by Shirin Shamsi

It may at times appear to writers that their journey is one endless tunnel that leads to nowhere. And it is disheartening, to say the least. Sometimes you wonder if you will ever be published. I know. I have been there. I have keenly felt the disappointments of rejection after rejection. I have felt the downward pull of imposter syndrome. They say that the only writers who succeed are the ones who do not give up. I am living proof.

My picture book, ZAHRA’S BLESSING: A Ramadan Story (Barefoot Books, March 2022) is really a testament to perseverance. It was rejected in 2002. Yes, twenty years later this book is ready for the world. The idea for this story first came to me when my children were in elementary school. They are now in their thirties. This publishing story may well be one for the records! And yet I would not change any part of the journey. However unbelievable this may sounds, I feel my story needed those long years for me to grow, and for it to bloom.

Zahra's Blessing cover,

It all began with a teddy bear. Looking back, he was a little like the bear Corduroy. There still is a teddy bear in ZAHRA’S BLESSING. But the bear in ZAHRA’S BLESSING does not speak. He is just a cute toy. In the original story, the teddy bear was the anthropomorphic protagonist and Zahra was the minor character. The story has changed completely from its original form. I still have my rejection letter from 2002, which states that a story with a bear who can speak is really not what the publisher is looking for.

I write very slowly. My stories form over months and years, like layers of rock over eons. That is my writing style. I can’t force myself to write any other way. And I am so grateful to be on this journey. I do love it when STORYSTORM comes around. A new year, with new ideas, and the community of writers gathering in the process of layering, marinating, simmering their ideas in this month of communal creativity.

My writing tip comes from the deepest recesses of my childhood memories. As the middle of seven siblings, we entertained ourselves. My eldest sister often created games for us. I recall one game which originated in the “Katy Did” series, so I call it “What Katy Did”. You will need at least a group of three or four people:

1: Take a blank piece of paper and write a question. Fold the paper over to hide the question and pass it onto a writing partner on your right.

2: Write a word and fold the paper over the word. Again, pass it to the person on your right.

3: You will receive a paper from the person on your left. Now open the paper and write a poem to answer the question, using the word.

I think it’s a simple exercise that frees creativity. Have fun with it. Creativity happens most when we are at play, or relaxed. Take time and embrace your creativity. Whatever your writing style is,  know that it is uniquely yours —and that the world is waiting for your story, for no one else can write it but you.

Shirin was born and raised in the UK. Having lived on three continents, she views herself as a global citizen and now spends her time sharing stories with children of the world. Shirin and her husband have raised six children —three human and three feline—and reside in the suburbs of Chicago. Her debut middle grade novel, Laila and the Sands of Time was published in 2019. She has co-written PLANTING FRIENDSHIP: Peace, Salaam, Shalom (Clear Fork Publishing, 2021) and has two upcoming picture books: ZAHRA’S BLESSING: A Ramadan Story (Barefoot Books, March 2022) and THE MOON FROM DEHRADUN: A Story of Partition (Atheneum, Fall 2022). Visit her at and follow her on Twitter @ShirinsBooks.

Shirin is giving away a copy of PLANTING FRIENDSHIP.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below.

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.