Mar 23, 2010

Nafisa Haji, author of The Writing on My Forehead

Nafisa Haji, author of The Writing on My Forehead, was born in Los Angeles to parents from India and Pakistan. She traveled to many different countries while growing up, studied history at Berkeley, and received a doctorate in education from UCLA. That's impressive. Rather than becoming a career academic, she taught Spanish in elementary school, and wrote. What she says about her journey to becoming a fulltime writer, using the stories and fables she heard as a child, tells us a lot about why and how we write.

Nafisa: "The truth is, I have always wanted to write because of how much I love to read. And now that I am lucky enough to be able to write fulltime (still have to pinch myself to believe it!), I realize that one of the best kept secrets about writing fulltime is having the luxury to read fulltime.

I am an eclectic reader, which is just a fancy way of saying that I like to read everything—from classics to pulp, from cereal boxes to sci-fi (related because sometimes it seems you need a degree in chemistry to be able to understand food labels, doesn’t it?) I spent my childhood traveling through time and space, backwards and forwards and ‘round the world, admiring the minds of the people who created the worlds and lives I loved to lose myself in. So, naturally, I wanted to be like those people, those storytellers who were my heroes. Who doesn’t want to grow up and be like their hero?

When I grew up, I also had to earn a living. Lucky for me, I loved what I did, which was teaching in elementary school—an all-absorbing vocation that left little energy for me to write. I always planned to pick up writing the novel(s) I’d left unfinished when I became a mom, when I planned to stay at home. Of course, in hindsight, that was a hilarious plan, because “momming” is no less absorbing than teaching. But I learned to squeeze words out during nap times and on weekends.

Picking up unfinished novels from the past turned out to be a no-go. I’d outgrown everything I’d written before—that’s a terrible risk of leaving things unfinished and I had to mourn those losses before wading back in with dry feet. I started with short stories. Family stories—fables, like the kind I grew up hearing from my mother, about all the pitfalls that bad behavior could ultimately lead to. Then, I found a voice to challenge those fables. A voice that asked questions about the angles of stories that get deliberately left out of maternal fables, are spun to keep little ones in line. That voice was Saira’s, the protagonist and voice of The Writing On My Forehead, who realizes that we are shaped as much, if not more, by the secrets we don’t share, as we are by the official, sterile record of history that gets written into “school” books.

Seven years later—most of them spent rewriting and revising, I got published—amassing a fair collection of rejection letters along the way that I have learned to treasure as gifts, all of them helping to improve the book as well as my skills as a writer."

You can learn more about the author at Nafisa Haji's website

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  1. This is a fantastic guest post and so true...those unfinished novels from years ago are often outgrown...I know that feeling. It's time to embark on new stories.

  2. What a wonderful post! Thank you to both of you. I don't think I know a writer who doesn't love to read, which, of course, makes sense. :-) I am so glad you found time to write and that you persevered, Nafisa. We wouldn't have such a great book otherwise.

  3. Very interesting post! I enjoyed learning more about this author.

  4. Great guest post! I loved The Writing on My Forehead and I think Nafisa is an inspiration to all aspiring writers out there. It's never too late to pick up what you started, and start anew using your acquired experience!


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