Monday Poetry Prompt

Every Monday, I’ll be posting a writing prompt for poets. The big rule is you only have 20 minutes to write! I know it doesn’t seem like a lot of time, but trust me it’ll be great.

Each prompt will have a list of specific things to include, inspired by poetry I’m reading.

The prompt this week comes from the poem “lot’s wife 1988″ from the book Blessing the Boats by Lucille Clifton (BOA Editions, Ltd., 2000).

The poem should include:

  • the point of view of a mythical, religious, or historical character/person
  • An address
  • A mention of someone/thing else
  • An expectation
  • At least 22 lines in 4 stanzas
  • And the words: mirror, weeds, salt, promise, climb, hold

Bonus points if you can get everything in!

Leave a comment and let me know how the prompt worked for you.

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There’s something magical happening on Twitter!

The “We Need Diverse Books” campaign is fundraising! I donated what I could (tahirra.blogs), and I hope you will too.

I’ll post a larger article on this topic soon, but for now, follow @diversebooks, @wordsxborders, and #SupportWNDB to see all the amazing stuff people are saying.


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Monday Poetry Prompt

Every Monday, I’ll be posting a writing prompt for poets. The big rule is you only have 20 minutes to write! I know it doesn’t seem like a lot of time, but trust me it’ll be great.

Each prompt will have a list of specific things to include, inspired by poetry I’m reading.

The prompt this week comes from the poem “French Horn” in the book Come, Thief by Jane Hirshfield (Knopf, 2011).

The poem should include:

  • The title should be an item (instrument, utensil, etc.)
  • A call to someone/thing
  • The phrase “what will you say”
  • A type of bird
  • At least 25 lines
  • And the words: plum, nearsighted, string, open, gate, slip.

Bonus points if you can get everything in!

Leave a comment and let me know how the prompt worked for you.

Posted in Poetry, Writing, Writing Help | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Re-Post: Prepping for NaNoWriMo

National Novel Writing Month is just around the corner. Need help preparing?

This is a re-post of a blog I wrote after my first NaNoWriMo on what I would have liked to know beforehand:

National Novel Writing Month seems simple–write a 50,000 word novel in one month–but what can you do to prepare to run across those literary burning coals? Here are some reflections and suggestions to prepare for your next NaNoWriMo run!

Register on the NaNoWriMo website

This may seem like a formality, but in hindsight I wish I had taken more advantage of this. It’s completely free to sign up, and throughout the month you’ll receive these nice little emails reminding you and cheering you on to write. (If you don’t want a lot of emails in your inbox, you can always use a secondary email address or create an address specifically for your writer-ly needs. For example, the email I have listed here is not my personal account.)

The benefit of doing this early is that you can look through all the forums, rules, regulations, build a community or find an already established one (practice internet safety, please) and lessen the chance of any surprises coming up later so that you can win!

The Idea

Let’s face it, the likelihood that someone is going to have a working idea to start writing with on the first day is pretty slim. There’s got to be some serious thinking beforehand. And thinking to a writer, as I was told many times by great writers and teachers, is writing!

No, I don’t mean break the rules and start writing before the day of. I’m saying get pen to paper and start jotting down ideas of what you would like to write. Are you a NaNo-er or a Rebel? Are you working on an old idea you’ve never gotten back to, or is this completely new?

This “jotting” can be as fragmented or as fleshed out as you need it. One forum on the official Nano website was particularly helpful: explain your novel/rebel-work in one sentence. While I had an idea beforehand, the sentence I came up with acted as my guiding star as I wrote.


A good writer is a great reader. If you’ve got an idea, go read. Read things that are similar whether it is through construction, themes, genre, or anything else. Read things that challenge what you read before, find a new way to construct your novel that would be better or gets you excited to write. Whatever you read, read it like a writer: analyze, criticize, and scrutinize what you’re reading so you can train yourself to see it in your own writing. This may sound like training for editing (which is not something you should do during NaNoWriMo) but is also a tool to keep you writing if done well. When you see what someone else is doing in their work, you can “respond” to them by either trying it or changing it in your writing.


Yes, research is an ongoing event. If your idea needs a lot of research behind it (and let’s face it, most ideas do) then you’ll probably be researching throughout the process. Remember–before you decide to put this off–writing is draining! It takes up your brain and emotional power. And if you’re working a 9-5 in addition to writing, you’ll be winded. I’ve spent a lot of hours during the month of November taking power naps to quell my exhaustion. If you need research, get a lot of it done beforehand (at least the big stuff) before the month of November commences, because you will not want that behemoth over you with everything else.

Decide: To Outline or Not to Outline

Personally, I like outlining. I hardly every actually follow the outline I’ve set for myself. But if I get lost or run out of ideas, I can look at the outline to give me ideas. In any case outlining, along with other preparations such as character sheets, drawing world maps, illustrations (ooo you rebel!), should be decided on. I repeatedly outline, then re-outline while I write (because if my character wants to go left, and I outlined she’d go right, then I need a whole new one) so I have a bunch or “alternate universes” to choose from, so to speak.

Decide: How to Write

This may seem like a loaded philosophical question, but it actually sums up a lot of nitty-gritty things such as:

Writing Schedule

Whether your days follow a pretty repetitive schedule or not, it’s good to set aside hours in the day that are designated for writing. While the daily word count goal can help you move forward on your novel, it may not be feasible if you haven’t set aside time to actually do the writing! This is also a good way to help potential distractions (kids, significant others, tv) understand that these time blocks are not available.


Most writers have a place they write. One published author described how he finished his YA novel by writing on his hour-long commute to and from work five days a week (and I’m assuming he wrote on weekends too). Jim Harrison (my favorite poet) sometimes alludes to his desk in his poems (specifically in his Letters to Yesenin). Figure out where you feel most comfortable writing, also known as where it is you can concentrate better. Think of noise levels, having other bodies of companionship (people or pets) around or being completely alone, wifi enabled or disabled (oh sweet candy crush…), wall space/cork boards etc. Batman has his Bat Cave, one day I’m going to have my Write Cave!

Personal Daily Word Count Goal

According to NaNoWriMo, one must have a minimum daily goal of 1,667 words per day to finish on time. I, being the conceited idiot I can be at times, thought, “1,667 meh. I’m going for 2,667!” Which, this being my first attempt at wrimo, failed miserably (though I did make it to the 50,000 count by the end). If you’re new to this, I suggest starting with the minimum. If you’re a pro, maybe it’s time to up the game? Maybe increase your monthly goal by 10,000 words after each year you win?


While there are a local events, emails, and writing marathons through the WriMo community, you know how to motivate you the best. Maybe for every 10,000 words you get to buy yourself new stationary? (Binder clips and sticky-notes, my fav! Just me? fine.) Whatever your motivators are, be sure to get those written out or stocked up. (Hot chocolate? Yes!) This might also be something cool to share with your fan club (significant other, children, friends) who may want to help you keep going.

Hand-written vs. Typing

This may seem like a no-brainer to some but typing the first few days actually slowed me down. After about 5,000 words I ended up writing the rest by hand and doing a manual count of each line in the page margins. The reason is I usually write everything by hand first, it helps me think. So it was stupid of me to try to type (and thus lessen my thinking power) by typing only. However, this is also a good lesson on why reading through the rules beforehand is important. Having everything hand-written, I never pushed myself to type up what I wrote. Turns out to win NaNoWriMo you need to copy-paste your work into their counting tool, and of course, I only had 5,000 words typed up and ready to send in. So while I got to the word-count, I didn’t win because I didn’t read all the rules first. (Sadness.)

In any case, these examples are all about figuring out how to best get the juices flowing. Take the time and figure it out (this is also good knowledge to have for your everyday, post-NaNoWriMo writing).

In Conclusion…

Take the time to prep for NaNoWriMo, you won’t go wrong by doing so. However you choose to go will be worth it, and can be fun. Give yourself time, and use it to get excited!

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Monday Poetry Prompt

After a long hiatus, the Monday Poetry Prompts are back!

The big rule is you only have 20 minutes to write. I know it doesn’t seem like a lot of time, but trust me it’ll be great.

Each prompt will have a list of specific things to include, inspired by poetry I’m reading.

The prompt this week comes from the poem “Sharecropper’s Grave” from the book Carolina Ghost Woods by Judy Jordan (Louisiana State University Press, 1999).

Write a poem about a family heritage/inheritance (however you’d like to define those words).

The poem should include:

  • Write completely in one image, or a string of images
  • 2 sounds
  • 1 abstraction
  • The phrase “Not even”
  • At least 13 lines
  • And the words: broken, harvests, whirl, fog, branches.

Bonus points if you can get everything in!

Leave a comment and let me know how the prompt worked for you.

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I was really grateful to get this award, and I’d like to pass on the happiness to others!

Liebster is basically an award by bloggers for other bloggers in a sort of chain. You can only nominate blogs with under 1,000 followers, so this is also a great way to give exposure to blogs you enjoy.

Here are the rules:

The Official Liebster Award Rules:

  1. Thank the blogger that nominated you and link back to their blog.
  2. Display the award somewhere on your blog.
  3. List 11 facts about yourself.
  4. Answer 11 questions chosen by the blogger who nominated you.
  5. Come up with 11 new questions to ask your nominees.
  6. Nominate 5 – 11 blogs that you think deserve the award and who have less than 1,000 followers.  (You many nominate blogs that have already received the award, but you cannot renominate the blog that nominated you.)
  7. Go to their blog and inform them that they’ve been nominated.

Thanks to  An Inkling for nominating me! Sorry this took so long for me to finish.

So here are 11 facts about myself:

1) I can be so shallow about myself. For example, it took me years to show my boyfriend (now husband) a photo of me during what I call my “ugly duckling years.” In hindsight, that was so lame of me.

2) I used to think “baba black sheep” meant “father black sheep” (baba being Arabic slang for father). I found out it was actually “baa baa” (the sound a sheep makes) when I was 21. It broke my heart, and I wrote about that in a memoir piece.

3) I have taken all the meanings of my first name from different languages and constructed them into a title for myself. I am “the wide-eyed king of the frogs of the lilypatch.” (If anyone knows any other meanings in any language for “Rana,” I’d be totally down to hear them!)

4) I am a fanatic… about babies! I LOVE them! I am pretty sure I’m just going to smother my children with love and kisses and hugs and my constant unwavering attention. I literally could spend hours just cuddling with a baby.

5) I’ve always wanted to go to a comic con. I was going to go to the Rose City Comic Con this year but work interfered. I also want to cosplay, but am very intimidated by the awesomeness I see online. I can’t make my own costume!!!

6) Since brinkling is from Wisconsin I thought I’d just mention I married into a family of Packers fans, so… GO PACK GO!

7) I have two people pulling inside me: the complete workaholic and the housewife. On the one hand I could be very content working night and day with no social life (and often I do that). On the other hand, I could be content by embracing my inner total housewife and work night and day on the cleaning, cooking, children, etc. (People don’t usually see me as the latter.) I oscillate between them, but know if I ever picked one side I wouldn’t be as happy.

8) I get easily annoyed by loud, stupid people. Empty cans rattle the most.

9) I am very interested in being a part of the resurgence of animated movies and shows. There is so much crap out there, and the quality goes down every year. I mean seriously TV executives: don’t you remember what it was like to be a kid and have everyone talk down to you? We were all there, and we all hated it. So cut this sh*t out!

10) The older I get, the more of a conspiracy theorist I become. I am convinced there is a world wide conspiracy to keep people angry and stupid.

11) I can be very angry and stupid.

Questions from An Inkling!

Why do you write?
I think it’s more compulsion than anything else. I like to reiterate what I said at age 6, “All I can do is suck my thumb and write.”

How was your day today?
Lovely then frustrating. I was in the downtown library all day, which is great. It’s a beautiful fall day, the temperature isn’t supposed to go up past 70. My Arab skin is in a turtleneck and I am content in the poetry section near the large windows that open up to the strange landscape of Portland.

The frustrating part: my constant battle with prejudice and bigotry. Every day I feel alright, someone or something has to shoot me down. I think a lot of people understand that. I think not as many people understand what it’s like when the people who are trying to shoot you down are responding to your “other-ness” whether it is your skin, belief, culture, gender identity, or sexual orientation. If those experiences were really in the majority and that majority had power, you’d think it’d stop happening by now.

I am just meditating on the fact that I saw a person help a woman he didn’t know get her baby stroller off the metro. Gotta hold on to the good wherever I can find it, or I swear I’ll go mad.

What is your favorite myth or folk tale and why?
My favorite? Well I’m not sure I have a favorite, but one that has stayed with me is the myth of Loki and the otter. Basically Otr in the form of an otter eating a salmon on the riverbank. Loki comes up from behind Otr, throws a rock at and kills him. Then, I think, eats him. I’m not sure why but at the time my older sister and I thought it was hilarious. We were 6 and 7 respectively, or younger.

If you could have any Pokemon wander around with you like Pikachu does with Ash, which one would it be? (there aren’t supposed to be right or wrong answers, but…just so you know, if your answer is anything other than charmander, you’re wrong).
Dude, of course it’s either charmander or squirtle! I mean charmander is basically a mini-dinosaur. Who wouldn’t want one of those?

Is there a book you think everyone should read at least once in their lifetime?
I think there are tons of books people should read in their lifetime. Some will make you into readers, others will make you a better person, others make a better world. Right now I’ll just give one of each. To become a reader: “Northern Lights”/”Golden Compass” by Philip Pullman. To be a better person: “The Age of American Unreason” by Susan Jacoby. A book that makes a better world: “Alight” by Fady Joudah.

Woah, I just realized I recommended a fiction book, a nonfiction one, and poetry. Yay!

(Also, if you ever want to read a book of translated Arabic poetry I suggest getting a book that was translated by Fady Joudah… Seriously that guy is a bamf.)

Do you have a personal motto?
I had one. It was “life sucks, and so do you.” But that was a long time ago. Now it’s probably, “go to sleep you loon.” Or “I really hate people.” Or “aw, people can be so nice.”

Which of your posts are you most proud of?
I’m not really at that point where I can say I’m really proud. My most popular one is on the #CancelColbert issue, which makes me sad since I’d rather talk about writing.

What’s your biggest fear in life?
That I won’t actually finish the novels I’m working on. That I have too many dreams and wont accomplish any of them. That I wont get to be the voice in the world I’d like to be for human rights, the arts, and cultural exchanges. That no matter what I do accomplish in my life, I will always be marginalized or maligned due to my religion, race, or gender. That I will never have control over my own life.

What is your favorite thing about yourself?
Favorite is such a strong word… I guess I like that I’m not too serious all of the time. The thing is, I know I can be. I’d probably go insane after a while, though.

What city would you love to settle down in?
I made the move over the summer to Portland, OR with my now husband. We’re probably going to settle down here, because it is wonderful! Right now I’m at the library downtown, enjoying being out and about instead of working from home.

What fictional character would you want to be best friends with?
There are so many characters I’d want to be best friends with. I think right now I’d like to chill with Captain Blood. He seems like a cool guy, and he definitely needs some advice on women.

And the nominees are…

Fate Jacket X

The Accidental Blog

Genova Press

Volvo Diaries

Pete Warden’s blog

Days Like Crazy Paving

The Questions:

1) What is your connection to place?

2) Who was one of your role models growing up?

3) If you could talk to a past version of yourself, what would you tell him/her?

4) Are you political or a-political? Why?

5) Aside from writing/reading, is there a particular art form you enjoy?

6) What is the craziest thing you’ve ever done?

7) What color are your eyes? (Just curious.)

8) What are you most afraid of?

9) What is something you inherited from your family that has greatly effected how you see the world? (Can be anything including a story, family history, item, language etc.)

10) If you could talk to one person right now, who would it be and why?

11) Dog, cat, or both?

Thanks again to An Inkling for her nomination!

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Ok, Bill Maher and Ben Affleck… Sure, I’ll bite. (Not really)

It’s not news that Bill Maher hates Islam and Muslims with a passion. And while it was nice of Ben Affleck, Michael Steele, and Nicholas Kristoff to fulfill their moral obligation to not let assholes misinform the public, it really was for naught.

As a Muslim woman, I’m not disturbed in the least by Maher’s blatant Islamophobia that he likes to mask as “legitimate criticism.”

What I am disturbed by is the coverage of this moron, his views, the omission of important narratives, and the twisting of “facts.”

The problem with American/Western coverage of Islam (or of really any “non-mainstream” point of view, say feminists, or the different experiences of people of color) is that nuance rarely surfaces.

Let’s just take one example: the hijab. (Oh, the horror!)

Just looking at the youtube comments for Lady Gaga’s “Aura” will show you that there is nuance in the debate coming from Muslims. Some Muslim women will say, “the hijab is mandatory.” Some will say, “it is preferred.” Some will say, “the Qur’an only says to cover up your breasts, not your hair.” Some will say, “the hijab is more cultural than religious.” Some will say, “the hijab is only about religion.” Some will say, “Lady Gaga is tarnishing the sanctity of the hijab.” Some will say, “what you have sex with your husband with your hijab on? Come on now.” Some will say, “the hijab is a vehicle of oppression based on sex.” Some will say, “the hijab is empowering by letting a woman choose her own image instead of being objectified by the male gaze.” Some will say, “you’re only covering up because of the male gaze.”

I could go on. But, as you can see, for every point, there is a counterpoint. Let’s just say the debate around the hijab is akin to the western debate around sex workers. Should they, shouldn’t they? Empowering or oppressing? Etc.

Now these different nuanced arguments don’t usually make it to western media outlets. Instead, the news is always focused on where hijabs are banned (France), new fashion trends in hijabs (“see they are modern!”), and using the changing fashion trends (i.e. less women wearing hijabs) as markers for success in Iraq.

And pundits, like Maher, only like to throw out the word when listing off “oppressions” of Islam. Credence is given, in these circles, to stories like that of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. No one is going to put one of my hijab wearing friends on the news, because all she is going to say is, “yeah, I chose to wear a hijab, it’s like whatever no big deal.”

They won’t share the story of another friend who actively advocated for more tolerance of the hijab. She wore it, and did not like being discriminated for that.

They’re not going to air my story: when I was 12, my dad asked me if I wanted to wear one. I said I’ll think about it. He bought me a beautiful hijab to try. Two weeks later I decided against it. And now I use that hijab as a pretty shawl.

They might list another friend’s story: she was forced to wear the hijab and would take it off when we went out or her parents weren’t around. But aside from that, she is still on good terms with her family and doing what she wants.

There’s no big drama, and if it doesn’t generate clicks then there’s no place for it in the discussion.

I’m not saying that Hirsi Ali’s story has no place in western media, I’m just saying we can’t hold one experience up at the expense of all others. It is akin to the misleading coverage on conservative media about climate change: just because you won’t show the other side, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

However, just because there are happy hijab stories doesn’t excuse the abuse women suffer at the hands of patriarchy, and how people in power use the hijab as a tool of oppression. It is akin to conservative coverage of street harassment: just because not all women are bothered by it, doesn’t make it any less wrong to subject all womankind to it.

See, this nuanced back and forth could go all day. I mean we haven’t even touched the possibility of transgender Muslims wanting to wear the hijab!

So if one aspect of Islam receives little to no nuanced coverage, how can we trust that these same pundits will give an accurate and balanced coverage of Islam?

Sorry, if you’re getting your views on Islam from Maher and his ilk, you’re just being intellectually lazy. No, I’m not sorry for saying that.

Talk to a number of Muslims, go to events held by local Muslim communities or school groups, engage with people who understand the religion in depth. Then after you’re done doing that, remember all the different views you’ve heard and consider that there are at least 1000 different views you haven’t heard yet. The possibilities are endless!

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