Sharifah Alhinai speaks to H.E. Omar Saif Ghobash, Ambassador of the UAE to Russia, and author of bestselling book Letters to a Young Muslim, to find out more about his writing process, his source of inspiration, his next book, and more.
What is your writing routine like? Do you have a special place you like to write in or certain time of day?
When I was writing Letters to a Young Muslim, I took some time off work and would type from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and then in the afternoon from 3 p.m. till I couldn’t type anymore. I don’t have a special place for writing because I am always moving from city to city. I do find that I can concentrate best when flying, and I get a lot of work done on planes.
What do you do when you get writers’ block?
I look through what I have written and ask myself whether I have explained my points clearly. More often than not, I will find things to say and start writing again. I do not suffer from any major blocks, to be honest.
What are your tips for getting inspiration?
Inspiration comes from the message you have to express. It’s such a privilege to be able to write and then get published that I think this is inspiration enough. I must add, though, that I am inspired primarily by the idea that I might actually find people who will be ready to read what I have written, and so I write out of respect for them.
How do you find time to write with such a busy schedule?
You find spaces in the day, you take time off, you work on weekends and you write when traveling. It works out well.
Do you think people are born writers or that it’s a skill that a person could learn and master?
I think that you write if you have something to say. I did not think of myself as a writer until I realized that what I wanted to say needed to be expressed in the form of a book. In any case, if you are determined enough, you can master any skill.
Do you use a pen and notebook or a laptop to write with?
I scribble notes in the margins and opening pages of books I am reading. The notes are then transferred to my laptop. Then I try to develop the ideas and then weave them into a reasonable structure.
What is a book that has had a positive impact on your life?
Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky. This book made me shiver with tension as I read it. It showed me the power of the written word as well as the power of the imagination. A book is much stronger than a film.
If you had to read from only one genre of books for your entire life, which genre would you choose?
I would read philosophy. Much of it has the power of literature. The questions continue to intrigue me, and I am never far from a philosophical text.
If you could meet any writer, from any era, for a cup of coffee, who would you like to meet and why?
Nietszche – because he was such a profound thinker. He was also odd and intense, so I think it would be amusing to see how he interacted with me. I would want to know how he viewed our religious and technological state in 2017.
Your tips for aspiring writers who don’t know where to start?
Write. Keep writing. Develop a voice – both written and spoken. Finding an audience may require more than simply writing in private. Writing is a form of interaction with others, but it is only one form. You may need to make yourself heard in other ways in order to be able to then point to your writing.
Last but not least, are you working on a next book? If so, when can we expect it, and will it revolve around the same topic or be in the same genre? Would you consider exploring fiction, perhaps?
I promised my younger son a novel, so I think about it every day. There is a novel I have been working on, but it is very dry and sparse at the moment. Who knows when it will be ready. It is developing in very small steps so far.
Sharifah Alhinai is the Managing Storyteller at Sekka.