventures.
  • Daydream about your work.
  • Get help from family and friends.
  • Revise!

If you want to read about another young person who took a class assignment and turned it into a book, check out the story of Benjamin Giroux and his book, I Am Odd, I Am New.

To hear more, scroll down to read my interview with Shivani!

Happy writing,

Rochelle, the Write Now! Coach


How a School Assignment Became a Book

An Interview with Teen Writer Shivani Ganeshan

I think The Sign in the Smoke started as a school project—can you talk about the original assignment and what inspired you to make it into a book?

The original assignment was to write a medium-length fantasy story, and we were assigned this in the middle of 5th grade. Our teacher walked us through characterization, dialogue, and building our own imaginary world. The point of the assignment was to showcase our imagination through vivid writing and descriptions. This story shows what children can do when they are challenged. Like in Matilda, Harry Potter, and Aru Shah and the End of Time, the main characters in The Sign in the Smoke learn that they are more capable of greater things than they ever thought were possible. This process of solving problem after problem developed their self-confidence into a realization that makes them believe that they can do anything.


My teacher, Mr. Maskell, really liked my first draft, and after I showed it to more people, they gave me a lot of positive feedback itself. After my mom read it, she was the one who really wanted to get it published so anyone could read it!


Can you talk about the writing and publishing process—what did you learn about yourself and your writing in the process?

Outside of the writing process, I found myself thinking about my story all the time. There were many moments where I stopped what I was doing, opened my computer, and added additional ideas and details. I spent a lot of my personal life doing this and it soon became a nightly habit.


Having organized my ideas at the planning stage of the project, I found the course of the story changing drastically as time went on. The ending transformed itself into something more interesting for the reader. The joy of writing this story was in the development of the characters and getting to know their unique personalities. Olivia, the main character, was brave, curious, and determined. Many of her choices created problems for her best friends that led to increasing tension in the plot. The clash between the protagonist and the antagonist stemmed from the relationships that developed within the family of the previous generation. All of the female characters are strong, dangerous, and independent-minded.


Throughout the publishing process, I learned a lot. The most important thing is that when you open a book, you don’t give much thought about the writing and publishing process. I realized that it is a lot harder than it looks, and that there is a lot of work that went into the finished product. Though it takes a long time and a lot of effort, in the end, it is definitely worth it!


Do you hope to write more books? Any thoughts on the types?

I hope to write more! Fantasy is my favorite genre to write, although I would love to experiment with some other types of books. I would really love to write more because I certainly learned a lot writing The Sign in The Smoke.


What are you reading now?

I am an avid reader and I generally read between 100 and 150 books per year. Fantasy is my favorite genre and I particularly enjoy reading books about kids on an adventure. I just finished reading Three Keys by Kelly Yang. I love reading fantasy and historical fiction as well.


To read more about Shivani, check out this article in the Daily Herald.


About the author. Shivani Ganeshan has always dreamed of publishing a story of her own.  An avid reader since the age of five, she has been inspired by some of the world’s greatest fantasy authors. After being taught the main elements of fantasy writing by her teacher, the ideas for this epic story began to emerge from her vivid imagination. She gradually began to create her own realistic characters and developed a complex plot, and after multiple drafts, The Sign in the Smoke was completed. The publishing of this fantasy adventure has made her dream come true. Shivani has competed in numerous writing competitions and has developed creative writing pieces for newsletters, collaborations-or just for fun! She lives in Chicago with her parents, brother, and her adorable dog, Astro.






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