I just have a story to tell

Miles and piles of rejection letters

This week, a writer came into my Editorial class to talk about the editorial process from a writer’s point of view.  He said that writers are vulnerable and all about the ego. He said they have to be, because the process of writing is so solitary that they need someone to champion them and their work. And so they think that they’re the greatest thing since papyrus. He also said they often compare themselves to famous writers, saying, “Pooh! I can write better than them. I’m the next Stephen King/John Grisham/JK Rowling, etc”.

I’m not quite sure about the ego bit, but I do think we’re a vulnerable bunch. Writing is a solitary activity, and usually the product of years of hard work and determination. And I’m talking well before its acquired by a publisher. When I heard that Stephenie Meyer wrote Twilight in 4 months, I was shocked. I kept thinking to myself, she’s got 4 kids and she finished a book in 4 months?! I’m only in school and haven’t been able to finish in 5 years! Total fail. This kind of thinking wasn’t healthy because it just spiralled me into depression about my writing. But these kind of comparisons are natural. And what’s hard is that such examples of superstar authors (your Rowlings and Meyers and Kings) are everywhere. Their stories enchant and mesmerize us. We think if they can do it, so can we. But these are the exceptions, and not the rules.

I can’t really speak for anyone else except for me, but I think that’s why a writer looks up to and compares him or herself to other famous writers. The possibility of being published (for me, at least) seems so far off and far-fetched, as if its part of another universe entirely, that writers take solace in such stories and think, maybe one day

In some cultures, being a writer, an artiste, is a glamorous thing, something to be admired and honoured. Not so much in mine. Growing up in a heavy immigrant culture, the answer to aunties’ and uncles’ question of “What are you doing?” started off with an awkward pause as I fumbled out “T-t-t-teacher?” I was majoring in English. What else was I supposed to do with my life? (alas, this is a discussion for another day).

Writing doesn’t pay your bills. Writing isn’t just something you can do and expect it to work out. Writing isn’t a sufficient career for the daughter and granddaughter of people who sacrificed so much so that she could have a better life. “You’re in English? What do you expect to do with that, beta? Why not doctor, lawyer or engineer?” they ask.

I went through all of this. Some people even told me that writers were crazy, since they spent so much time by themselves, with characters and places and things they made up themselves. This was the period of my life where I questioned everything, wondering if I really was crazy for making these stories up in my head and writing them down. But I realised that I found the mundane activities of day-to-day life boring. There was a feeling of magic in things I couldn’t possibly ever do in my own life, for reasons of logistics, culture, practicality or gravity. The possibility of creating such things was an infectious idea.

External battles aside, there’s also internal battles that writers face, which I already alluded to a bit. Not only do people question you (and sometimes even question your sanity) but you doubt yourself. As I may have already mentioned, I’ve written two-novel length stories that I tried to get published. Both are more than 100,000 words (I won’t say how many more) and both took me 5 years to write. 10-15=15, 15-20=5=10 years on 2 books that have been sitting on my hard drive since then.

Writing is a painful process. I’m not sure if some writers out there just magically have the words seep out of their fingers into their pens (it sure feels like that way sometimes), but for me, its hard. I know I’m not the best wordsmith and I know I don’t possess equal talent in making up beautiful sentences and phrases. I know I’ll never write a great literary novel or win an award. I just have a story to tell.

But the story is hard to translate from my brain to others. This is where words come in. As I began my third story last weekend, I froze, my hands on the keys. I didn’t know what to write. And even though its only been 2 years(ish) since I worked on a new novel, I couldn’t think. My fingers sat, heavy, on the black keys. How do I start? And with that, all the doubts came rushing back and I began tearing my hair out in frustration.

I really don’t know what I’m trying to say. As I’ve been going through my publishing course, I’ve been learning a lot about what it means to have your work published and the business decisions that go into it. I feel like I’m better prepared to send my stuff out now and therefore have better chances, but in actuality, who knows?

I do want to thank everyone who commented on my first post, on writing, and gave me words of encouragement. It really propelled me to start writing on Sunday, rather than keep mulling. So thank you.

I started off this post with a depressing picture of a stack of my (many) rejection letters that I’ve received over the years. But let me leave on a positive note.

I used to pray to God, “Please, let me be a published author. I just want my writing published.” I didn’t exactly specify.

Poetry in U of T’s English Department’s Anthology

Everything happens for a reason and I have to be grateful. This may not be my ultimate goal or where I wanted to see my name, but it is a start.

I just have a story to tell.

Thanks for reading.


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    • Ikhlas says:

      Thanks so much! So glad you liked it. I will definitely check out your blog as well, inshAllah 🙂

      Hope you keep reading it! 🙂

  1. Tahmina says:

    I didn’t know you’d been published!! That is really cool!

    And I can completely relate to the part about trying to explain to aunties/uncles/family what you plan to do with your life. That can be quite disheartening. But if you feel drawn to something, don’t let others question it just because they can’t understand it. I know that’s easier said than done, but you’re awesome and I’m sure you’ll do great things. Keep at it!

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