Today I'm thrilled to profile Aisha Saeed, whose debut YA novel, Written in the Stars, released last week. Besides tackling faith, feminism, and arranged marriage in her work, Aisha is the Vice President of Strategy for the We Need Diverse Books campaign, a contributor to the forthcoming anthology Faithfully Feminist, and of course, an all-around badass.
Kate: Describe your career(s) and/or current projects. What path(s) led you there?
Aisha: In a former life I’ve been a teacher, a lawyer, and a bookstore employee! But right now I’m a full-time mom to two little boys and a writer of books. A million little things led me here but the biggest one is ploughing through and trying, and failing and trying again. Rinse and repeat.
|Portrait of the Artist|
as a Young Badass
Aisha: It was really hard to leave a full-time reliable job with a steady income to try and pursue my writing. I had a novel I had been working on for years but it was getting harder and harder to make time for it. When I found out I was pregnant I realized that time would now get even more scarce soon so I decided it was time to take the leap and on 9/9/09 I decided to leave my job and pursue my dream of writing. I realize being able to leave your job when no steady alternative awaits is a choice not everyone can make, I am thankful I was able to do so.
Kate: Do you have any (other) creative outlets? How do they influence/affect your main work (if at all)?
Aisha: I am obsessed with cooking. I absolutely love it and I love being able to change things up and tweak until a dish is perfected. I consider it an art form to take raw ingredients and from them make something completely different. Chopping vegetables and cooking dinner is a very meditative act for me and it’s a great time to let my mind wander as I stir the dish and chop the vegetables. More often than not, I find an answer to a puzzling plot issue or a character arc and how it should develop while I’m in the middle of cooking.
Aisha: Staying focused! I am so easy to distract and even when I sit down to do dedicated writing there is so much that can just pull me away and that’s a challenge for sure, to utilize my time best and write and--- oh look squirrel!
Kate: How do you stay inspired? Productive?
Aisha: Discipline. I have to force myself to write even when I don’t want to. Even when the above mentioned distractions beckon. I’ve learned waiting for inspiration just leads to more waiting. Sitting down and doing the work even when it feels terrible is the only way to push through and find inspiration waiting around the corner.
Kate: How do you deal with negativity?
Aisha: I follow the advice outlined in The Four Agreements and remind myself it’s not personal. When someone doesn’t like my book or my writing, it’s okay. We are all entitled to opinions and what makes up this beautiful world is a variety of perspectives. A friend told me once to look up my absolute favorite book that I think is beyond reproach and see the reviews it got. When I did that, I was shocked to see how many people hated it. I realized then that you couldn’t please everyone so you have to just do your best and accept that it may not be for everyone.
Kate: Tell us about a time that you bounced back from failure.
Aisha: I think rejection is part and parcel of the whole writing business. There isn’t an author around who hasn’t been told no either from an agent or a publisher or both. Being an author is all about learning how to bounce back, it’s all about getting told no and trying harder, better, and again.
Aisha: I wrote a piece on being a feminist for an anthology called Faithfully Feminist [coming out later this year] and I described how my understanding of feminism was informed. I think for a long time I was a feminist and didn’t know it! For me, being a feminist is about believing that women are worthy and deserving of equality and respect. That means that even though I’m a stay-at-home mom who loves baking cookies I am still a feminist. I believe choice is the key and having ones own determination over one’s own life. My novel Written in the Stars is about a girl whose choices are stripped from her when her parents force her into a marriage against her will. It was inspired by people I knew who similarly thought they didn’t have choices. As a feminist I believe that as simple as choice is, in reality it’s a complicated and difficult uphill struggle but one I’m committed to supporting. We all deserve to be treated as full individuals.
Kate: What is your advice to aspiring badasses?
Aisha: Examine your life and what motivates and inspires you and follow it where it leads. This won’t be all fun and roses. It might be hard and difficult at times and sometimes following your passion may even be boring, but follow it through the good and the bad times. If you maintain the commitment and discipline for your dreams you just may see them come true.
Keep an eye on the Badass Ladies You Should Know Tumblr for the second half of Aisha's interview!