Tag Archives: creativity

How to be a real, not fake ally

Assalam alaikum!

Something I wrote on Twitter on Friday gained much more attention that I expected.

Here’s what I said:

  • I am considering quiting the film industry. I am tired. Racists have gotten me down. I was offered my first TV writing job earlier this year. Only to find out the show was built on the backs of Muslim women. (thread. Unfortunately).
  • I went to a support group for emerging female directors. Only to be interrupted by the white women in the group. I’ve had meetings with people in power. Who only have apologies and promises for the future. The future is now. The future is me.
  • I look at my projects and I feel optimistic. They’re beautiful. They deserve better.
  • I look at myself and see a tired woman with a broken heart. I look at the industry and see far too few allies and far too little chance for me to break through. No more of this. I’m done here.

As you can imagine, there was a lot of “Don’t quit!” “Try harder!” And a lot of “The world would be poorer without your voice.”

The world is poorer because it doesn’t give a crap about my voice. Not just mine, but a whole load of people, from what I can see.

I wrote a Twitter thread in response. But it didn’t thread up. What’s up with that, Twitter?

Anyway, as I expected, that thread got much less response than the first ‘woe is me’ thread. People love to see a Muslim woman cry but won’t do the work to make sure she doesn’t cry again.

So here’s my thread. Telling myself before anyone else what it means to be a true ally.

  1. The most wondrous thing people with privilege do is throw their hands and say ‘What can I do?’ I’ve heard that at least three times from people in power in the last few months. It literally makes me see stars.
  2. We should all check our privilege. I’ve got mine – I’m hetero, able-bodied, married, living in a Western country. I have almost no accent in English. I have a college education. None of these things have ANYTHING to do with my ability to do my job. But somehow people more readily believe I’m competent because of them. Still I am where I am today.  I’d have probably given up much sooner without these privileges.
  3. I’ve been creating for years. The moment I share my trauma, everyone loves it. Don’t just elevate our trauma; elevate our joy too. 
  4. Patterns are hard to break. If our brains are neuroplastic, surely our industries can change too. It’s a man-made system and made for men too; it’s up to you to unmake it. 
  5. Racism is a white person’s mess. Not my job to clean it up. But because my brother charged me to leave the world better than I found it, here I am.
  6. Give people credits. No credits = this never happened. Credits = a resume. Credits +money = a professional career. Aim to give us professional careers.
  7. Upskill. Creativity is a toolbox. Share your tools. You’ll likely find underrepresented people have been doing unofficial and unaccredited learning from books, YouTube videos and seminars for years. This doesn’t mean that learning isn’t valuable.
  8. Look at your life and your career. Find the gaps. Find the spaces.
  9. Listen to us. We’re angry and we’re sad. Don’t be defensive. There is no longer any defense or any excuse. All of this information is on the Internet for free. All it takes is a Google, but here I am, like a helpful Sri Lankan housekeeper, cleaning up your mess. Again.
  10. https://creativeequitytoolkit.org/
  11. https://inclusivetoolkit.com/
  12. Work ‘with’ us. Not ‘over’ us.
  13. Your Mileage May Vary. 
  14. Please donate to this family. We all need each other in this brutal world: https://www.launchgood.com/campaign/siddiqah__azraqee__recessive_dystrophic_epidermolysis_bullosa_1#!/  
  15. Please watch my film. If it gets to a 1000 views, I might be able to get an associate membership from the Australian Director’s Guild! 

Anyway I’m taking an extended break and trying different things. And trying not to cry too much.

But I know nothing is forever and things change.

10 Qualities of Great Film – Part 2

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

So. On to the next few things I think are awesome – you’ll find Part 1 here.

This exercise has been profoundly useful because I’m aware almost before I watch a film why I’m going to like it or hate it. This is because the way films are marketed today, they leave absolutely nothing to the imagination. I always know exactly what I’m getting. Not saying that’s a bad thing.

And it provides an additional, much more nuanced layer of culling when I decide what I’m going to do next myself.

Which helps.

It helps to know that you’ll remember why you love something three years later when you’re weeping over rejection letters.

I wish human beings were like that.

Anyway, onto more serious but fun stuff.

6. Great structure.

World War Z performed as advertised. It had plenty of action sequences since it was an action movie. In between sequences, there were a few moments of breathing space as the protagonist worked out the problem. It took place in three or four different countries and managed to not feel bewildering. If I ever take it into my head to write an action movie (I might do just to entertain my husband) – I hope it’s as well structured.

7. Weirdness used to explore the quotidian.

My current two favorite examples of this:

    1. The One I Love
    2. The Future.

Both of these films used science fiction/fantasy conceits to explore a run-of-the-mill relationship milestone – where is this relationship going?

The Future is a little more absurdist than The One I Love. You’d have to approach it with a more of a film-school, liberal-arts sort of mindset. Basically, anything goes.

The sci fi aspect of The One I Love is much clearer and more pronounced. It never loses track though – the emotional through-line remains pretty clear. The partners in both movies are asking themselves the same question and exploring the answer largely separately and in different ways – ‘should we stay together? Do we have a future?’

8. Honesty/authenticity = BRAVERY

I find myself not being able to describe or define authenticity accurately. It just sorta is. Something in the story resonates with some deeply buried part of me. Deeply buried and never acknowledged. And the movie dredges it up to the surface and puts it on display for everyone to see. Liberating rather than embarrassing.

I’m sure my mother would rather I keep my mouth shut and act dignified even if it – literally – kills me. Yes, my mother has walked sedately across a pedestrian crossing as a truck careened towards her, horns blaring, refusing to break her gait even it meant certain death.

Me, I hoofed it. To heck with dignity.

(In case you were wondering, the truck missed, thank God.)

That’s why it’s called a generation gap, I guess.

My example for this was yet again Obvious Child. I’ve racked my brains trying to figure out what it is about that movie that resonated with me.

Of course, Shaula Evans managed to figure it out for me, disguised as a humble writing prompt.

Jenny Slate told the truth in Obvious Child. And there’s something in us that punches the air when someone tells the truth even if – especially if – it’s painful and not pretty.

At the risk of angering feminists – that doesn’t just apply to women, though Lord knows we need the truth. That applies to everyone. I’ve found myself resonating with some of the oddest movies and TV shows. Because they seemed true.

Maybe this is where the real power of cinema lies. In the truth.

And next up: my two favorites. POC/Women/Underrepresented characters winning, or not in stories about how awful it is to be underrepresented. Dueling philosophies. 

Wax off! Or, How to write a killer log-line.

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum wr wb, all my brothers and sisters. Peace and mercy be on our calloused fingers and every part of our tired but hopefully happy bodies.

I’ve been studying the oft-ignored of logline-writing.

I have basically stopped ignoring it.

The Black Board has been my Mr. Miyagi in this process.


I have culled together the main things we should remember when we write log-lines from the various sources listed at the Black Board.

1. Start with an interesting character, give him/her a high-stakes want and make the obstacles against them practically insurmountable.

I think it’s worth unpacking each of the terms mentioned above.

An interesting character

Who would be the most fascinating person to put in this situation? Usually the most fascinating person has the steepest learning curve.

When mentioning the Protagonist, give them just one well-chosen adjective.

Don’t include their name.

Only mention a maximum of two characters in the log-line, preferably Antagonist and Protagonist. More than that and it just becomes confusing.

This applies even to an ensemble piece, such as Bridesmaids or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

A high-stakes want

The highest stakes are usually derived from the five primal human needs – hunger, survival, protection of loved ones, sex and revenge.

None of these need be interpreted literally and more than one, I imagine, can occur in the same script, while carefully making sure the plot doesn’t become too muddy.

Peeples has the following log-line:

Sparks fly when Wade Walker crashes the Peeples annual reunion in the Hamptons to ask for their precious daughter Grace’s hand in marriage.

Wade obviously wants to have sex with Grace,  or wants to continue having sex with Grace, by showing his commitment to only having sex with Grace.

The Peeples’ family, I imagine, are trying to protect their daughter Grace from Wade.

Two competing wants = hopefully a funny and juicy conflict.

This segues nicely into the next crucial part of a log-line


Do not ever have a passive character to whom things just ‘happen’. This is a fault not just in the log-line but in the entire story concept. The character should be the engine of action in the story.

He or she does something, something happens, they react by doing something else, probably still oblivious to their fatal flaw.  Something else happens. And so on until the Protagonist learns a new behaviour – or not.

Make the conflict external, even if it is internal. Let the Antagonist take a shape of some kind.

The character’s flaw is exacerbated, rendered life-threatening, by the obstacles the Antagonist puts in his/her path.

Again life need not be interpreted literally. Death can occur even when all your bodily functions are still working. As anyone who has ever stood in line at the DMV knows.

Hence the conflict forms the dramatic through-line of the logline.

Subplots should not be mentioned.

2. The logline should indicate the set-up, set up the main conflict of Act 2, and hint at the problem that will be resolved by Act 3.

This is by far one of the most useful things I’ve learned from the resources on log-lines.

Let’s look at the Peeples logline again:

Sparks fly when Wade Walker crashes the Peeples annual reunion in the Hamptons to ask for their precious daughter Grace’s hand in marriage.

Let’s re-arrange it so it mimics the 3-act structure of the movie.

When Wade Walker crashes the Peeples annual reunion in the Hamptons, sparks fly when he asks for their precious daughter Grace’s hand in marriage.

It’s much less elegant and a little confusing, which is probably why they went with the previous structure.

Act 1 set-up: When Wade Walker crashes the Peeple’s annual reunion in the Hamptons….

The Hamptons = lots of money.

Wade Walker = probably not so much money.

The use of the word ‘crashes’ means that he’s not expected and probably, not welcome either. Conflict already built in.

Act 2:  “…sparks fly when he asks for Grace…” This is the engine of conflict for the bulk of the movie.

Act 3:  How will we know whether Wade is a loser or a winner in this movie?

Answer: We’ll know if he’s allowed to marry Grace or not.

Once you have all these ducks in a row, you can fiddle around with them to make a cleaner prettier sentence.

3. What are the genre expectations based on this log-line?

The genre is one of the key aspects of marketing a movie and one of the first questions in a production executive’s mind when he views a coverage report.

A lot of dark comedy log-lines I wrote initially were misunderstood as thrillers.

I’ve found using ‘funny’ words and an ‘ironic’ tone might help.

Yep, I’m still researching this one, mostly in the comedy genre, because that’s my jam. Will let you know.

4. You can diagnose a lot of script problems at the logline stage alone. 

It’s amazing what an incredible diagnostic tool a log-line is.

In the forums on the Black Board, I’ve been alerted to lackluster antagonists and protagonists, a lack of a clear goal, and various other more secondary, but still very important considerations.

Such as there are too many weird things going on (sci-fi).

The device that connects everything together just isn’t working (sci-fi again).

And various other common-sense questions that don’t arise when you think you’ve discovered a brilliant concept.

For example, in Harry Potter, why didn’t they use the Time Turner and just jolly well  go back in time and kill Voldemort?

5. Slice-of-life log-lines operate according to different rules.

Slice-of-life movies do not translate their internal goals into external goals.

Christopher Lockhart uses the example of Love Actually:

A varied group of Brits struggles with the pleasures, pain, and power of love during the Christmas season.

…and Gosford Park:

During a weekend jaunt at a British country house, servants – who must keep order and protocol – struggle to please their aristocratic employers until a murder threatens to disrupt the balance.

According to Lockhart, these stories should be defined by a time ( as in Christmas in Love Actually), place (Gosford Park) or historical event (Bobby) and the theme should not be presented didactically.

6. You only got 25 words! 

…but I’m sure, in the age of Twitter, that isn’t too big a deal.

7. Start with a spark of an idea and keep adding elements to it. 

No one is born a fully formed adult having already discovered their vocation and values in life.

So it goes with loglines. Rarely do they come out fully formed.

They start out pure, innocent and sweet in the form of a story concept, a angel that strikes you with its wing in the queue at the supermarket.

For example, “a lawyer who cannot lie”, “Othello in high school”, “Othello in Indian politics” (these three are high-concept because they can be summed in a few words), “racial tension in LA”, “a family road-trip to a beauty pageant”.

The conflict, the stakes, the wants and the needs, all come later as you let the thing sit around for a while, gathering form.

When it graduates college, you’re good to go! (I know I’ve stretched that metaphor way too far.)

Much love and peace,

The Happy Muslimah (in a nutshell)

I hate movies; or How to eviscerate an idea

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem.

Photo by Bruno Hamzagic

Assalam alaikum wr wb,

So help me God, I hate movies.

Day after day, week after week, I watch trailers, I look at posters, I scan the cinema listings hopefully, looking for something worth watching.


Less than nothing.  A slap in the face. A grab for my wallet.

I’m not interested in franchises anymore. I’m not interested in movie stars. I’m not interested in explosions.

I am not interested in shock, awe, blood, gore. I am not interested in laughter or tears. Those are empty emotions and can be triggered by practically anything I pull up on YouTube.

I would like a story.

How do you define a story?

A story means something to you. Not to me, the viewer, the ticket-buyer, the audience member, the cat-caller. To you, the story-teller.

Why do I love listening to my parents tell stories? Because they are joyful in the telling and I can see it in their faces. And through that joy, I begin to understand their values, their experiences, their beliefs, however different we are.

As we began to stop telling each other stories, I understood them less and less and we fought more and more.

The fact is, story allows me to empathize in a way that no other medium has achieved.

That is why I hate everything that is in the cinema right now. It’s a blatant insulting play for profit. It desecrates story and the power of the human spirit.

I don’t mean to say that stars, explosions and high drama are bad things. I think they just have to be used in the right way.

I loved Michael Clayton. It showed a veneer of real filth underneath a sterile world. It showed two men coming apart at the seams. Yes it had George Clooney and Sydney Pollack in it. But it was a great story.

I loved Ides of March too for much the same reason. It seemed real to me.

I follow the work of Ryan Gosling, not just because he’s an incredible actor, but mainly because he has a knack for picking exceptional projects. There has not been one movie of his that I’ve seen that I’ve not enjoyed and that I wouldn’t watch repeatedly and that I wouldn’t badger my husband into seeing.

Fo’ rizzle.

So why am I ranting on a Monday morning?

I’ve been generating ideas for The Quest 2013.

There’s plenty of literature on how to test a concept for the marketplace. I particularly recommend Save The Cat’s program of market research.

The question is – how do you know if a story concept is right for you? How do you gauge your level of passion for it? How do you know that it’s touching some deep dark place rather than simply treading tired old ground?

This isn’t just about generating the passion to go the long haul with each project. It’s about having a product at the end, that no matter what happens, you can be proud of. Because you poured your heart and soul into it. Because you told the truth, no matter how much it hurt.

That sort of energy will sustain a career, in my opinion, and that’s what I’m cultivating.

To that end, I’ve been asking a lot of questions about each idea.

As a viewer:

  1. Why would I watch this movie? What elements would make me book that ticket in advance?
  2. What elements would make me avoid this movie? What makes me shriek much like I did above?

These two questions allow me to really get to the nub of what sort of experience I want as a movie-goer.

As a writer (this is the clever bit):

  1. In what ways is this idea within my comfort zone of my abilities, interests, previous writing experience, etc?
  2. In what ways is this out of my comfort zone in the same ways?

It’s maddeningly simple, but for me, it’s helping me shape a story that’s been knocking around in my head for months now.

More importantly, it’s helping me commit to that story. Because I know why I’m writing it. Even if the telling is mediocre and the reception is poor.

Let me know what your thoughts are. And for God’s sake, if you’re a filmmaker with a movie that means something, please tell me about it. I’m starving for something real.

Wasalam and Fee Amanillah (in other words, Godspeed),

The Happy Muslimah

Switching horses mid-stream


(Picture from http://www.freedigitalphotos.net)

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.

5 reasons why planning rocks – and 5 more why it sucks. And how I could make it work.

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem,
Assalam alaikum wr wb,
Who here is good at planning? Anyone out there like it?

No, I don’t want a list of tips and tricks. No, I don’t want a pep talk. Because I’ve already received one. Probably from you, your friends or your mentors. I’ve already put money, time and energy into planning merchandise.

Don’t get me wrong; I believe the hype. I know why planning is important.

Planning lets you:

  1. Get an aerial view of your life.
  2. Prioritize the most important aspects  first
  3. Make maximum use of your resources.
  4. Lay out an actionable schedule.
  5. Deal with crises effectively.

But for so many reasons, the negatives are far outweighing the positives.

Planning is making me miserable because:

  1. I can never do everything I want to.
  2. It reminds how out of control my life is rather than giving it some control.
  3. It reminds me of my failures
  4. It reminds me of all the people I’m missing.
  5. It reminds me of how far away I am from being the person I want to be.

I know this is simply a perspective issue. That if I could see the glass half-full, I would realize how blessed I am.

Blah blah blah. I already know this. I wish I could flip a switch. But I can’t.

What I mean is that it doesn’t matter how grateful I am for five minutes or ten minutes or even 15 minutes of a day. My beliefs matter. And those take time to change.

I imagine my negativity is what’s making me tired and it’s probably what made my mother so gravely ill. But that’s a subject for another blog post.

I’ve procrastinated my weekly review for two weeks now. I keep telling myself that I’ll carve out some time on a Friday afternoon, Monday morning, Tuesday night…it’s not been happening. I’ve been too terrified of the pain.
And I’m rather tired of pain, you know? I want something for work for once in my life.

I’ve been trying to plan properly for years. I started with Anthony Robbins and now I’m onto GTD. Robbins tried the inspiring tactic. GTD has been trying the tactical adult, less-play-more-work way.

Neither has worked for me yet.

I’ve just realised something. Both methods are majorly word-heavy. And I’m more visual than I realize. For a writer.
I realized this because recently I was trying to track the subplots in my screenplay. I thought I would simply write down the applicable conflicts beneath each character’s name in a boring old list.
Somehow I decided to do it differently. I decided I’d mind-map on a piece of paper. It worked much better. I was excited to get to work and excited to see how each character connected to the other in a web. That’s the way life is, isn’t it?
I’m going to get more visual to make my weekly planning sessions easier, less stressful and more enjoyable. I’m going to use some mind-mapping software, maybe make a vision board for my life, set up some inspirational mP3s or videos to watch every week Insha Allah.
I’ll try to make it different. Less about words, much more about pictures, webs, movies, visions.I’ll try not to put as much pressure on myself to get it right. It’s important to be the best person I can be, rather than do everything that I can do. Because, as I’ve found out, that’s impossible.
I’ll let you know how it goes and what tools I’m using.
Assalam and alaikum and Fee Amanillah,

The Happy Muslimah.

4 writerly rules for managing the ebb and flow of life

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum wa rahmatullahi wabarakatahu. God’s blessings, peace and mercy be on you, fellow traveler.

So I’ve been trying to practice Scott Myer’s mantra for two weeks now: 1, 2, 7, 14.

Read one screenplay a week.

Watch 2 movies a week.

Write 7 pages i.e. a page a day.

Do 14 hours of prep i.e. 2 hours of prep a day.

It’s been a challenge. But it’s been rewarding. I’ve invested more in my screenwriting ambitions in the last 2 weeks than I have in my entire life. That kind of rigor has forced me to think about what I am willing to give up and where I’m willing to go. I don’t just mean sleep and free time. I mean heart-ache, anxiety, despair, depression or my personal favorite, failure.

My husband would say I’m being too dramatic. Let’s just say I’ve decided I’ll brave the Uncertainty and the lack of Certainty that comes with filmmaking and screenwriting.

But I have failed a fair amount. I’ve missed pages, prepped reduced hours, been utterly paralysed by the blank page.

In the process, I’ve discovered that the probability of success is linked to my energy. My creative energy cycles with my body.

It is foolish to push your body to achieve more and more and more when we are designed to need replenishment. This is where the animal kingdom has the jump on us humans. Lions rest an entire day after a hunt. Bears take the whole winter off.

But we work day and night, ignoring God’s blessing of the night-time and rest.

He splits the sky at dawn, and appoints the night as a time of stillness and the Sun and Moon as a means of reckoning. (Qur’an, 6:96)

(Go here for a brief explanation of the above verse)

While society favors the Type-A “harder, faster, stronger” personality, something tells me that I’m made of cream cheese and I can only manage that for a little while before I have a meltdown.

I’ve discovered a few basic ground rules so I can work with my energy cycles rather than against them.

1. Work as early as possible

I’ve blocked out times that my family is least likely to interrupt me – between 10 – 12:30 in the morning. Or between 2:30 and 6:30 in the evening. Sigh. An embarrassment of riches.

But still things come up. Family calls from overseas. Errands need to be run. Life does not respect my ambitions.

I haven’t managed to wake up uber-early and do my prep. Yet. But I’m aspiring to it.

I am far more likely to be tired in the evening and so writing or prepping closer to night-time should be avoided if it can be helped. Hubby comes home too and spending 2 hours staring at a laptop while he’s around is hardly likely to work wonders for our relationship. Though being the sweetheart that he is, he totally understands. But he deserves better than that. And so do I

2. Schedule the hard stuff for earlier in the week

Earlier in the week, when I’m primed and ready to go, I get a whole lot more done a lot more efficiently in prep time. And the pages just zip out.

Later in the week, I get a little exhausted. Come Friday, I just feel like playing which is a great time for an ‘artist date’. Though I’ve not really been too successful at having one of those yet.

It’s also a great time to kick back and pay attention to a movie or a screenplay.

3. Get a routine

A routine makes my hours that much easier.

  1. I start with 15 minutes of concept brainstorming. This is a great way to massage my brain before getting into the nitty-gritty. Plus it’s a great way to generate story concepts, a good 95% of which are invariably duds.
  2. 1.5 hours of prep.
  3. Another 15 minutes of looking over the above concepts with a critical eye. Not just, “Is this good?” But also “What can I do to make this better?” “Why is this so bad?” “Why do I want to write about ice-cream so much?”

4. Reward yourself with some fire-gazing time

I find I get cabin fever if I stay inside too much. I like taking a walk or just sitting with my father-in-law. He’s always watching Animal Planet so metaphorically at least, we’re being spirited away to different lands.

What works for you in terms of maintaining consistency with your routine?

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah. Peace and God’s protection, peeps.

The Happy Muslimah.

How I’m getting my mojo back!

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum and yo, Internet!

I’ve been going at the third draft of my feature film with a fevered brow for a few weeks now Mashallah. It’s great fun but really spiritually exhausting work.

I didn’t make it into the top 10% at the BlueCat screenplay competition. It hurts but I was expecting it – at this stage, my mystery dramedy isn’t a real screenplay. Insha Allah, if I have a little fun and do a lot of hard work, this baby will really begin to cook.

But till then, *sad face*.

I’ve been wondering when I lost the joy in the process.

Part of me thinks it’s because I’m departing from the main purpose of writing this film, i.e. illuminating the psyche of a young adult female Muslim expat Sri Lankan (how’s that for hyper-fragmentation?), as she deals with transition and loss.

Part of me thinks I’m too focused on the outcome anyway.

Those two things are diametrically opposed to each other. You can see why I’m torn.

What gave me pain almost to the point of quitting on this project is the thought that I had failed at what I had “tried” to do.  I had tried to make a point and I had failed. I had the same feeling I have when I “lose” an argument. I got really mad at myself. My ego just couldn’t take the worthless feeling.

But then I realized that a) this was my first ever feature and I really should take it easy on myself and b) where’s the love?

This one time, I took a camera and made a silly little film in support of the Robin Hood Tax. It was the daftest thing I’ve ever done in my life. But it was fun. It gave me immense joy Subhanallah. No question. I wasn’t “trying” to do anything. I wasn’t even “trying” to win the competition. I wasn’t trying to be the best dashed pocket digital camera filmmaker in the universe.

I had an idea and I wanted to see if it would work. It did Alhamdulillah.

I want that feeling back with my feature film screenplay. The same dancey happiness I had when I finished my first draft after 3 months of stopping and starting in fear.

So how can I get that back?

I tried to think back over the times when I’ve felt present and centered and engulfed in the joy and life of the present moment.

I used to get lost in learning Arabic and French.

My niece blows my mind regularly.

Debating with my colleagues was always fun.

I never wanted to leave Improv class with Saad Haroon and I can’t remember ever “trying” to be funny.

I can say that I have danced all the way to the end of an hour-long Zumba video without even thinking about it.

Baking makes my heart sing too. Especially when it all comes together and I get to eat my results.

I used to paint and do pastel colours in high school as part of high school projects. I loved them. I loved getting my hands dirty, the smell of the pastels on my fingers, the shades I could make by mixing things up and making something colorful and beautiful.

How can I embrace that in writing Insha Allah? How can I make it play?

It seems that people figure in my favorite moments. Face-to-face human interaction is always creatively inspiring.

Giving to the other person, whether it’s a joke or a chocolate chip cookie, always seems to help too.

And movement and delighting my five senses may well be a way to make my work joyous.

People always say that directors are the visual ones while screenwriters live in their heads. I disagree. I think I’m a very visual person. I might need to sketch things out if I want to visualize them. Not just the plot, but my character’s life stories. Reading the dialogue out loud with a friend could be entertaining and expose the weaknesses in my screenplay. Definitely joining a writer’s group or a class could definitely take my writing to the next level.

One thing’s for sure – rules kill my creativity. I’m through telling myself I need this amount of time and this amount of quietude to make things work for me. If it’s not going to happen in my life, it’s not. I’m through trying to chase a Holy Grail of quiet time to work. I shall work in spite of and because of my parents’ frequent interruptions. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be writing this screenplay so it’s probably fitting that I can hear their voices constantly.

What do you guys do to stay creative?

Fee Amanillah,

The Happy (and hardworking creative) Muslimah.