More Q & A with Daniyal Mueenuddin
Published: May 3, 2010
Elfrieda Abbe, publisher of The Writer, interviewed short-story writer Daniyal Mueenuddin for the How I Write feature of the June 2010 issue of the magazine. Here are some additional questions and answers from her interview.|
Q: You've expressed your love of farming. Do you feel a connection between farming and writing?
A: There are some connections. First of all farming has given me a lot of metaphors. [W.H. Auden] once said that if he was going to set up a writing program, he'd have a very different curriculum and require everybody to have a goat or an animal and each student to have a vegetable garden and so on. Get your hands dirty. These are the great metaphors, the ones that come from the land because these are the experiences everybody has.
Everybody has seen the flowers bloom and the trees wave and as a farmer you're very aware of these things. Your not looking at them as an aesthetic, you’re looking at them as businessman and saying: "If the trees are waving are they waving too hard? Are those branches going to break?" So that's one thing, the other thing is being a farmer in the way I've been, I've been a businessman essentially. I think when you're in business it's not voluntary to get to know the other guy. And therefore, you have to be very focused upon other people with whom you have dealings. That keen attention to them leads to developing your understanding of characters.
Q: Could you expand more on your writing habits? Do you always use a computer?
A: I have written in longhand because I didn't have the computer at the time. I've always been surprised when I write longhand. I assume that what I am writing is gibberish, and I'm surprised that how similar is to what I do with the computer, but I don't like to write longhand. It's just too cumbersome.
The other thing I do which is useful to me is when I'm stuck I go exercise. Generally, I go for a jog or swim and revolve in my mind what I'm doing. When you're jogging, for example, you get into this sort of Zen state where the pain is so great that you'll do anything to escape it. It's a great escape to think about the problems you're having.
Q: You said that you sometimes keep a list of ideas. What sort of things are on the list?
A: Descriptions of a character or a situation. It can be a kernel of something that struck me as rich—the way somebody looks. For example, my brother was telling me the story about when he was living in France and this bum who used to come and beg from the household taught him this song. And, somehow the poignancy of him teaching this 15-year-old boy a song struck me. And my brother telling me about the bum taking off his shoes and his feet stank. I've got pages now of all these bullet points and when I want to write a story I'll go through this. For some reason they struck me as significant and I'll take one or another and start playing with it.
Q: Any additional advice for writers?
It would be presumptuous to try to give advice because writing is very personal, the thing that you do in your own place with your own soul. But don't do it if you are doing it to get rich and famous. Do it because you have to, or don't do it. It has to be about the writing and not about your dreams of other things. Of course that builds into it, too, and everybody wants to be loved. Certainly. I¹m guilty of that also. Partly why I wrote was to be appreciated.