As-salamu Alaykum (peace be upon you), Dear Readers...

NEW for September 18, 2016:

This blog has MOVED to the Muslim Writers Club, a new website dedicated to all of your writing needs.

Here are some of the pages you will find on the new site:

Jobs and Internships for Muslim Writers – Check out the latest opportunities.

Freelance Markets for Muslim Writers – A list of magazines, newspapers, and websites that want to work with YOU, insha'Allah. Includes many paying markets.

Book Publishers of Interest to Muslim Writers – Have you written a book? Start your search for a publisher here.

Contests & Events for Muslim Writers - Competitions, courses, webinars, and more. Don't miss the fun!

Writing Activities for Muslim Children – Coming Soon!

Q&A Page - Get your questions about the art (and business) of writing answered.

Articles and Other Resources – Even more resources for Muslim writers.

Hope to see you at the new site, Insha'Allah!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Q&A: Writing a Novel to Completion

Question: Could you give me some tips on how to finish a novel? In the middle of writing about 20 pages, I end up thinking this isn't good to be finished, any advice?

~ Aisha

Answer: First of all, congratulations on writing the first twenty pages. This is more than most people will accomplish, even if they are aspiring writers. Writing a novel takes time, dedication, and committment, and it is way too easy to get discouraged, especially if you nit-pick at your own work or seek perfection in your first draft.

I am not a writer of fiction, but I know the feeling of not being able to finish a large writing project. There is a tremendous amount of coordination that must take place in order for all the pieces to come together. If this is true for, say, a non-fiction article of 5,000 words (which is considered long), then think how much truer it must be for a novel, which could be anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 words.

In part, that's why events like NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) were established. This is an event that, each November, challenges writers to complete an entire novel in just one month. It sounds corny, but many writers have used it as a motivational tool to get a rough draft out on paper - and it works. I know of several writers who have written solid rough drafts during NaNoWriMo, including two Muslims (one of whom is Jamilah Kolocotronis, author of the Echoes series of novels, who participated along with her son).

Sister Jamilah chronicled her progress on her Echoes blog, and she is generally a wonderful source of inspiration. I really like reading her blog even though I don't write fiction.

In any case, the underlying point of NaNoWriMo is to get the draft down on paper with the pressure of a deadline. For some reason, some writers (including myself) need that pressure to produce.

But there is no need to wait until November to start applying pressure. Some people do just fine setting mini-goals, such as writing 1,000 words each day, no matter what. Just think...within 2-3 months you would have 60,000 to 90,000 words down on paper, which is essentially a rough draft.

A friend or writing partner could also provide the motivation, support, and pressure you need to stay committed to your writing goals. If the friend is reading your manuscript as you progress, you will have the additional benefit of regular feedback that may help you determine the direction of your novel.

It's my understanding that many authors end up discarding massive chunks of their first drafts. They may go through several more drafts before they are satisfied with the results. This is completely normal and does not mean that your writing is bad or sub-par. It is just part of the creative process and your growth as a writer. It takes most people time (think 1-2 years) to produce a finished novel - and that is before it is even reviewed by an editor, agent, or publisher, all of whom may require or recommend further changes.

One thing Sr. Jamilah always says is that her characters take her places she did not expect and often dictate the story. So, just let your story flow onto paper (or the computer screen), and do not worry if your story is "good enough." There will be plenty of time to go back and make revisions later on.

I have no idea if your novel will be in the genre of Islamic fiction, but it might also help to think how little there is available in this genre. I noticed from looking at your MySpace profile that you are 18 years old, so you essentially represent the next generation of Muslim writers who will take us into the next phase of culturally relevant and interesting books. If you are like many Muslims in your generation, you probably wished you had Islamic novels to read while growing up instead of what is generally available for today's English-speaking teens. Consider the great responsibilities of today's Muslim writers and the difference you can make in other people's lives by writing novels with Islamic themes.

Finally, ask Allah (SWT) to guide you on all aspects of this magnificent journey, and you will not go wrong.

Please write back and let me know how you are progressing.

Amel S. Abdullah

Do you have a question you’d like to see answered on this blog? Post it here, or send it to me via e-mail. All questions sent via e-mail will be posted anonymously (unless you request otherwise). Click here for an index of all questions answered on this blog.

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This blog is maintained by Amel Abdullah, a freelance writer, editor, and Arabic to English translator.