Fiction / March 2016 (Issue 31)

It's Easy

by Bashir Sakhawarz

Who says writing a novel is easy? I wish you'd all stop encouraging me to write one, because if you'd told me to become a sushi chef instead, I'd be an award-winner by now. Think about it: an Afghan sushi chef. Just the shock of "Afghan" and "sushi" in the same sentence would be enough to bring critics rushing to my restaurant, with more compassion than the ones making sushi out of my novel.

I'm losing my mind as I follow the bewildering array of rules for writing, much stricter than the Sufi tariqa. I attend innumerable workshops, talks, conferences and book-signings. I stand in long queues to touch the hands of authors who've made it to the top. These exalted beings should not have to walk on the ground, but be carried on the shoulders of mere mortals like me.

When I finally reach them, I say, "Sir/Madam, I'm also a writer."

They churn out inspirational stock phrases, as if they'd attended seminars on how to encourage new writers.

"Good for you, keep it up. Now let me sign the next book for the fellow behind you."

In one workshop, I was advised to wake up at dawn and start writing because that's what bestselling Mr Daybreak did. In another one, we learnt that Ms Opulent woke up in the middle of the night and wrote horizontally, lying in bed.

Intrigued, I asked the instructor, "Does she lie on her back or her stomach?"

"On her back," came the reply.

Think about this position and do it once in the middle of the night. I did that for a week until my wife threatened to leave me if I continued. So far, I've read whatever these instructors have told me to read, and have written whatever exercises they have given me to write. I'm glad nobody has asked me yet to stand on my head, to let the blood flow to my brain as I'm writing. I'd be prepared to have a go, but it would be difficult.

I keep telling people I've written a novel and ask them to read it. So far I've asked more than a thousand people. Here are just a few:

  • The taxi driver who forgot to switch on his meter and charged me four times over the actual fare.

  • A friend I ran into, thirty-three years after we'd left Kabul following the Russian invasion of our country. He doesn't speak a word of English, but that was no matter. I wanted to show him our friendship was so important that I would share my novel with him.

  • A beautiful Thai masseuse who was greatly impressed by my work without having read a word of it, but then encouraged me to drop it completely to write an erotic novel based on her life.

  • My doctor who presumably thinks there's nothing wrong with my prostate, but believes I have a serious brain problem. She was so honest that she told me to lose weight by exercising, instead of continuing to write.

The list is endless. Sometimes, I even think of giving money to people to read my novel. "Hey, please read this and here's fifty dollars." The only thing preventing me from taking this route is that I'm not sure these people would really read anything at all. They might simply take the money and run. Otherwise, I'd be a bestselling novelist, after putting my house on the market to pay for all those readers.

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