The three rules of write club – Uzma Jalaluddin

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By Uzma Jalaluddin

All writing advice is the same – well intentioned but ineffective. The only writing advice I found worth a damn was the one I gave myself, after a particularly unfruitful weekend writing retreat years ago:♥

“One cannot make up for in a weekend what one has not done in a year. WRITE every day!”

I didn’t take my own advice. I seldom do – otherwise I would be a far more organized and efficient person. I blame my two young children, who insist on talking to me daily, as well as the dozens of students I teach every year. If it weren’t for them, I’d have no excuses, and then where would I be?

It’s the accumulation of advice that helps, I find. “Show don’t tell,” (anonymous) turns into “Life isn’t a support system for Art; it’s the other way around,” (Stephen King) which leads to “Start telling the stories that only you can tell, because there’ll always be better writers than you …but you are the only you,” (Neil Gaiman).

Writing is the easy part, actually. Nobody ever tells new writers this, but it’s true. Even when it feels as if you are carving every word onto your own body, it’s still the easy part. Or perhaps, the most enjoyable part: The rush of discovering your manuscript, the happy hours spent inside new worlds, meeting the interesting people who live exclusively in your imagination – for a writer, there is no greater pleasure.

The hard part comes after you’ve finished a manuscript, or a scene, or a chapter, and then must revise. And revise. The hard part is finding fellow writers and readers you trust, and waiting patiently while they rip your story apart and tell you the many places you got it wrong.

And all this before you get to the actual business of writing – the query letters and synopsis, the hunting for agents, the wishing on stars while on submission, the soul-destroying rejections.

None of this helps, does it? I’ll tell you what does help. It helps if you are stubborn.

When I started writing seriously, over ten years ago, the story I wanted to write wasn’t even a ‘thing’ yet – diverse romantic comedy. Where the main characters are people of colour and the story does not revolve around a grand lesson taught through their lives. I wanted to write joyful, authentic stories about Muslims. Funny Muslim stories – yes, I know this sounds like an oxymoron – was my goal, and I kept writing.

It helps if you take the opportunities that come your way, even if they are off the beaten path.

My first paid writing gig was writing for a South Asian bridal magazine. I took the job because I couldn’t quite believe I was getting paid for my words, and because it was a chance to write for an actual audience. A few years later, I landed a regular column with The Toronto Star, Canada’s largest daily newspaper. I got that job after giving the sex-talk to my then-seven-year old son, a hilarious story I needed to share with the entire city. My parents are still embarrassed. My husband had the column framed.

It also helps if you keep trying.

After ten years and multiple manuscripts, my first novel, Ayesha At Last, will be published by HarperCollins Canada in June 2018, and by Berkley Books in the United States and Atlantic Books in the U.K and other countries in 2019. My novel is a Pride and Prejudice inspired romantic dramedy set in a close knit Toronto Muslim community. It features hijabs and beards, poetry and parathas.

Have faith in yourself; stay stubborn; write your stories. Feel free to take my advice, or stumble on your own. But keep dreaming. Out here among the words, that is everything.


Uzma Jalaluddin is a Toronto-based writer and high school teacher. Her first novel, Ayesha At Last, will be published by HarperCollins Canada in 2018. (U.S: Berkley Books, 2019; U.K: Atlantic Books, 2019.) She also writes Samosas and Maple Syrup, a humorous parenting and culture column for The Toronto Star.

uzmajalaluddin.com

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