Meet the inspiring author of the ‘The Crowning Venture’, a stimulating book which draws together complex, intergenerational stories and experiences of motivating women who have pursued the journey of memorising the holy book of Qur’an. Dr. Saadia Mian is a Muslim, female endocrinologist, hafidha and an author, with so many responsibilities and duties, how does she balance it all while remaining content?
Read on to find out in this exclusive interview, in which she addresses numerous factors an author must be ready to commit to, sacrifice and face headstrong in order to successfully have a book published, and not just any book, but a book that will last and stay relevant for the many years to come. The book is also timely, having launched at a time a new generation of women find themselves confronting the inequalities they have been raised to believe had been settled.
After operating on a medical mission and witnessing the horrific scenes of the refugees, Dr Saadia Mian began writing and sharing her posts online for the first time, which to her surprise, attracted an incredible amount of positive responses and acknowledgement. She explained, “People were not only excited to have a window in to seeing something that they could not see themselves but, they also commented on my writing skills and how it made them feel like they were right there, present in the crisis. So, they encouraged me to write more and more. So, every day that I went; I wrote, and I shared.”
1. Tell us about your writing routine; what was a typical writing day for you? How did you begin?
A few months after the medical mission, I was encouraged to start writing this book. So, I basically just pulled out my smartphone and wrote the introduction on the spot right there. As far as a schedule for writing, a big chunk of the book started during a week where I travelled to Minnesota for a Rabata board meeting and I ended up staying there for an extra five days. I just sat in the Daybreak Book Store, and I would go there in the mornings, sit down and just write for a few hours on my computer – I’m most definitely not a pen and paper kind of person. I write on my phone or my computer and that was what really jump started my book. I like to think of that week like a writing retreat.
Once I got a good chunk of it done, it became more of a reality. Then, I decided I wanted to interview other women who had memorised the Quran because not everyone would be able to relate to my particular story. I found a list of women from different cultures, different backgrounds, and in different stages in their lives, and started doing those interviews on the computer at home, until I found out I could just do them on the phone and record them with an app. So, I used to do it driving to and from work because I have a 40 min commute each way and I could do an interview easily in that time. From there, I’d send those interviews over to a transcriptionist and when I got the transcription back, it took me a few hours for each one to do the initial editing. From the beginning to end, the whole process was over a span of three years.
2. How do you balance such a lifestyle with many responsibilities, what’s your golden rituals to cope and stay calm?
When you have a lot of things going on in life, if it’s really important, you will find time for it. I strongly believe that. So, whether it’s writing a book or any project that you have, if it’s of great importance to you, you will be ready to sacrifice other things if that’s what it takes. Whether that means giving up an extra hour of sleep, or it means giving up something else precious, you’ll do it. I remember at one point the edits were sent back to me to do further editing, and it was during summer. There were a lot of family visiting and there were times I had to say, “Oh, I can’t go out with you guys today because I need to get this portion of the book done.” So, it’s just a matter of prioritising. We have more time than we believe. When you have something pressing, those little 5 mins here and there in the day that get eaten up doing nothing on social media, we can productively put them towards our goal. There's a good book by Laura Vanderkam called, '168 Hours: You Have More Time Thank You Think' that makes you realize how much time we end up wasting.
3. Was there at any point during your writing process you felt like giving up on the idea, and if so, how did you keep yourself motivated?
I never felt I lost motivation, or that I don’t feel like doing it, but there were times where I felt a great deal of hesitation because firstly, I shared my very own personal story. And me being a very private person, who usually does not overshare, it was something I would stop and consult with my editor saying, “I can’t do this anymore, this is too personal,” to which she would remind me of the purpose of the book. The second thing that would come up in my mind, is when it comes to the Quran, and especially the memorisation of the Quran, it’s a very sensitive, personal topic. We are always taught that we should not share things such as where we are in our Quran with our memorisation for various reasons as to not show off or not wanting to get stalled; you don’t want to be ‘jinxed’ for lack of a better word. So, there were all those feelings, which made me sometimes feel like I don’t want to do this.
My editor always encouraged me and reminded me about how many women need to hear these stories and that it’s very important because women don’t talk about this and therefore, women don’t see that memorising Quran is something that they can also achieve. This book is meant to show that there are other women that have actually done it. We tend to see the men doing it more. Having the support of my editors helped me to get over my fear of sharing a part of me.
4. Do you agree writers block is inevitable? How did you deal with writer’s block?
I don’t think I struggled with it that much. I avoided it by telling myself "I’m just going to keep writing." Initially, I just did a free-write, I just wrote as it is, and did not edit it as I go. Because if I did, I’d stop to question myself - is it too personal? Is it too much? etc. And that would have definitely stopped me. The most difficult chapter to write was the chapter about the issue of forgetting the Quran as it required a lot of research. Also, it consisted of translating some texts from Arabic to English and I had to put it together in a way that is coherent and made sense in English, while ensuring no errors were made in the legal rulings. All of this made it the most challenging chapter.
5. It’s a religious orientated book and you’re addressing many difficult themes. Was there a backlash? If so, how do you deal with this?
Alhamdulillah, the reception has been very positive. Even as I spoke about the idea, telling people about it for the past 3 years, the reception has always been very positive.
6. What does literary success look like to you, how do you measure success?
To see people benefit from it. If it helps to change a point of view, and someone's relationship with the Quran positively. That was the intended purpose of the book. To me, success is that people find that benefit. Maybe somebody was discouraged from memorising the Quran and is now motivated again and are planning to start their journey again, that is the first way I measure success. And the second measure of success, is that it’s something that lasts, that this book doesn’t just disappear but stays relevant ten years or twenty years from now and hopefully longer. That people can always read it and relate to all or even a part of it.
7. You travelled to Syria, has any moment from your experience there heavily influenced the content of your book and shape the author you are today?
The whole journey that I had there was really influential on the content. I can’t pinpoint one moment, however, there is a concept that I picked up, which is being used by Allah (swt) to benefit others. So, like I mentioned, when at any moment I would hesitate to share my personal life with people, I would always come back to the concept; when Allah (swt) gives us something, in this case the Quran, and this whole experience to be able to go to Syria and learn from there: ‘when you’ve been given something, it’s a duty to give to benefit others. It’s a duty to share, it’s a duty to pay forward.’ And so that’s what this book is doing – it's paying it forward.
8. Which female authors do you like to read? When you want to read, what genre do you gravitate to?
I like memoirs. Lately I’ve been listening to audiobooks because I have long commutes. I recently listened to a book called ‘Quiet’, about introverts, and really enjoyed that. The author is Susan Cain. I really do like this genre of creative non-fiction. I also recently listened to some books by Brené Brown and found those inspiring.
9. You involved other haafidhas in to your book, that must have required a lot of cooperation and teamwork, how did you go about to make sure you were all on the same page? (pun unintended)
Alhamdulillah, some of the people I interviewed were people that I knew personally, and they were very happy to help. I set up interview times and their names remained anonymous. I feel like being anonymous gave them more freedom to speak freely, and not worry so much about all of the other fears that I had, because as I found, women who memorise the Quran, tend not to like to talk about it. And I noticed that pretty much across the board. So, the fact they were going to be anonymous, took away a lot of fear, they had the chance to open up and be honest. Once I interviewed them, they didn’t have any other role, they were extremely helpful.
People don’t usually like to talk about their own personal stories, but after explaining the reasons for the book and the purpose behind it; girls need to see women who have done this, and they need to see role models – that this is possible. They were all for the mission! They were very much in line with why we were doing this and were more than happy to help.
10. Is there another book to be expected from you? What’s coming up next for you?
The current book was actually supposed to contain a chapter with stories from women who help their children memorise the Quran. But my editors and I decided that this topic should be a whole second book and also include different methodologies for memorising, so inshallah, that may soon be in the works!
11. What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
I think just being in Syria, surrounded by people speaking a language I didn’t understand, was frustrating. Sitting in lectures with amazing teachers, and not being able to understand definitely makes you realize how important it is to learn another language, especially Arabic. When it comes to memorising the Quran too after I worked on my Ijaza and Tajweed, I started memorising and the power of language again became very clear that I need to understand what I’m memorising because, even though, we know we can memorise the Quran without knowing the Arabic, and you can actually memorise it quite well, as that’s the miracle of the Quran. However, it is still important to understand it; the words and meaning.
12. Describe the route to your first novel being published, the ups and the downs, the moment your patience was most tested.
I remember my editor saying that “writing is a game of hurry up and wait.” This is the first time I’ve had a book published and now I realize, it takes longer than you think it might. It’s not ‘let me just write it, then the editors will fix it up and then it’s done.’ In fact, it’s a lot of back and forth between author and editor. You have to be able to let go because it doesn't only depend on your schedule, but rather the schedule of the whole team. Also, you might find things changed around a bit or a favorite paragraph taken out by the editors. But, that's a part of letting go also. I had a good relationship with my editors where even though I trusted their input and changes 100%, we still discussed things and came to mutually acceptable endpoints.
13. Are there any advice you can share with aspiring female writers?
I would recommend getting used to free writing. Nowadays we always have our smartphones on us. I tend to write best when I’m traveling somehow. If you’re on a plane ride or waiting for something, use that time - even if it just means writing down your thoughts, just get use to writing. Don’t wait for the perfect environment or atmosphere, as long as there is time, just pull out your phone and start writing. Everything is going to be changed. The first draft may look nothing like the final draft, but don’t let that stop you from keeping on writing.
Visit Dr.Saadia Mian's website to keep up with her works: www.saadiamianmd.com
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