Awais Khan is a writer by heart and an author by choice. As Founder, The Writing Institute, Awais is doing his best to impart aspiring writers with the best strategies to become great. He talks to Karvan about The Writing Institute, about his book Company of Strangers and how to become an effective writer.
1. How did you conceive the idea to establish the Writing Institute?
I was born and brought up in Lahore. As a child, I was an avid reader, but it wasn’t until I was in college in Canada that I realized that I really wanted to write as well. That’s when I noticed that there was absolutely nothing on offer in Pakistan. Even the large universities shied away from offering courses and degrees in Creative Writing, preferring to focus on English Literature instead which isn’t quite the same thing as Creative Writing. That sparked the idea of establishing an institute that would predominantly cater to the needs of individuals wanting to improve their writing skills. However, it wasn’t until many years later that I was able to do that.
2. What is the mission of the Writing Institute?
The mission is simple: to make creative writing accessible for all and help aspiring writers in Pakistan and the region. For the cities I can’t reach myself with physical courses, I have partnered with a leading UK Writing School (Professional Writing Academy) that offers online courses on affordable rates exclusively to writers based in the region. I hope that with an increasing appreciation for writing comes an increasing appreciation for the publishing market in general. My mission is to help the people in Pakistan understand that writing can be a career and profession and that if someone wants to write, it is okay to let them do so.
3. Tell us about your book In the Company of Strangers?
In the Company of Strangers is a very contemporary take on Pakistani society. It looks at the secrets and intrigues of the Lahori high society and explores the lives of two main characters at opposite ends of the spectrum who get entwined in things beyond their control. For more, you will have to buy and read the novel
4. From where do you take inspiration to write?
For me, inspiration is everywhere. Being a writer means being an observer, so my surroundings are constantly inspiring me. I’m also a very avid reader, so I find a lot of inspiration in books. My absolute favorites are the Russian classics especially the works of Leo Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky.
5. How did studying Creative Writing from Oxford University, Writers Bureau UK and Bishopsgate Institute help you become a better writer?
I think that writers today are very lucky to have such a variety of avenues available that teach the art of writing. I formally started studying the art of writing with a short online course at Oxford University, and it really opened my eyes to both my strengths and weaknesses as a writer. The best thing about these online courses is the fact that they help cultivate a strong sense of community between writers. You forge friendships that go beyond the breadth of the course. Also, it was at Faber Academy (London) where I truly emerged from my shell. Both the Online and on-location courses were top notch, and I learned so much. In fact, I started writing my novel while studying at Faber. This novel is the one that is now being published in the UK and the Indian subcontinent.
It hasn’t only been these institutions that have helped me, though. I have to attribute a great deal of where I am today to individuals who have helped me, especially Hazel Orme who has tirelessly edited my work, and Annette Crossland, my literary agent, who has been a constant champion for my work, and has brought it to the notice of publishers both at home and abroad.
6. What guidelines for effective writing would you give aspiring writers from across the world?
My advice would be to keep writing. Don’t give up. I totally understand that as aspiring writers, we have very low self-esteem and the mere hint of censure or criticism can push us back miles. However, the key is perseverance. We must learn to rise above the criticism and keep honing the craft. While you’re writing, don’t think of whether the work is any good or not. Keep writing. Finish telling the story. Once you are done, put the work away for a few weeks and then look at it anew. That’s when the real process of editing begins. Editing is as important as writing, especially today when the competition is very fierce.
7. How do you think the youth of Pakistan can make writing a habit rather than a tedious activity?
Contrary to popular belief, I think there is a great deal of appreciation of writing among the youth of Pakistan today. It’s just that we need to change the overall perception surrounding writing, especially the fact that writing is something that useless people do. Writing can be a career if you want it to be. I think keeping a journal is the best way to keep things interesting. That way you get to jot down anything that inspires you then and there. That will also help you later when you are sitting in front of your laptop and racking your brain for ideas.
8. Your message for the youth of Pakistan?
I don’t think I’m in any position to be giving anyone any message as I’m still learning myself. However, I would like to reiterate what I said earlier: don’t give up. The possibilities are endless. Yes, getting published takes a lot of time and dedication, but that’s true for any field. If you are true to your craft and believe in your work, then there is nothing that can stop you. So, don’t listen to others especially if all they want to do is criticize you. Carve your own path, and success will follow. As Dumbledore would say, ‘Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it.’ So don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. For every negative person, there are two positive people ready to help you!
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