I received an email a few days ago from a lady who’s seriously trying to decide whether to pursue a career in publishing and she asked,

My second question is what gives you the courage? I read a
blog in which you were saying that ‘you just have to go for it’ but I’ve
spent my life – not liking my own writing – I’m trying to get over it and
write a teen novel but I find myself wondering if I should bother.”

That’s a pretty good question and I thought it was worthy of its own blog post. I’ve been mulling it over for the past few days, and trying to figure out exactly how to answer it.

First of all, I think if you don’t ‘like your own writing’ then it might not be a good idea to pursue publishing it.

I mean if what you’re writing doesn’t excite you, then why would it excite anyone else?

I’ve always found that I’m the hardest critic of my own writing and I’ve always found that only when I think something is excellent does it get published. It doesn’t always get published, but usually. For instance, I thought the Hajj novel I finished was excellent but unfortunately it doesn’t seem to have found a home…yet.) Somehow I still think it will.

But I do know that things I wrote that weren’t excellent, didn’t get published! Nor should they have been.

And I can honestly say that if I found an author out there who was writing my stories then I’d be thrilled, just read their work and find an easier way to make money.

I mean nobody sees all the work behind the scenes! All the ‘dirty’ work you have to do to make it as an author.

This week has been tough. I’ve been scrounging around doing a lot of the mucky business stuff. (Mind you some people excel at the mucky business stuff. They’d like nothing better than to spend their day on social media talking up their stuff in ways that don’t seem too obvious or obnoxious. Not me. I’d rather be writing.)

Believe it or not, writing the actual novel is the easy part! Or at least the ‘fun’ part.

It’s marketing it, that can be hard.

I read a very interesting article on a blog a few days ago called 7 Differences between Published and Unpublished Authors. Someone had tagged it on their facebook page. It’s here: http://www.authormedia.com/7-differences-between-published-unpublished-authors/

I think it’s pretty accurate for the most part.

And the weirdest thing is how I’ve had to learn to create a ‘platform’ the hard way. (By the way, this blog is part of my ‘platform’)

Here I digress, but I have a friend who was absolutely excellent at writing, is about my age, we attended the same writing workshops, and she ended up self-publishing her novel series online, got two cheques and basically that was it. I went to the website she’d created and there was no information about her, as the author, whatsoever. I guess it shouldn’t matter who’s writing the amazing story but somehow it does–especially when it comes to children’s literature.

I think everyone thinks, when they first start out that it’s just a matter of getting their work out there and they’ll be *discovered*. Ta Da!!!

I know I thought that.

I was so naive! It actually makes me laugh now because I actually thought that the world would stop for a moment and notice my books!


I also thought that my friends and family would be glad to support my sales of books!


More often than not, they’re glad to RECEIVE the books as gifts, but I don’t think any of them have actually bought one.

I do know that some family members have even given away books that I gave them, as gifts. Basically re-gifting them to people who’d been asking for them!

I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

I loved number 2 on that list of 7 differences…, that published authors write to help and inspire others, they write to do something whereas unpublished authors write for themselves, to BE someone.

I think I was a bit guilty of that at the beginning. But I’ve learned the hard way to create my platform and yup, I write to help and inspire.

When I’m writing a story, I’m trying to express aspects of my personal experience, yes, in the hope that it will help and inspire others. When you think of it this way it helps you to plod through the rejections.

And yet in a way it’s not just my own personal experience I’m ‘representing’. As a Muslim I do have a responsibility to my community not to create anything that deepens the stereotypes and xenophobic challenges we face, and I take that responsibility seriously.

I’ve had LOTS of Muslims tell me that they identify with my books and really like my work, and they’re glad I’m out there expressing their perspective. Yes, that’s part of the reason I do this.

And I’ve often stated my agenda right out loud. It’s to humanize Muslims. To make us ‘less other’ and more accessible.

But really it’s to tell a good story! I have to entertain myself, so that point about writing for yourself doesn’t quite hold true. I definitely do write for myself as well.

If I could really find the kinds of stories I’m yearning for, I probably wouldn’t bother trying to create them.

It’s just easier to read them already written. Let someone else do the work.

So coming back to the question, it doesn’t take that much courage to write, it takes courage to publish, to put it out there and be the subject of bad reviews and mean commentary. And to try to make a living at it.

And in order to get the courage to open  yourself up to so much criticism and scrutiny, I think you just have to want it enough. And maybe you have to be a little egotistical too, thinking that you have something important and unique to say, something to add to the public domain that nobody else has addressed in quite the same way.

Frankly, it takes chutzpah!

And one of the best things that could have happened is that I didn’t achieve fame and recognition in the early years. It’s been a gradual process.

I’ve had to suffer a LOT of years of anonymity, and whereas in some circles I’m considered *established* I don’t feel *established*. I wonder if I ever will. I still feel like I’m striving hard.

But a lot of that striving comes down to craft.

There is great pleasure in crafting a beautiful sentence, that contributes to a beautiful paragraph that contributes to a beautiful narrative.

I’ve become immersed in the joys of vocabulary, searching for the right word, the exact right word that’ll make a sentence pop!

And always always the aim is to write something so joyous, so moving, that the person reading it forgets that they’re ‘reading’, forgets that it’s really just ink marks on a page or nowadays pixels on a tablet or computer screen. That’s the perpetual illusion of the artist.

So did I answer the question?

Basically if you want it bad enough, you find the courage. You do the work to make it happen.

And if courage is even an issue, maybe the writing life isn’t for you.