This week, Janmohamed delves into her own writing process, talks about receiving rejection letters, and offers advice to writers.
M: I want to get deeper into your writing process, how do you balance a full time job with your writing?
Janmohamed: I write because I love it, and because I have something that I want to say. I spend weekends and evenings tapping away, or writing little notes down at odd times (and on very strange scraps of paper) so that when I do find time to write, I have some sparks to kick start me.
M: Do you have any writing routines?
Janmohamed: No. It takes me a while to get into writing something, but once I’ve got going, I tend to write with a passion.
M: Are you part of a critique group? Where do you get feedback on your writing?
Janmohamed: I asked my close friends whose opinions and literary talents I respect to give me feedback on my book. It’s a huge imposition to ask someone to read a book, and not one that I make lightly.
M: What would you say is the single most important lesson you learned when writing (and publishing) Love in a Headscarf?
Janmohamed: Be true to your vision, you are the best supporter that your work can have.
M: Is there anything about writing and/or publishing you know now that you wished you knew when you first started writing LIAH?
Janmohamed: It’s a much harder and slower process than you might imagine. And it’s certainly not lucrative. But the joy of holding your book in print is unimaginable.
M: I know that there are a lot of Muslim women who are interested in writing about their own experiences as a form of self-expression, but may be worried about reactions from their communities and families. What would you say to them?
Janmohamed: The only way to change society is to be brave. If we are not willing to put ourselves out there, then things can never improve. I’d say, have the right intention, ask Allah for guidance, and then start a gentle evolution. Courage is a difficult thing to practice, but we must all try.
M: What advice would you give to beginning writers?
Janmohamed: Ensure that the quality of your writing is the best it can be. When you write, make sure you say something original either in content, or in the way you say it. And make every effort you can to get your work out there. Promotion is your best friend.
M: You wrote LIAH as a memoir rather than a novel. Do you think you are more comfortable writing nonfiction or do you see yourself as writing fiction in the future?
Janmohamed: Non-fiction is a genre that conveys what I want to communicate. However, I veer into creative non-fiction which at times has a storytelling style that is quite like fiction, and has the same qualities to transport you into an alternate domain.
M: Do you mind sharing with us how you found your publisher? From your interview in The Asian Writer, it looks like you didn’t have to deal with rejection letters. How did you decide on which agents and publishers to solicit and which to choose?
Janmohamed: Actually I have a whole folder full of rejection letters from publishers, varying from bog standard photocopies which go out to anyone who has sent in a manuscript, to more personal notes. Eventually I narrowed down my choices to six agents. I met with each of them in turn to understand whether they shared my vision as a writer and also to see if I thought they would do a good job of representing me. I eventually chose Diane Banks – and I haven’t regretted my choice for a moment.
M: And finally, what’s your next writing project?
Janmohamed: Right now I’ve been focusing on writing newspaper and magazine columns, but I definitely plan to write another book in the future – God willing!
Thank you, Shelina, for a fascinating interview.
I hope all of you have enjoyed it as much as I did.
Shelina Zahra Janmohamed’s website: www.spirit21.co.uk