7 ways to still be a writer – no matter what your life is like

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem.

May the peace and blessings of God Almighty be with you, dear owner of eyeballs.

I am writing from a rather swish hospital room in Tamil Nadu, India. Don’t worry – it’s for my mother, not me.

That doesn’t make it better, though.

My mother’s illness has locked an icy hand over my life for the past couple of months as the weakness in her left hand spread to her right hand and now to her left leg. Subhanallah, it is one of Allah (SWT)’s most stringent tests to stay patient in the face of debilitating sickness. I am going to wager that it is far worse being the one that watches – especially if you are in the dark and helpless – rather than the one that wastes away.

But I’ve still been trying to write as I believe it is one of the most potent ways I can do Ibadah insha Allah.

Some days have been better than others. I’ve decided that this day Insha Allah will be a good day.

My mother needs our help a fair amount. She’s not entirely incapacitated Alhamdulillah but still my time is not completely my own. I need to be present for her physically and emotionally.

It struck me some while ago that my situation is much like that of a new mother. And it follows that if I apply some of the lessons that writers who are also mothers have learned in their full-to-the-brim lives, I will feel less like a loser because I’m not writing regularly.

This is what I’ve learned from my own experiences and that of others.

1. Accept my situation.

When I didn’t accept the hand that Allah (SWT) has dealt me, I was caught in a funk of anger and gloom. I was no use to anyone, leave alone my dear mama.

But when I began to accept my life and even began to see the blessings in it, I began to see the wiggle room. I began to see the abundance and the possibility. My mind opened to re-ordering my life to best take advantage of my new circumstances.

2. Pay attention to the present moment.

By the Mercy of Allah, there is beauty and blessings here. Right now. Right in this moment. The sound of my fingers on the keyboard and my mother in the next room watching bad Hindi soap operas. Most of all, the thrilling relief that because of the superb care we’ve gotten here at the hospital by God’s grace, we are very close to a diagnosis, to closure. These are all moments I will never get back again.

More importantly, I find that when I pay attention, my brain becomes better at calibrating my actions to maximize the information I’m receiving. If I project myself into the future and try to guess the best course of action based on information I haven’t even received yet, I am liable to give myself a headache.

Does that make sense?

Simply put – have you ever carried a pile of books up a flight of stairs? With a mug balanced on top? I did once recently. My mother kept telling me that it was a bad idea, but I knew that I could do it. My brain became razor sharp. My body somehow set my spine and my arms in the perfect position to balance the load correctly and move simultaneously, all the while watching the load for imbalances. I watched out for obstacles in my path. It worked. I’d like to bring that kind of concentration into every part of my waking life.

3. Ask for help.

The women in my family have a huge problem admitting that they need help. They believe it smacks of weakness and will draw a pack of predators to feast on us alive.

I just read an excellent article by Martha Beck about how to ask for help and not feel pitiful and helpless. The solution is to ask, “How do I do this?” rather than “Can you help me?” This frames the asker as a problem-solver rather than a damsel (or gentleman) in distress.

But sometimes, I just need help. I mean good ole-fashioned “lift me up when I fall” help. I couldn’t handle it alone. With rehearsal for our improv troupe, I couldn’t be with my mother all the time. Possibly a good 85% of the time, but not all the time.

But sometimes when I asked for help, I became the butt end of judgement instead. Other times, it was resentment.

I learned to be choosy about the people I can trust. I learned the obvious choices are not always the best choices. And after I made my choice, I trusted completely.

4. Talk to people about how they’ve dealt with similar situations.

As I said before, I drew parallels between my situation and that of a mother of a newborn. So I asked a few writer-mothers how they dealt with raising young children and being a writer – two full-time jobs.

They shared with me the lessons they’ve learned, many of which have informed this post.

5. Work in ten- and twenty-minute bursts.

My brain will focus naturally on the task at hand if I know a child is going to cry, a timer is going to go off or my mama is going to holler.

6. Make lists that direct you towards a great goal.

I am working on the fourth rewrite of a mystery screenplay.

Thinking of research alone makes my heart stop. I have to research police procedures in Sri Lanka, money-laundering in the UAE and the Muslim community in general in Sri Lanka.

But if I divide my elephantine task up into small cat- or even mouse-sized chunks and work on one section at a time, rewarding myself as I go, that mountain does look a lot less overwhelming.

Lists also help to bring all your resources into focus so that you can achieve the goal at hand. But be sure to write down an inspiring goal, not simply a to-do list. To-do lists are for robots, not human beings. An inspiring goal however puts fire in my spiritual furnace and heats me up enough to take that next step, however daunting it may.

For example, for my goal of research, I could write down something like “Insha Allah I want to know the world of my characters inside out and experience it as they experience – not as I think they experience it.” That works for me. Nothing rings more hollow than a poorly researched story.

7. Connect to something bigger.

I am a Muslim, though I’m not keen to shove belief down anyone’s throats. Your throat is not the primary organ of belief anyway.

When things seem difficult, confusing or just plain hard, it always helps me to trust in the decree of Allah (SWT) and trust that He will be Merciful.

If I believe in a plan, that means that things are happening for a reason and difficult – and good times – are both here to teach me a lesson. Perhaps that the physical body can fade, but the soul can only be destroyed by Allah (SWT). That no situation is all bad – only Hell is all bad. And no situation is all good – only Heaven is perfect. That if I listen and watch hard enough, Allah (SWT) will show me the path. Insha Allah.

I hope this very long post has made a modicum of difference.

Love you guys for the sake of Allah.

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah,

The Happy (and peaceful) Muslimah.

7 thoughts on “7 ways to still be a writer – no matter what your life is like

  1. Love this!!! Made my heart soar. Healing wishes to your mother – mother’s are our hearts. These experiences help shape us, and for a writer, this will shape your process and approach in an intense way. Much love to you and yours. 🙂

    1. Thank you Persephone!
      I couldn’t agree more – my mother has been my heart for a very long time. Every story I’ve ever written in fact has been about my mother 🙂

      Much love to you and yours as well!

  2. As salaam alaikum,

    Jazak Allah khair, sister. This is a powerful reminder for times of adversity, especially for those of us who struggle to keep going with our creative pursuits in the midst of adversity. May Allah bless you and your family!

    1. Walaikum salam, sister.
      Jazakhallah khair. I think not a lot of importance is given to creative pursuits in the Muslim community in general which is a shame because Mashallah, the Qur’an itself uses the power of story to teach us.

      May Allah bless you and your family too! Love you for the sake of Allah!

      Wassalam and Fee Amanillah,

  3. As salaamu alaikum

    Nice to read your blog again.Hope Allah gives you and your family strength in this difficult time.Our prayers are with you for a speedy recovery insha Allah.Warm regards to you and your mum.

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