Reflections on my book launch with @markgonzales @mayfahmi @sarasaleh #wagebeauty

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(Photo credit: Subhi Be)

WOW. That’s all I’m sayin’. Being on the “A Word’s Worth” panel with May Fahmi, Sara Saleh, and Mark Gonzales sure was inspiring! It’s so refreshing to be part of a dialogue about the written word because sometimes, the act of writing can be isolating. I really benefited from the creative energy buzzing in that room.

As much as we enjoyed listening to Mark Gonzales speak, I appreciated his curiosity about what the rest of us had to say. May and Sara, I’m SO thrilled to hear that your screenplay is being turned into a short film and I cannot wait to watch it!

Thank you, the LMA team, for giving me the opportunity to be a panelist as well as showcase my book. Reading out the first chapter of Finding Jamilah and The Story of Yusuf really brought back my sense of wonder. It’s so easy to get caught up in the drama and back and forth of editing and publication. My book launch was a reminder of the love I have for writing and story-telling.

I’d also like to thank all my friends and family who came to my book launch, as well as those who couldn’t make it. I couldn’t have gotten this far without your love, prayers and support. Here’s to many more book launches!

For all aspiring writers who haven’t yet published – keep writing! I hope that your stories will see the light of day, the way mine have. That being said, writing is a craft and an art that takes years to refine, so enjoy the journey. Do your part, and let things unfold.

On another note, I took away three gems after listening to Mark Gonzales:

1) Vulnerability is strong, and not weak. #fiercevulnerability

2) We can choose to tell the same stories of our hurt and oppression, or we can write better ones of where we want to be. https://www.facebook.com/narrativegrowth

3) When writing/creating art, remember our values, vision and non-negotiables.

I wasn’t able to attend any other events with Mark Gonzales because of my hectic travel schedule, but I’m hoping to be part of a team who’ll host him in KL, Malaysia! We have amazing food there…#wagebeauty #tehtarik

 

Finding a writing mentor

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Writing mentors. Ever heard of one?

I find that writing is a largely solitary process. It’s me, my keyboard, a mug of ginger tea. But getting the encouragement to continue to write is a whole other story! That comes from my family and close friends, and a continual renewal of my intention behind why I write.

Because I live in Sydney, it helps to narrow down my mentor search to what’s close by. The NSW writing centre talks about their mentorship program here.

This is my first thought: OMG SO EXPENSIVE.

Second thought: So this is how writers can earn money.

Third thought: Well, it’s a service, and if it means making my manuscript the best it can be, then sure thing! That’s a wise investment.

Well, at this point in time, not only can I not afford a mentorship assessment, I also don’t really need one. I’ve already got a publisher waiting for me to finish up my second manuscript.

However! For future manuscripts which I intend to pitch at other literary agents and publishers, I would definitely consider a manuscript assessment. You know that glazed-eyed feeling when you’ve looked at your own writing for too long? A sure-fire way to fix that is by paying a team of experts to look over it for you, and give you constructive feedback. As usual, what I need to keep doing is write!

Here are a few very handy articles I’ve found on writing mentors:

How to Find A Mentor in 10 Not-So-Easy Steps

Writing mentors: What they do and where to find one

On another note, here’s a lovely review from Subhi Bora:

Raidah, I read Finding Jamilah. I loved it. It is so beautifully written mashallah! and I must say, I may have shed a few tears toward the end. 🙂

What makes a great character?

Think of your favourite books and movies, and ask yourself – what made you love or hate these characters? What made them so…compelling? The Write Practice wrote a post on this, titled Han Solo, Scarlett O’Hara, and Your Characters: What Makes Them Compelling? Definitely worth a read! To me, I can think of a few memorable characters, right off the bat:

Bella Swan. Now, when I think of Bella, I immediately think of the following synonyms: annoying, insipid and ungrateful. Read this great article on Fifty Shades of Sexism: Why Are Our Modern Heroines So Weak? and you’ll see what I mean.

On the other hand, when I think of Anne of Green Gables, I think of a very flawed girl-turned-woman with agency, passion and determination. I’m telling you, the classics are called the classics for good reason.

Having read the Lord of the Rings trilogy and watched the movies, I vastly prefer Eowyn over Arwen. Eowyn is a strong, focused, brave heroine who literally jumped into the jaws of death. Remember that scene? “I am no man!” Oh, goosebumps! Her courage is way cool. Arwen actually didn’t feature much in the LOTR books, unlike the movie, and..well…she was very ephemeral, beautiful, and useful for Aragon’s dream-scenes 😛 She doesn’t have as much independent substance as Eowyn.

To me, the best kinds of characters are the ones who grow throughout the story. I want to see someone who is flawed bumble through the pages of his/her story, and then triumph over his/her inadequacies and be in a better place by the end of the book. There needs to be some kind of motivation behind their actions, something I can understand and perhaps even relate to. Samwise Gamgee had so much love and loyalty for Frodo, and that made him my favourite hobbit 🙂

On the other hand, the biggest turn-off in any character is the P word – perfection. The last thing I want is to pick up a book, invest my time and emotional energy engaging in the story and character(s), only to find him/her in the exact same headspace, 600 pages later! I don’t want to read about a static character who is beautiful in the start of the novel and is still beautiful by the end of it. Give me some real, messy, problematic points that shake up the protagonist and compels him/her into motion. Give me something I can relate to.

With that in mind, it’s my hope that Jamilah, the protagonist in Finding Jamilah, did just that. She grew into a different young woman by the end of the story, and in all honesty, so did I!

On writing opinion pieces

I’ve always been a lover of fiction. Since I was a little girl, I’ve had my nose in some kind of book. I always imagined myself as a writer of fiction, especially after focusing my English major on creative writing. That’s how Finding Jamilah came about – I had the tools and motivation to craft a fictional story from the bits and bobs of my own life experience.

Over the past few months, however, I’ve started to delve into writing opinion articles for the mainstream audience. What It’s Really Like To Wear Hijab received a lot of FB likes, which is always exciting. HSC: The Not-So-Final Frontier was just published today, and I’m feeling all kinds of happy by the positive responses. I was also very pleased with my piece From Lakemba To Lane Cove. Opinion articles require a different style of writing entirely, and I’m enjoying the break from writing fiction. There’s a whole new level of vulnerability and honesty that comes with writing opinion articles. There’s also the ongoing challenge of refining my writerly voice. I can’t hide behind a character in an opinion piece. It’s all me.

Because I’m still new to the world of opinion articles, great editors have made all the difference for me – Sarah Oakes from Daily Life and Josephine Mandarano from Lip Mag have been nothing short of supportive.

The world of writing and getting published is always fraught with rejection, and it helps to remember that the key is to keep trying and refining your work, and not to take an article rejection personally. Because really, it isn’t. What you’ve written probably isn’t suited to the publication, in which case, look for another one. Look at J.K. Rowling! It took a lot of courage for her to keep sending her manuscript after multiple rejections (12 publishing houses turned her down!), but it finally paid off, and well, the rest is history. This article describes why rejection is good for you. Think of it as an exercise of pushing yourself, and then growing as a result. If you don’t try, then you’ll never know.

Keep writing! Your opinion is an important one, and the only way to get it out there is to keep at it.

Why write?

“The role of a writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say.”

— Anaïs Nin

I’ve lived an interesting life spanning many continents. My childhood, adolescence and adulthood each had their raptures and ruptures, and the threads that kept me together were faith and fiction. I remember being 12, new to Australia and the labyrinth of highschool. I had my own minotaurs, and no Ariadne to guide my way. My sanctuary, however, was the school library, where I was safe in the cocoon of Tamora Pierce’s Wild Magic. There, I lived vicariously through Daine, who was more afraid than I was, yet she grew through her trials and, of course, saved the day. Now that was a good book – it gave me respite from reality! Most of all, I could relate to Daine, and hoped for her courage in the face of adversity.

As an adult, writing gives me a healthy outlet for the drama of daily life; my “Are You Married Yet?” article spawned a lively debate. I’m very grateful for the outpouring of support, and as for those who disagreed…well, there’s always two sides to a fence 🙂 Writing that piece was fun and therapeutic, and personally, I find writing opinion pieces much, much easier than fiction.

Finding Jamilah, on the other hand, took months of concentrated effort. I made a point of writing every day. When I procrastinated, my mental “You should be writing!” would finally reach melting point, and tip me over to writing something. It could be a word, it could be a sentence, sometimes two…but that first step of opening up my word document was the hardest thing. Akin to pulling a tooth out. Minus anaesthetic.  Once that was done, then usually, the story flowed. Usually.

When it didn’t flow, I would try another day, and another day, and another day, and slowly, my story came together. Supportive friends and family made all the difference during my writing slumps! Friends and family are a tremendous blessing, particularly when it’s late, you’re tired and wondering why you started writing this story to begin with. They remind you that your story is a a story worth reading, so get on with the writing! So if you’re writing your own book – keep going. Don’t stop. Have a supportive group of friends and family around you who 1) encourage you 2) hold you accountable when you get lazy and start chilling out at Writer’s Block!

Hello world!

Welcome! To mark the publication of my first eBook,  Finding Jamilah, I’ve started up this blog. Figuring out how to use it well is another story!

I wrote Finding Jamilah during the last few months during my (almost) two-year stay in Jordan. Being so far away from my friends and family made me long for home, hence the impetus behind my story. For nearly two years, I was an Aussie Muslim woman, born in Singapore, living in a sea of Western foreigners, in the middle of the Arabian desert! Fun times, fun times.

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Remember that kid in high school who always said she was writing a novel? And then life happened, and dusty manuscripts piled up in different computers? Well, that was me.  Through the mercy of God and amazing friends who have been relentless in their support, my book is finally up, and I can look back and feel so relieved that hey, I actually did it 🙂 Like many other writers, I have an embarrassing amount of half-finished stories that haven’t seen the light of day, so I’m thrilled that Finding Jamilah made it out into the big wide world.