It’s the third year my column Gift of Kindness has appeared in a bilingual newspaper (Arabic & English) based in Melbourne. Each time I submit a story I would wonder, “Does anyone ever read what I wrote?” What a pleasant surprise when, during a recent trip to Adelaide, someone came up to me and asked, “Do you write for Al-Wasat? I saw your byline in there.” Do I indeed!
Life can be stranger than fiction. It feels surreal when someone tells me they have read what I wrote. I’ve had my fair share of such affirmative feedback. For these I am truly grateful, especially to know that what I have written actually helped people in some way.
Take for instance the time I was about to present an unrelated training program with my better half in a certain city. A participant learnt that I wrote The Kindness Miracle. “You know what,” she said, “Your book saved my marriage.”
Truth is, the writer merely makes suggestions. It’s up to the reader to change, make adjustments as they see fit. Still, feedback like this reinforces my belief that I’m on the right track. I have always believed that writing is a powerful way of influencing people’s lives.
Then she asked, “How did you know what’s in my mind? It’s uncanny. I’d read a section of The Kindness Miracle, then a question would pop up in my brain … then it would get answered in the next section.”
I don’t have the answer to that. The only thing I do when I write is to think as deeply as I can, put myself in the reader’s shoes and ask God to guide me. Sometimes I would imagine the reader sitting in front of me or fantasise as if I’m having a telephone conversation with someone who needs help, and I would ask myself: What do I say next?
The kind lady later brought her copy of The Kindness Miracle for me to autograph. Seeing it all bookmarked with her neat handwriting made me feel it’s worth the almost two years I spent writing the book.
Three things keep me going.
First, words are a source of great pleasure for me. I live on words. Thumbing through a thesaurus, searching for the one word or phrase that fits the seed of an idea that’s pushing to the surface is my notion of a heavenly experience. It might sound arduous to some. But I love it.
Second, I wish to make a difference in my brief sojourn on earth.
Third, and the most important: I do it in fond memory of both my late parents who had enormous respect and love for all things well-written especially books. Muslims believe that when a child does something good taught by his or her parents, the parents will be rewarded in the Afterlife. That’s real motivation for me.
Once, I received an email from an aspiring author. “How much can I expect to earn in a year?” she enquired. I told her I was as clueless as she was. You write what you can, and present it to others. The process of publishing a book is laborious. Those long hours processing your thoughts, researching, getting in and out of your head, making sure you’re in touch with reality when you need to, slipping into your zone so you could write from somewhere deep inside. A writer sways the reader’s opinions, thoughts and feelings in ways barely perceptible to the reader.
Be honest why you write. People do it for different reasons. What works for one writer might not work for another. If you write purely for the money, will you keep writing if your book fails to attract anyone?
Before I wrote my first book, I thought long and hard about what kind of books I should write. I’m in love with both fiction and non-fiction, although I find some works of fiction teach life lessons better than non-fiction. John Grisham’s A Time To Kill is a worthy example; one of my all time favourites.
Then there’re the autobiographies. It’s inspiring to read about remarkable personalities e.g. Nelson Mandela in their own words. I strongly recommend Mandela’s Long Walk To Freedom. Some of the insights he shared are worth rereading. A teacher of mine once asked, “Did Nelson Mandela know that he’d be jailed for 27 years?” Talk about perseverance and patience.
A few days ago I completed digesting Justin Trudeau’s Common Ground: A Political Life. Took a bit longer with the loving attentions of my 2.5-year-old granddaughter. Now I’m starting Tim Winton’s The Boy Behind The Curtain. Tim Winton, by the way, is a multiple award winning Australian writer.
And yes, I have read a few biographies of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be Upon Him), too. I’m amazed at what he achieved in 23 years – an honest man committed to a life of truth. Wouldn’t you?