Switching horses mid-stream

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Assalam alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatahu

Allah (SWT)’s mercy be on you, dear owner of eyeballs. I know lately, He is definitely been showering it on me.

About 7 years ago, I started writing a science fiction/fantasy novel in college. It was the project of my college years, wildly ambitious, spanning dimensions and planets and species. I attempted to tackle subjects of which I had barely any knowledge or experience – consciousnesses, quantum physics, identity, physicality, race, religion, society, culture. My imagination knew no bounds.

I continued this novel into 2008. But somewhere along the line, I decided I wanted to be a screenwriter. I have been struggling with that art form ever since.

But that story I once was so invested in still haunts me. Its characters have bled into some of my screenplays. My first feature had its main characters as some of its supporting cast. I found myself loving these characters and these stories, missing them, though I hadn’t looked at those word documents in four years.

I moved to Denver, Colorado. Yeah I know. It shocked me too. More on that later.

My husband talked about a fresh start. New freedoms. Away from countries and people whose relationships carried too much baggage.

I found myself thinking of my sci-fi novel again. Thinking that it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was. That I should finish it.

I looked back at my notes. Dayummm. I had an imagination Mashallah. I had courage. I was more insightful than I thought. But I didn’t trust myself. I let that snarky voice all writers have tell me how crap I was. How no one would ever read my novel. How I could never measure up to Vonnegut or Octavia Butler.

But why should I even try? I’m not the wonderful, effable, laugh-till-I-cry Vonnegut. I’m not the amazing, brave, beautiful Octavia Butler. I’m Sabina Giado. Adjectives yet to be written insha Allah.

That’s what killed my project all those years ago.  Reading those beautiful people and feeling despair instead of inspiration, hope, rejuvenation.

Science fiction is about hope, not misery. Science fiction is about possibility, endless, untold possibility, limited only by our imagination, not the blackness of despair. That’s why I love science fiction. That’s why it resonates with me somewhere below my belly button. That’s why I plunge into libraries looking for Mr. Vonnegut like he was a friend I haven’t seen in years. (I haven’t. I haven’t read a Vonnegut novel since I dropped my sci-fi novel in 2008. Just picked up Breakfast of Champions.)

But then there’s screenwriting. Good Lord, I’ve invested time, money and hope in my screenplays. I’ve met people in coffee shops, trying to pitch them my work. I’ve wrote and wrote at all hours of the day and the night. I’ve read hundreds of articles, listened to tons of podcasts and roundtables, watched videos and films, though admittedly only read a few screenplays.

I feel like I’m on the cusp of breaking through. A little more reading, writing, learning and listening and maybe I can write something truly great.

But that’s odd. You see, what I wrote there? ‘Something’. Not ‘a screenplay’. Just something.

My study of screenwriting has helped me in tons in my storytelling abilities in general. I can spot bad characterization, overwriting, underwriting, a terrible ending or climax. I can also spot genius or an incredible mastery of craft. Both on screen or in a book.

I know what works with me. What I’d like to watch – or read – and what doesn’t.

As you can see, I feel like I have quite a dilemma.

Maybe I should try writing this bad boy for a while. What have I got to lose? Everything that comes out of me is from Allah (swt) anyway. Perhaps He wants me to finish this novel. One way or another. Inner critic be damned.

Plus, my last screenplay was about difficult emotional subject matter and really drained me. Maybe writing this novel will be like a working holiday.  I might figure out I love sci-fi more than so-called ‘dark’ comedy.

I’m familiarizing myself with my characters again. It’s like I’m meeting them after a long time.

I’ve decided to simplify the structure a lot. I’d like to simplify the goals and the science of the extra-terrestrials too.

Most of all, I’d just like to worry less and write what feels good, regardless of how little or much I think I know.

Lord knows, none of us will ever really know enough. We can just do the best we can with what we know.

Insha Allah it’ll work. Or not. It’ll still be fun insha Allah.

Much love and happy writing.

Peace and the protection of God,

The Happy Muslimah.

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10 thoughts on “Switching horses mid-stream

  1. Sometimes we are ourselves worst enemy, it is a sad reality. Fear of failure paralyses us, despite the fact that we know that the wrong action is better than no action, as at least by making a mistake we learned something.

    1. Absolutely! I wish someone had told me that 7 years ago, Panayiota. Before I got too scared to finish my novel 🙂 But maybe I needed to go on this journey to feel comfortable with myself and my storytelling abilities before I could tackle it.

  2. Similarly, I wrote a novel while at university 15 years ago, only to abandon it. No, more than that: I turned my back on it completely, deleted it, destroyed physical copies. I thought there was no place for that novel now I was Muslim; it was childish, embarrassing, immature.

    Around 4 years ago I rediscovered it on some old 100MB Zip disks in the loft. I decided to give it another chance. Now I’m just about to publish it, even though all of that self-doubt remains. Yes, I’m not in the league of real authors: perhaps the act of sharing it will reveal too much about me, perhaps I am on the cusp of my great downfall. All these fears remain as I prepare to free it into the wilds.

    I try to convince myself to be carefree: “Sometimes you just have to let go, relax,” I tell myself, “It’s not such a big deal. It’s just a book.”

    But there is a weight to words. Perhaps I will soon realize that I was right to destroy this novel all those years ago. Perhaps I will regret releasing the book. But as you say:

    “Lord knows, none of us will ever really know enough. We can just do the best we can with what we know.”

    1. Assalam alaikum, dear brother! 🙂 If Allah (swt) guided you to finish that book, insha Allah it will be wonderful. Even if it isn’t, it’ll be something that’s necessary for you in Allah’s plan insha Allah.

      I have to say, I’m glad that even almost-published authors are terrified. Subhanallah, I wake up every morning, terrified of what is or is not going to come out of me – whether Allah (swt) will bless me today or test me. I have to say I much prefer rewriting to writing, because it’s simply a case of chipping the extra stone off the sculpture.

      On a dunya note – you need to tell us how you got a publisher! Insha Allah my book will be ready in a few months and I’d like to release it into the wilds, as you say.

      1. I didn’t get a publisher – I’m publishing it myself. Print-on-demand for Paperback and eBook delivery to Kindle and Kobo. A decade ago this was sneered at as “Vanity Publishing” – now its the literary equivalent of an Indy Band.

        To be honest, I’ve never considered submitting my work to an established publisher, 1) because I’m not good enough for that and 2) because I like to have control over the look and feel of the final product. I used to typeset books and still enjoy that craft.

        But I guess, if you want to be read far and wide, you do need a proper publisher. They have the marketing clout. I just have word of mouth. Hence, just 3 copies sold to date 😉

        Also they’d pay for a decent proof reader.

      2. To be fair, I’ve seen some truly atrocious books get published by so-called ‘established’ publishers. Twilight not being the least. Flat characters, a terrible plot and spelling and grammar mistakes all got past an entire publishing company’s editors and proofreaders to be published to worldwide acclaim and a blockbuster movie quadrilogy. I beseech you, brother – send your work to a publisher. The mainstream needs to hear more Muslim voices insha Allah.

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