Interviews

“Ignite the passion to educate the masses in your hearts”: Mahnoor Naseer – Editor-in-Chief, Daastan.

Mahnoor Naseer is a Citizen Historian at The 1947 Partition Archive. An electrical engineer by academic qualification but with literature filled in her heart, she talks to MOIWrites in this exclusive interview about her life and career, passion and plans.

1. Tell us about yourself?

So, as you know already, my name is Mahnoor, it is from a Persian-Arabic origin which means Moonlight. As beautiful as it sounds to many, my name is not unique at all, but I personally believe that it is not the name that makes a person unique but the characteristics they possess. Therefore, I find myself inimitable in my compassion of doing every single thing in life as if it matters the most.

I come from a middle-class family and was brought up in the shelter of unconditional love of my hardworking parents, for whom self-respect was more important than money. My parents are a real-life example of the ideology that what you cannot achieve for yourself, provide it to others. They have given me more than anything that I ever asked for. All that they lacked in their lives, they have given it to me.

Professionally, I am an Electrical Engineer and serving as a research intern in Military College of Signals, Rawalpindi. Besides that, I am also the Editor-in-Chief, Daastan and a Citizen Historian with “The 1947 Partition Archive”. I very recently started working on a collaborated project of UNDP and SIL as a research writer and transcriptionist.

Apart from these boring details that build me up, I am an avid reader and an aspiring writer. At times, I even play with colors and try my hand at painting. I enjoy sketching. I also collect stamps, coins, and naturally, bookmarks. I would also define myself as a foodie who loves testing out new cuisines. So far, nothing has won me over like Chinese food.

I am rather a “pick-and-choose” kind of a person when it comes to making acquaintances or befriending people. One of my strongest policies is being straightforward to the point that sometimes, I feel I will end up hurting someone but I try to be as careful as possible.

2. You are the Co-Founder of The Ancient Souls. What are The Ancient Souls about?

In August 2016, along with a group of friends from abroad, I decided to do something different, something that would be outside the limits of the mainstream. To set up the platform that not only promotes written works but literature as a whole.

Presently, many people have restricted the definition of literature to possessing good writing skills and having read the well-known books. The concept we wanted to nurture through our platform was rather broad: “Anything that involves words, art, and the true colors of humanity is to be known as literature” — not talking of the genres or the major forms here but sticking to the basic definition of it.

Therefore, we had three sub-goals; to protect the said definition of literature, to promote peace through literature by dissolving all the human barriers, and to innovate. The three sub-goals combined to serve one major goal that was to create a platform to empower aspiring writers, photographers, and artists across the globe.

Currently, we are operating as a community of around 15,000+ members across the world. We also published our first annual anthology in 2017, which secured the honor to be Daastan’s very first international publication.

3. As the Editor-in-Chief at Daastan, what are your prime responsibilities?

Besides editing, I have to review all submissions in the light of Daastan’s set policies. I have to coordinate with my sub-editors in assigning them tasks, reviewing those tasks once completed, have the final drafts ready and pass them on to our website management team.

Overall, I have to ensure that the team stays as hospitable and encouraging towards the authors as possible; because it is the budding talent that we mostly deal with, and that they do not overstep any of the company’s predefined policies.

4. Which authors from Pakistan and abroad are your favorite?

Talking of the international authors J.K. Rowling will always be at the top of my list for obvious reasons. I really enjoy reading Sylvia Plath, Khaled Hosseini, Stephen King, Elif Shafek, Sydney Sheldon, Sarah J Mass, Sabah Tahir, Nicholas Sparks, and the list goes on.

The Pakistani authors that I really like are Abdullah Hussain, Hashim Nadeem, Omar Shahid Hamid, and Nimrah Ahmed. I know people have different views about Nimrah’s writing style but I love her scenic portrayals and the choice of words. Here, I have mentioned the authors from modern literature only because those from previous generations, as far as I have read them, were all maestros in my view, like Manto, Patras Bukhari, Bano Qudsia, Ashfaq Ahmed and many others, and I am yet to discover that era of literature in a broader way.

5. Which are your favorite novels?

Okay, I will not mention Harry Potter here because that is like blood to my body. I love “The Kite Runner”, not just for the sake of the book, but also because of all the book-based movies that I have watched,” The Kite Runner” seemed to be the best one of them. Even Harry Potter movies did not approach me on that level of perfection.

So, reading a book and loving it, and then watching a movie based on it and loving it the same way, has an impact on the way my imaginations works after I finish reading it. You know, I just wish we opened a book and all characters danced in front of us. It is a childish thought, but I am a firm believer in miracles! My other favorites include; “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath, “The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank, “When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi, “Rose Madder” by Stephen King, “The Throne of Glass Series” by Sarah J. Mass, “Forty Rules of Love” by Elif Shafek, and “Amar Bail” by Nemrah Ahmed.

6. You have been responsible for editing manuscript entries in Daastan’s Stories Untold competition. How has the experience been for you?

Season 2 of the Stories Untold was the point where I officially stepped into this literary world as an Editor. Roller Coaster is the best word to describe my journey during those days. My main role was that of a project manager. However, later I became an Editor, a job I had never thought of being capable to do. On a minor level, I was already doing it at TAS, but this was different as at Daastan, here I had  to mentor  the aspiring authors.

In my life, my biggest advantage has always been my perseverance. When I decide to do something, I do it. There is no turning back or quitting, I never quit unless something is hurting my self-respect.

So, when Daastan offered me to be an Editor, I said okay, I can try it but expect errors because I am new to this, and the errors did occur, I have learned a lot from them and still am learning. To my surprise, everything worked out well. Three of the four people that I mentored during that season made it to the top six, and the fourth one is an exceptional author, Muhammad Omar Iftikhar, who keeps on exploring various genres, he is also the winner of NaNoWriMo 2017. I am lucky to have been associated with such remarkable talent as Bhaskar Paul, Neeraj Brahmankar, and Abhirun Das.

Here, I would like to thank Aimen Siddiqui, Director Content, Daastan, I have learned a lot from her. I would like to thank Sidra Amin, Co-founder, Daastan, for my professional training. Syed Ommer Amer, Founder, Daastan, is also a great mentor and I am blessed to have these people in my life.

7. When editing manuscripts, what key problems did you realize the aspiring writers were facing?

Talking of the writers from Pakistan, here I will start counting the issues from the root to stem level i.e. from what is wrong within to what is wrong on the outside.

The first and foremost problem is writing for the sake of becoming famous or earning money. I personally believe that one should write because they love it not because they want to earn through it. That “Greater the reward, the best the input” philosophy does not apply here. It is a different world with unpredictable possibilities. Therefore, restricting yourself to a monetary reward is not a good idea.

Second, is overconfidence. It prevents them to absorb criticism down their skin. Therefore, talking of my experience here, I did come across some new writers who were not able to accept any kind of criticism on their manuscripts just because some XYZ friend said they have written a masterpiece. I would like to tell those friends that you are not doing justice with your comrade; you are rather becoming a core reason for their downfall when they step into the real world.

Thirdly, coming to the stem level now. There are good writers who open-heatedly accept criticism but lack professional guidance. Most of the publishing companies have proficient degree holders in literature from foreign universities who lack the sense of commitment to educating. In that case, where should a writer with a brilliant story idea but weak language and grammar skills go? Because, you know, the parameter set here to judge a story is not the story idea, it is rather the language skills.

In a society where to be able to speak English is considered as a massive feat, people who go abroad for studies return to Pakistan and look down upon the locals who have yet to develop their English communication skills. Why cannot they return to Pakistan and educate those who aspire to become better?

It is my request to everyone, especially the literary squad, that instead of demotivating the local talent by pointing their language mistakes, try to figure out how this issue can be resolved. In addition, in the quest to do so, even if a manuscript with a great storyline but with a few errors goes in the market from your hand, never hesitate. This is the same ideology that we are working with at Daastan and The Ancient Souls. A lot of criticism does come our way, but that is okay when the authors are satisfied. We are trying to educate them as best as we can and will continue to do so.

8. As an editor and a mentor, what message will you give to aspiring writers enabling them to become better writers?

Read books, lots of them. Reading is the fuel to a writer’s mind; it will keep your imaginations in constant motion and will let you create brilliant stories. In addition, it will help you improve your language, familiarize you with new words, help understand the tenses and narrative styles in a better way.

Also, make it your habit to learn one new word from the dictionary per day with its meaning in your native language. Install Merriam Webster Dictionary on your smartphone and learn new words on the go.

Make yourself comfortable at rough writing. Do not get into the formalities of editing right at the time when you start writing. First, write what you want and do not let the thought of making mistakes hinder your flow. Once you are done writing, read the whole thing at least 10 times — trust me the new aspects that you will come across are limitless, and after finalizing it from your end, ask at least three people to proofread it for you. For the most productive reviews, look for people outside of your friend circle.

Last and most importantly, open your doors to criticism, be it good or bad, no matter what people throw at you make yourself habitual of grasping something fruitful out of it.

9. Your message to the youth of Pakistan?

Ignite the passion to educate the masses in your hearts, never look down upon anyone, never allow anyone to crush your self-respect, make empathy your greatest tool to deal with any challenge that life puts ahead, don’t promise someone something you cannot do for them, grab the opportunity when it knocks your door — don’t ever think of any job as little no matter how higher a qualification you have achieved. Never stop thinking, creating and trying.

Never quit, remember if you did, 20 years from now, when you will see a friend who despite of failing a hundred times didn’t give up and achieved something big out of sheer hard work, you will hate yourself the most. Quitting in my view is shameful. So, never do anything this shameful in life that in your future it makes you hate yourself, see you are not aware of the day you wake up and all this guilt from the wrong things you have done in your previous life will clasp your throat to suffocate you in all the unwanted ways.

Do what you love, don’t compromise your ambitions, and if you are not able to achieve one thing set a new goal for yourself. Explore, the universe has a lot to offer, you never know which string is bound to be your way towards success.

Advertisements
Interviews

Sonia Mukhtar: “When my imagination envelopes me, unknown characters become alive!”

“When you write, reflect who you are. This is the respect we should give to our writing” says Sonia Mukhtar, an author, and a practicing Counseling Psychologist.

IMG_20171215_204242

1. Tell us about yourself?
I do believe in operational definitions and that if we can define ourselves, we might be able to get on the journey of ‘know thyself’. I am a practicing Counseling Psychologist by profession and by person I am a disciple of minimalism and functionalism in body and soul. I am a practitioner of mindfulness with meditation especially sketching, Yoga and Gyan Mudra. I am a motivational trainer usually conducting workshops and in groups. I am a debater and a writer of essays, poems, short stories, novels. I believe in climate change and nature taking its course. Nature offers serenity to me: greenery of forest, blueness of sky and water, darkness of mountains and airiness of breeze freely touching my spirit – ironically its déjà vu as I am far away from these features but I live with hope of experiencing this one day. I am passionate, compassionate and dedicated in whatever I do.

I am a certified counseling psychologist with certifications acquired from UK, Australia and Pakistan. I am currently serving as a visiting faculty at the Institute of Clinical Psychology, University of Management and Technology, Lahore. I am also a consultant counseling psychologist at DIN News program ‘Crime Watch Daily Live’. My 7 years work experience encompasses from mainstream schools, colleges, universities, organizations, drug addiction and rehabilitation centers to children residing in slum areas, IDP’s and street children, runaway teenagers, juvenile delinquents, and destitute women residing at Darul-Aman.

2. Since when are you writing?
Writing is a streaming reason for living, rest is just living! I was an avid reader and I liked reading when I was 5-years-old, I remember when my Pakistan Studies teacher, Ms. Sadaf, gave me a book and the first time I get to know that “oh, there are other books besides course books.” It did trigger something in me, I kept reading my brother’s books, I picked up a newspaper and read it, I bought books from the little (literally little) money I used to have. I wrote my journal at the age of 5, I wrote poems by the time I was 15 and I have been participating in writing competitions since 2010. Since 2016, I am writing awareness based articles on psycho-social, cultural or global issues for different magazines. I believe I am an apprentice in a craft where I am merely a learner and it will take long before I become a Shifu (Master).

3. How was it to be the winner of the Stories Untold Season 3 by Daastan?
I live and breathe words. The ecstatic experience I felt I cannot explain. My first book “Fall of Autumn” was published by Daastan which was the story about the struggles of a woman suffering from PTSD and striving towards Post-Traumatic Growth. The book I wanted to read was not written yet so I decided to write one. It was not the winning story but I felt a winner for it was my first first published effort. However, the winning story “Kahan Jibrail Ki” was about grief and bereavement. If you once had a tear in your eye or a smile on your lips, then the story serves its purpose. When my imagination envelopes me, unknown characters become alive, strangers become friends, unshaped objects form into thoughts by the readers reading my words.

4. What was the name of your winning story and what was it about?
“Kahani Jibaril Ki” was my 2nd short story published by Daastan and won the first prize in the “Stories Untold” competition held by the publishing house. It was about the grief and bereavement, the story of which revolved around a child who began a journey of 5-stages of grief and bereavement from denial, anger, bargain, depression (sorrow in laymen) and settled at acceptance. Grief is a magical emotion out of all emotions, as it does not change anyone, it reveals the inside out.

5. You also completed 50,000 words at Nanowrimo 2017 and were a winner. How was the feeling?
75, 000 words to be exact! Writing this novel made me feel that I own a galaxy inside of me. A galaxy of characters, plots, stories, imagination, fantasy, creativity, empathy, regard, truth and congruence. I was honest with my emotions and characters. Reading my own words makes me feel the warmth and existence of unexplained things in this world: sometimes afraid, sometimes brave and mostly feeling of gratitude for the gift Allah has bestowed upon me.

6. Briefly share with us the story you wrote for Nanowrimo 2017?
The title of my novel was “Our Exile is One”. It was a psychological-thriller. It was a story about three handsome young men living together who were polar opposites of each other. This story provides a perspective of issues faced by men but hardly acknowledged in society. Men too face abuse, molestation, rejection, abandonment, grief and bereavement, hurt, pain and trauma. How men too are put down, expected to maintain the perfect concept of masculinity and the struggles they have in their lives. This story shares a unique perspective discussed not often but it does exist.

7. As a writer what do you like doing? Writing or editing? And why?
This is a very interesting question! Writing is my passion. It is what I do! Writing makes me feel alive. We all have different purposes and different reasons to write. For me, writing gave my life a purpose, I feel like I am not born to spend days and die. I have an obligation and this commitment is even bigger than the ultimate responsibility of a counseling psychologist as ‘with great power comes great responsibility’. If Almighty Allah bestowed me with this ability and enabled me to express with my words then I must do it. For me, editing has a different dimension because while editing I have to think from the writer’s perspective. As a counseling psychologist, I guess I am equipped with sympathy and empathy simultaneously so it assists me in editing other’s written work.

8. Who are the authors from Pakistan and from abroad are among your favorite?
I have different dimension of fondness in literature and art. I am a science-mind and art-heart person so my taste in music, literature, arts and performing art has idiosyncratic attributes. Raja Gidh might be my first book of Pakistani authors and I immediately fell in love with Bano Apa. From Bano Qudsia I got to know about Ashfaq Ahmad and his Zavia changed my zavia about life. Fouzia Saeed’s ‘Taboo: The hidden culture of a red light area’ was one of the most intriguing books I ever read from a Pakistani author. Khatija Mastor, Kishwar Naheed, Iqbal, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Wasif Ali Wasif, Parven Shakir, John Elia, and Obadullah Alim are one of the best authors I have read so far.
I have never liked anyone more than Shams Tabrez and Rumi. There was a time when I was an avid reader of only Rumi but then it dawned on me then his light was burned from Tabrez. Paulo Coelho, Nicholas Sparks, Stephanie Meyers, J. K. Rowling, and Jane Austen’s every book I have read. Shelley’s Frankenstein; Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; Dostoyevsky’s Crime And Punishment; Doyle’s series of Sherlock Holmes; Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, War and Peace, Boyhood; Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles; Bronte’s Jane Eyre; Brown’s Angels and Demons, Da Vinci Code, Inferno; Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, The Curios Case of Benjamin Button, Tender is the Night; Henry’s The Last Leaf, The Gift of the Magi; Flynn’s Gone Girl; Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird; Moyes’ Foreign Fruit. Woolf, Bronte sisters, Wordsworth, Angelou, Wilde, Frost, Cummings, Poe, P.B, Shelley, Mary Shelley, Eliot, and Rossetti are who I adore and have read so far.

9. You are also Associate Editor of The Clinical Psychology Magazine? Tell us more about the magazine?
I was an Associate Editor of The Clinical Psychologist Magazine. We aimed to raise awareness regarding psychological and social issues of the Pakistani society. Being an article writer, my focus is to write about issues that are overlooked or are not talked about openly. Previously I wrote on Domestic Violence and Shadows of Perception, an article and a poem respectively in volume 1. In volume 2, I wrote about Parent-Child attachment and the eminence of this issue. Currently, I am taking a break from editing in this magazine, I will re-join for volume 4.

10. What message will you give to aspiring writers?
If they are aspired then they already are writers. I would just say ‘when write, reflect who you are’. This is the respect we can give to writing.

Writing it Right

NaNoWriMo Special: Want to create chapter outlines for your story?

1.jpeg
Nanowrimo is just three days away. The excitement is filling the air. Writers and aspiring authors would be preparing the outlines of their novels. Being a writer and an author myself, I thought of sharing with writers and readers of the world a little plan I made to assist you in creating chapter outlines for your novels.

As a writer, you would have an idea of how to write your novel. Your novel will have the following elements. There are many more elements but I am narrowing it down to the following five:

  1. Characters including a protagonist, an antagonist and other characters
  2. A Story including the beginning, middle and the end
  3. Dialogues and action along with the character’s thoughts
  4. Plot and setting
  5. Climax

Creating Chapter Outlines: 
While you would need to have an outline of your entire story to help you write better, you would also need to have outlines for each chapter. This will let you follow a clear path of story progression from the beginning until the end. I have devised an easy way of creating chapter outlines which I am also following for this year’s Nanowrimo. Here it is:

For each chapter, fill in the following parts:

1. Chapter Number:
It could be 1, 2, 3 so on and so forth

2. Chapter Name:
Write the name of the chapter

3. Characters Involved:
Write down the name of those characters who will be part of this chapter. Each chapter is either about one character (The protagonist, the antagonist or another (supporting) character taking side with the protagonist or the antagonist. It could be a combination of two or more characters)

4. How it begins:
Write down a few lines of how the chapter would begin

5. How it ends:
Write down a few lines of how it ends

6. Other details:
In this section, write in bullet points what else you want to include in the chapter which will become the middle part of the chapter and will create a link with the chapter’s beginning with its end

Why write the beginning, middle and “other details”?

Writing the beginning and ending will give you a sense of direction for each chapter. When you begin the chapter you connect it with the previous one and when you end a chapter, you end it with a question, a mystery or a cliffhanger, which includes a character’s pledge, foreshadowing, demand for action, a statement that creates curiosity, or a provocative question.

Once you have written the “other details” of the chapter along with how you will begin and end the chapter, it will give you a bird’s eye view of each chapter. When you begin writing the novel, each chapter outline will give you clarity and motivation to assist you in writing it.

Happy Writing!