NaNoWriMo Muslims – A Powerful Voice

In late July, the mother of slain U.S. Capt. Humayun Khan stood supportively behind her husband as they gave their joint statement at the Democratic National Convention. It was arguably the most impactful speech at the gathering. However, in an interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News just after the event, Presidential hopeful Donald Trump argued that gold star mother Ghazala Khan did not take the podium because she was “devoid of feeling the pain of a mother who has sacrificed her son,” and criticized her silent standing saying that she had “nothing to say […] maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say, you tell me.”

His comments suggested that Muslim women are prevented from adding their opinions to the national discourse.

There have been firestorms of online bullying as well, like the one that happened to Tempest founder, Laila Alawa, earlier this year. The verbal abuse, threats, and trolling are meant to intimidate. The aim? To ultimately suppress the raw voices of Muslim women.

In light of these high profile insinuations, outright lies, and deluges of hate, it’s more important than ever for Muslim writers, authors, artists, and poets to stand up tall and share their unique experiences, perspectives and stories.

Some take it as a personal challenge they’re rising to meet.

To combat the dearth of Muslim-authored novels, a growing number of writers are turning to the camaraderie of a once a year online gathering, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this November, to develop their novels and fine-tune their writing skills.

Sana Gul Waseem, a writer at Productive Muslim and lecturer for Business Studies at Islamic Online University, is very excited about penning her first book.

Waseem currently writes about three hours a day, which is exhausting for her considering she’s currently fighting a new battle with cancer after two previous encounters. “I write with a lot of focus and without a break,” Waseem explains. She knows that she’ll need to write more – roughly an extra 1667 words per day throughout November – to accomplish the word count totals required to “win” NaNoWriMo.

While NaNoWriMo is geared toward novel writing and development, there are many writers who use the extra support and encouragement in the month of November to write other works as well. Non-fiction memoirs, children’s literature, and other projects are also given attention during NaNoWriMo. Some authors aim to complete projects started the year before as well.

Waseem’s goals for the future include writing two books: a book of modern lessons from Surah Yusuf and a book on Islamic Business Ethics. Her number one goal during NaNoWriMo 2016 is to just write, everyday, on her book.

Karimah Grayson, an educator and author of Areebah’s Dilemma: Love or Deen, experienced her first NaNoWriMo in 2014. In fact, she wrote and published her first book, The Shoulders On Which I Stand, as a result of the month-long exercise. Publishing and marketing a book is an ongoing project, and she admits that there were more than a few learning moments throughout the publishing process.

Finding the time to write in between grading and her other duties as an educator is the challenge she struggles with most. But it’s the accountability and “being forced to write a set number of words each day” that are her favorite parts of NaNoWriMo. However, most months she has less daily structure to her schedule. “My typical writing day outside of NaNoWriMo generally [has] very little writing,” she says.

Kaighla White, Content Manager and Editor for the website My Iddah, is another sister aiming
to take full advantage of the community feel and determination. She’s looking forward to all the support and understanding of other sisters come November.

“I love how it’s not strange to message a friend ‘OMG I Wrote 5,000 words today!’ and have her congratulate you and know exactly why it’s so impressive because she herself is doing it, too.” White shared.

Two years ago when White was living in Egypt, she wrote around 25,000 words of a sci-fi novel in NaNoWriMo before scrapping it. She knows that the decision was a result of her biggest struggle with writing in general. “The reality [is] that I am not a fiction-writer at heart,” she excuses, “[I’m] a story-teller and my stories are from real life.”

White has made strides in recent years to get over her fears of inadequacy and rejection. She’s also developed a thicker skin, and is learning that negative criticism is just part of the process of writing and putting her thoughts out there.

“Rejection is part of the publishing process. [Especially] if you’re trying to have your writing published by a big name publishing house, or even a small magazine or online site,” White advises. She tells aspiring writers, “Accept that one person or magazine disliking your work doesn’t in any way diminish its value, and move on to the next.”

White blogged heavily for many years and discovered that the haters were intensely awful. “I’ve allowed these criticisms to get to me and stop me from writing, from speaking my truth,” she admits. But now she’s realized that stopping her writing isn’t the best way to respond. This year she’s determined to push through and write despite the critics who call her writing “too raw,” “in-your-face,” or not “academic enough.”

“The more I hear different authentic criticisms of my writing, the more I want to improve, but still stay true to myself and my message,” White affirms.

White is excited to sit down to work on her story this November. She urges other aspiring writers to join the NaNo tribe and work on finding their own authentic voices. “Write from your heart. Don’t write what you think people want to read,” White insists. “Write the sort of stuff you yourself enjoy reading.”

With writing, it’s important to just get the initial idea out and then edit next. This is one of the main objectives of NaNoWriMo: quieting the inner critic so that the story can flow.

The month keeps writers focused on a singular goal: writing 50,000 words and getting their novels outside their heads. The NaNoWriMo goal is a meaningful start for many authors, and hundreds of thousands join in the race each year. The platform also gives writers the strength and courage to continue writing, editing, and refining their work the rest of the year.

The drive and determination of all participants ultimately pushes pen to paper and hands to keyboards on a global scale. This year, an additional Facebook forum – created specifically for Muslims – has grown to include almost 200 of the most prolific Muslim authors and aspiring writers from around the world.

The NaNoWriMo Muslim forum was founded in mid-2015 to fill a need as I saw it. The group grew to a sounding-off point for writers and a place for opportunity sharing.

The extra sense of camaraderie it facilitates each November can’t be beat. Knowing there are other Muslim writers working on their own complex novels, and writing on uniquely cultural themes, makes the process of churning out so many words so quickly just a little a bit easier.

Thinking of joining the movement and penning the next great novel? “If you have something that you want to write, write it,” Grayson urges new writers. “Don’t let anything hold you back from your aspirations.”

To learn more about NaNoWriMo you can visit the main website for the non-profit organization. You can also join our support group on Facebook: NaNoWrimo Muslims.


Janet Kozak is a content marketing strategist, writer, and artist with Islamic Imprints. She can be reached through her website and found on Facebook and Twitter.

(Photo Credit: Arsalan Nabi)

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