7 perks of being an underrepresented writer

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum!

How’s it going, peeps? Let’s see…what happened these past two weeks? I wrote 30 pages on a new draft. I realized that I was writing at break-neck speed, not enjoying myself very much, leave alone entertaining myself and felt like my new outline had only minutely moved my project in the direction it needed to go.

I scrapped those 30 pages and went back to that outline. It was unintelligible (most my outlines are), so I wrote a treatment. I told myself I wouldn’t write a word till I was happy with that treatment. I really really challenged myself. This time, it was much much better.

24 pages in, I think Alhamdulillah (by the grace of God), it’s doing pretty good. Though obviously, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

By the way – I made butterscotch pudding pie. Just to console myself.

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It strikes me that there’s a lot of negativity flying around, especially when it comes to women in film-making. I shudder to think what we would unearth if we put as much energy into finding out about people of color in film-making. But one layer of privilege at a time, I guess.

This film-making business – it’s hard. Living on Earth is hard. It’s not heaven. Nothing’s perfect.

But it’s not hell either.

With hardship comes ease, says the Noble Qur’an. Not ‘after’ as some people sometimes quote that verse as saying. But ‘with’. There’s always something to be grateful for, even in the darkest of times.

Right now, I’m grateful that there are no dishes to wash. Is it just me or do dishes just dirty themselves? Drives me up the wall.

Another trigger for this post was the book David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell. In it, Gladwell details any number of ways that being perceived as the underdog is actually strength, not a weakness. We have less pride, so we were willing to use unorthodox means and circumvent the system. We adapt new skills to hide our weaknesses. So many amazing things – you should really read that book.

So here are my brief musings on how being underrepresented might be good for you.

1. You know how to work hard.

You know that nothing comes easy – you were probably fed that maxim with your baby food. You don’t complain – you  just roll up your sleeves and get on with it.

2. You know how to be comfortable in your skin.

You’ve probably had a few years of self-hatred. By now, you’ve probably learned to accept yourself for the work-in-progress that you are. No mean feat, I tell you.

3. You know how to deal with uncertainty healthily.

If you’ve survived this long, you probably have sustainable healthy habits.

4. You have a good BS meter.

Sorry to curse in acronyms, friends. What I mean to say is, when you’re in a room, you probably can tell within an instant if someone jibes with you or not. You’ve learned not to question that gut instinct – it’s usually always right. Even if the person you’re talking to is Mr. Hotsy Totsy Executive Producer and the words that are coming out of their mouth say they can’t wait to get their hands on your project – you know when it’s all an act.

You probably don’t question why. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

5. You probably know how to hustle.

Or how to ask nicely. Or how to sell. Or how to get under someone’s skin.

6. You know to present yourself i.e. how to celebrate rather than hide your difference.

Often, people look at me and think that I don’t speak English, leave alone write screenplays. I know I’m going to have to be the one to approach them – not easy, but hey, you gotta do what you gotta do. I’ve have come to expect a period of surprise. I know they’re going to have to ‘get over it’ before I pitch. And then that pitch had better nail it.

I’ve practiced. You probably have too.

You and I probably both have our ways of dealing with our difference. Me, I bow, I make a joke. That helps people ‘get over it’. I listen. I show compassion. I have open body language.

You probably do ‘you’ – drama, mystery, juggling…it’s all good.

7. This is probably the hardest skill you’ve had to develop. You know how to deal with rejection, harsh criticism or just plain ole jerkery.

Many of us were bullied at school. Many of us come from families or had social circles who either don’t understand or actively discouraged us from pursuing our goals *raises hand*.

It hurts when another human being treats you like you don’t matter. Like you don’t have a right to sit at the table. And people do that in any number of insidious ways.

You’ve probably recognized your default reaction to that first shock of rejection. I’ve seen everything.  Despair, a nervous joke, optimism, acceptance (that person was literally a Zen master).

For me, it’s always been defiance. I remember this one time when I was a kid, we had a day at school where we could wear casual clothes i.e. not our uniforms. For some inexplicable reason, my mother dressed me in my brother’s clothes. I still remember the outfit – a striped yellow button down shirt. And brown pants.

I went to school, all innocent-like, with my pig tails, unaware what was about to befall me. The girls in the class, in their pretty shalwar kameezes, completely shunned me. Loudly complimented each other and turned their backs on me.

I did what even now seems like the most logical thing to do. I looked like a boy, so I went and hung out with the boys.

They were non-plussed. It wasn’t fun. Arguably the worst school day ever.

That was me. I was defiant. I still am.

I’m going to stick it to that reader. And to all those mean people at my workshop who said “You can’t write this!” Says who? Says you? We’ll see about that.

It’s not healthy to be angry, but at least I don’t lie down and take it. It’s a start anyway. Until I can learn to be Zen.

I hope you feel better about being you. I hope we all stay comfortable with who we are. And keep in mind, if you’re not always perfect, you weren’t meant to be. If you’re not there yet, it’s about the journey and not the destination.

And other daft self-help clichés.

I’m rooting for you.

Much love and wassalam.

Sabina.

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2 thoughts on “7 perks of being an underrepresented writer

  1. GOOD for you….write what you like…What you feel….Have a friend who was told NOT to write a certain script….but he did anyway…..And it is better than most of the films getting made these days….He has someone interested in it and NOW the person who tried to discourage him, has become a supporter….

    1. Wow. Great news for your friend! None of us are really in a minority of one, so what float his (and your) boat will probably really resonate with a lot of other people too.

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