The Iqra Writes Update # 1

Welcome to the Iqra Writes update where you can catch me in my natural habitat, that is, talking about writing and everything else that I’ve been up to. It’s finally fall season and that makes another season I’ve been working on The Eid Engagement, and Other Weddings. The thing about this story is that it grows with every turn in the plot. I recently plotted the latest turn so now the story is all set to go down that path and show us what happens to the characters as they struggle with the pre-marital phase and everything involved in it. It took awhile for me to find the critical element that would tie the story together in the middle. I had started the story a long time ago with the intent that it would show conflict between the main character and her two friends. When the story changed to reflect points of disagreement between the main character and her mother, I had to look for the connecting element that would carry the story forward beyond its beginning stages. Thankfully, I found it. What is this element, you ask? I found a question that would take the rest of the book to find an answer. Questions are a good way to connect the plot to the theme of the story. When I want to explore the chosen theme of the story, coming up with some questions to answer is a good way to do that.

Hackschool Project Audiobook

In other news, I have a surprise for readers of Hackschool Project, my first novel. I am working on the audiobook version of the novel. It is a slow start as I learn the ins and outs of the process and develop my rhythm. I hope to record the entirety of the novel in due time and bring the audiobook out as soon as possible.

Book recommendation

It’s time for a book recommendation. The book is The Joy Diet by Martha Beck. I read this as part of the Book Hero book club by DiscoverU. It is a practical book full of easily applicable wisdom for how to live your life. It is simple to understand and well written. I highly recommend it. The diet recommended in this book is a diet of action steps to take to improve your own quality of life and achieve joy. It does not relate to any actual food consumption tips.

What I am playing

I can’t give an update about what I’m up to without talking about what games I’m playing. I got back into playing Animal Crossing New Horizons recently. It’s a cute game about living on an island and building and decorating it as you please. A new update is coming out for the game which includes new features like a coffee shop and an island resort that you can decorate for visitors. I’m so excited to try out these new features and have fun with this game all over again. I also started playing New Pokemon Snap. It’s another cute game but this time it’s about taking pictures of Pokemon in the wild to use for Pokemon research. I’m glad I got it, even though it’s pretty simple but it’s nice to play a game that doesn’t have a lot of demands for once. You just see a Pokemon and wait for it to make a fun pose that you can take a picture of. It doesn’t get any simpler than that.

Recommendation for writers

 If you’re looking for writing advice, I want to point you in the direction of Lauren Sapala. She is a writer who blogs and teaches courses about how intuitive personalities can use their imaginative personality traits to write better. I want to point you in the direction of her blog where you can find her blog posts containing advice to writers on any topic about writing that you can think of. It’s worth it to read her blog and if you want to go further you can get her book The INFJ Writer or take her Intuitive Writing course. INFJ is a personality type according to Myers Briggs personality types and in her book Lauren talks about the common challenges and solutions for writers who have this personality type. If you don’t know what your personality type is, you can find out by taking the quiz at and if you’re an INFP or INFJ who likes to write, I highly recommend getting her book.

I will close out this update with the reminder that you can find my first novel, Hackschool Project at and whenever I am done with The Eid Engagement, and Other Weddings you will find it there too. This is Iqra, signing out.

Listen to this episode as a podcast on:

Apple podcasts:


Shifting Gears from Hackschool Project to The Eid Engagement, and Other Weddings

When I finished writing Hackschool Project, I knew the story of the three Moin siblings remained yet to be told. I could see clearly them continuing along the lines where I had left them. With Leena in college, Inaya just having finished her O Levels and Jasir starting Matric, I see many tales of their educational years yet before us. I decided, however, to put the Hackschool Project sequel on hold to make way for a new story to come through. An older story with more mature characters and a different theme from Hackschool Project, exploring the world of young people once they are past their educational years. I decided to explore the topic of choosing someone to marry through the eyes of three friends, two who are already engaged when the story starts, and the main character, Hina, whose process of getting married is the focus of the story. Hina’s experiences of getting engaged and everything that comes with an engagement unfold in a backdrop of commentary from her friends, who have opinions about every step of the process and do not hesitate to share them.

The Eid Engagement, and Other Weddings flows differently from Hackschool Project in terms of how story points connect to each other. The story builds over time as events progress and one thing leads to another. Wedding-level excitement cannot be present in the beginning chapters of the story, where the engagement is still in the planning stages. In this way, The Eid Engagement, and Other Weddings builds from stage to stage: the pre-engagement stage, the engagement ceremony stage, the immediate post-engagement stage, and so on. At every stage, we see the friends’ commentary of it. The friends’ commentary is a recurring occurrence and its regularity in the story is the bar by which each stage is measured. Is it acceptable? Is it fashionable? Is it current? Hina’s friends run her ongoing engagement experiences past their personal standards. Their most strict standard is comparing Hina’s experiences to their own engagements. Hina’s engagement might fail one friend’s standards of being fashionable, or the other friend’s standards of being authentic, but in the end what comes to light is Hina’s development of her own standard. As Hina determines what she wants, she runs her engagement past her friends’ standards and finds it severely lacking. This, combined with her own wishes to get more out of the situation, ultimately leads her to prioritize what is important to herself first. Will she remain bound to her friends’ standards? Will she find what she is looking for in her engagement? Will she fall in love with her fiance? We will find this out together, as I am still writing The Eid Engagement, and Other Weddings at the time of writing this post. If you’re interested in my published work, you may get Hackschool Project, my story about students using the power of family, fun and friendship to survive school life, here at the Mera Qissa bookstore.

My Firstborn Novel, Hackschool Project

Write what you know. It is the saying that guides all those who explore the world of writing fiction in novel form. For me, this was an easy choice. I wanted to write about student life before I got too far ahead in life to remember it as clearly and dearly as I do now. The part most dear to me about student life were the little things we did for each other as friends and family members to help us get through this time of our lives, which seemed to stretch on and on. Then I wanted to write about these moments as well as those features of student life in Pakistan that students challenge and that students celebrate. A challenge moment might be exams, and a celebratory moment might be end of exams, tearing up the exam schedule that was done and in the past. I drew on my experiences and observations of student life to write up ice cream parties as well as the doom and gloom that accompanies bad results.

The result was my novel, Hackschool Project. I am proud of it and the subject matter I chose to write about. When it comes to young life and student life, anything you write about is someone’s story. I wrote this story for 3 years in Us Magazine, The News International. Then I compiled it into novel form. In a way it is a story that has stayed with me and been my companion for years, the characters often thought of in between everything I was doing in my own life at the time.

Here it is. My beauty of an ink baby. I say it’s a wonder it even came to be, and for every novel it is so. It was published on the 21st of January, 2021.

You can get it here:

Dark Room

“How do you play this game again?”

“You type.”

“There’s a keyboard and a screen. I get it. But what do I type?”


“This would be so much simpler with a game controller, even a gaming mouse.”

“That kind of defeats the whole set-up. ‘Interactive fiction’—a story you engage with.”

“It sounds cool but when it comes down to looking at that blinking cursor and the two lines of introductory text, it’s…discouraging.”

“Since when were you someone to be discouraged by words?”

“I have no idea what words have been programmed into this game.”

“That’s the whole point. Play. Discover. Win!”

“Really? There’s such a thing as winning in this game? I thought we just had to complete it.”

“Enough talking. More typing.”



“Alright, alright…”

A finger raised above the keyboard. Hovering above one letter, then the other. Finally descending upon one key.


You are in a dark room. The words appear underneath the introductory text.

“Now what?”

“Try another key.”

This time the finger selects the key instantly.


Your head hits the ceiling.



Your head hits the ceiling.

“Is that all?”


Do you want to knock yourself out?

“Yes! Go unconscious, finish this game.”

“It can’t hear you.”

“It should be able to. Voice recognition. I should be able to talk and walk my way through this game.”

“Yeah, then it wouldn’t be a ‘text’-based game, then, would it?”


“Enough sarcasm. More typing.”


[up arrow]

The ceiling is hard.

“I know that, smartypants game.”

[down arrow]

Watch where you’re going!

[left arrow] [right arrow] [up arrow]

“What are you pressing the arrow keys for?”

“I’m moving my player!”

“You have no idea what to do!”

“Well then, give me a hint!”

“You need to see.”

“Very funny.”

“No, you need to light up the room so it’s no longer dark. The game won’t respond otherwise.”

“And how am I going to do that?”

“That’s the whole point!”

“That’s it.” Chair pushed backwards, away from the computer table. “I could write a better game then this.”

“OK, then. Go ahead. Write the game and I’ll play it!”



“So, when do I get to play your game?”

“It’s finished.”

“Let me play it, then.”

“Here you go.”


No response.

“Going straight for the enter key. Nice move.”

“Be quiet. Let me see.”


No response.

[arrow keys]

Which way do you want to go?

“That’s it?”

“That’s how I code! Do you want to play or not?”

“OK. I want to go straight.”

“Er—perhaps you are mistaking me for voice recognition software?”

“Oh, let me play.”

[up arrow]

You can’t go up.

[down arrow]

You have nothing to dig with.

[right arrow]

You take a step to the right.

[right arrow]

You are out of moves.

[right arrow]

You can’t move.

“What are you up to with this game? You should have told me there were a limited number of moves.”

“And you should have told me some of the basics of the first game.”

“OK. I was being smart with you. You’re so good at games, I wanted to frustrate you. But only because you beat me every time.”

“It’s not always about winning.”

“Yeah, sometimes it’s about making a point.”

“Point taken.”



A pause.

“Now let’s go code that assignment for class. We’re on the same team, after all.”


This was originally published in Us Magazine for the youth, The News International, on June 1, 2018:

Book Tales: Living the American book lover’s dream

I finally returned to reading this year. As someone who is known as a reader, it is strange for me to say this, but there was a long stretch of time when I didn’t pick up a book. Before that, I tried a few books, but it has been a while since books were a proper part of my daily routine. Now, thanks to Austin Public Library, I have access to more titles than I can possibly read.

It took me some switching around of ebooks, swapping them back and forth in the online library catalog before I finally settled on books that interested me enough to finish reading them. Once I had stopped returning my library ebooks unfinished, I progressed to checking out physical copies of the books I wanted to read. That was when the real fun began. I started reading books regularly before going to sleep. It was the best time of day for me to pull out a library hardcover and get lost in the pages. I reserved the contemporary books for bedtime reading and the fantasy books for daytime reading, mainly because I didn’t want fantasy creatures chasing me around in my dreams.

I used to suffer from emotional hangups where I judged myself for reading girly books and fantasy, but then I got over it. I was no longer an impressionable teen, after all. I wasn’t even a young adult anymore, as my brother pointed out on my birthday. I was a proper adult, and that meant I was going to read young adult books without guilt. (Do you see the irony?) Back in my teens and early twenties, I used to filter books in the quest to find ones that were squeaky clean. Now I know from experience to avoid books in which the author’s name is printed larger than the title of the book itself. As for the rest of it, I read through the lovey-dovey scenes and get on with the story without pausing to judge myself. It’s the violent and gory scenes that I try to filter out beforehand now.

Visiting the library is one of the highlights of the week. I got two book totes to carry the books back and forth. (They aren’t new. I just unearthed an old one I had from before and convinced my father to give me a sturdier one which was in his possession.)  I like putting books on hold beforehand and just sweeping in to collect them. Sometimes I wander through the young adult section to see if anything catches my eye and add it to the pile before checking out.

As for my TBR, don’t even ask. The list of books I want to read keeps growing and I keep falling behind. There are series that have been on my radar over the years, standalone books and series I hear about on Booktube, and random books that grab my attention while browsing the shelves.

I still buy books from Amazon. They are mostly non-fiction titles that I want to keep and refer to over the years. The bulk of my fiction reading comes from the library. As a book lover, I am in book heaven. There are a few books I want to read that the library doesn’t have, but there are so many that they do have that I am well occupied for now.

2017 was slow to start, reading-wise, but I have a good foundation for 2018 to be a great reading year. Most of my TBR will spill over to 2018 and once I’m done reading those books, the list will have expanded. That way, I hope to be happily engaged in book reading throughout the year.

When I look back at my reading goals (even as I previously described them on this blog), I think I held myself back by limiting myself to very serious non-fiction. Allowing myself to enjoy fiction is one of the best decisions I ever made. It’s like having a part of my childhood back. The wonder of reading and the thrill of discovering a story, but without homework and school projects lurking in the background. There was a phase when I wanted to revisit my childhood favorites, but now I want to explore young adult and contemporary fiction. I even read a book from the adult age category without knowing it. I only discovered afterward that it wasn’t YA, though I had a sneaking suspicion while reading because the main characters went into their thirties by the time the story wound up. It’s not that I don’t read adult books in general. It’s just that I used to find them a bit dull. I suppose a few years makes a lot of difference in perspective as a reader. This side of twenty holds a lot less patience about stories dealing with teen angst and a lot more openness towards main characters who have to pay rent.

As for which book tricked me into thinking it was YA, that’s a story for another time. Right now, I have to get back to reading the book on my bedside table.


Book Tales: A Pakistani book lover’s experience with libraries

Back in Pakistan, my experience with libraries was limited to my school library, then my college library. I had a lot of fun with my school library. I borrowed new books from the library every week. In this way, I got my hands on series like Sabrina the Teenage Witch and The Baby-Sitters Club. I read these series primarily from my school library, as the books my parents got me at that stage were mostly Enid Blyton books and classics. I also had the experience of picking up To Kill a Mockingbird many times from the shelf, reading and stumbling through the opening paragraphs, and putting it back on the shelf, until the day came when I pushed past the beginning and got into the main flow of the story, which was much more readable. I might not have given the book these many chances if I had not walked past it so many times at school.

I discovered some children’s authors through the school library that I didn’t encounter during my trips to the bookstore. Tanith Lee’s “The Castle of Dark” drew me in with its immersive storytelling, Jacqueline Wilson’s “The Lottie Project” and “Double Act” took me on fun-filled journeys, and Norton Juster’s “The Phantom Tollbooth” enchanted me by reminding me of Alice in Wonderland. There were books I still remember fondly, quick reads I’ve forgotten and long reads that were forgettable, books I recommended to all my friends to read, and books I told them to ignore in favor of better reads. I still remember picking up “How to write really badly” by Anne Fine, loving it and popularizing it among my friends. One of them went on to mention the book in her autograph to me at the end of school. In short, the school library was a world of wonder for me.

Not so the college library. While the Pakistani system of having “intermediate” education places you beyond school but before undergraduate studies, choosing the pre-medical major also places you firmly in the science bracket. This meant that I couldn’t borrow art books from the library, something that came as an unpleasant discovery when I took an art book to the library desk. While I realize now that this was just the librarian making a poor excuse to protect her expensive art book from being checked out from the library (what good it would be for it to spend its life collecting dust on the shelf, nobody knows), at the time I didn’t challenge it. I cried angry tears and moved on. Needless to say, I didn’t have anywhere near a fulfilling experience with that library as I did with my school one.

My undergraduate college library held textbooks and only textbooks. No novels, leisure reading or anything of the sort. I only visited it to get access to reference books, most of which could only be read in the library itself. My library-less years extended from college life to a few years beyond it. When I moved to America, land of the public libraries, my reading life was on the brink of a great change. Little did I know this, until one day someone told me a captivating nugget of information that transformed my reading life: you could borrow ebooks through an app by using your library card. The full story is chronicled in the next Book Tales. Until then, happy reading, and wherever you are, I hope you have access to a library of books, whether public or your own.

Revisiting childhood: surfing high on a wave of nostalgia

I am going through a nostalgic phase nowadays. That means that I am digging up books I used to read as a child, spending time reconnecting to those childhood experiences that seem almost magical when viewed across the expanse of the intervening years. The good thing is that these old things are as enjoyable as they were back when I was a child, if not more. The bad part is that it puts me even further from getting into contemporary stuff, but there’s no rush to do that, so I can take my time on the nostalgia train and get to contemporary station eventually.

I read a lot of children’s classics back in the day, so revisiting my childhood reads means rereading The Secret Garden, Heidi, Anne of Green Gables, A Little Princess and The Jungle Book. Most of these I got as ebooks, with the exception of The Jungle Book, which I got as a hardcover at the beginning of my nostalgic journey. With my recent discovery of classics being available as free audiobooks, I went and downloaded a bunch of them and started listening to A Little Princess. I have reached the most heartbreaking part of the book, which is somehow even more heartbreaking in audio form, with the reader voicing the characters’ emotions with a different voice for each one. Having these books in audio form means that I experience them differently enough for them to feel new but the story is still familiar, so it still counts as a nostalgic trip.

Another story that thrilled me as a child was The Lord of the Rings. I have reread the Harry Potter series more frequently than The Lord of the Rings, which is why I can safely put off rereading Harry Potter and focus on getting my hands on a copy of The Lord of the Rings. I have still to decide whether to get a hard copy, an ebook or an audiobook. I am so used to reading the tiny, tiny text of my old and worn paperback copy of The Lord of the Rings that any other format is going to change the experience considerably.

I am not going to go so far as to dive into the Enid Blyton books again. For one thing, there are so many that it would take me a lot of time to revisit them all. Yes, I did read a lot of her books as a child. Even typing this tempts me to see how I can get my hands on the Twins at St Clare’s series again. It would also prompt my mother to hypothetically throw me out of the house for going back to Enid Blyton at this age. I could probably get away with listening to them in audiobook form. You can tell I am totally going to go in that direction. As long as I’m going down memory lane, why not go all the way? Let me just stop short of digging up Dr. Seuss books. I actually reread them before giving them to my little cousins to read, so in a way, I have already revisited them as well as my “Peter and Jane” picture books.

As an avid reader, I have a rich history of books I have read. As a rereader, potentially all those books are up for revisiting. I will come around to reading contemporary books and recent releases, but for now, let me try to catch the wonder of a child reader’s joy in the well-loved pages of a familiar story. Once I am done with that, I can start making memories for my future self to return to at a later date. That’s just how nostalgia works, right?



Preparing to write and actually writing: a comparison

The single most useful piece of writing advice I have gathered from reading books, blog posts and articles on the subject is: use bum glue. To be specific, that means glue yourself to your seat and stay there. You can fiddle about with fancy word processing software, gimmicky grammar tools, and writing websites, but in the end, it’s just you and your willpower.

I don’t mean to say that you can force words out of your brain from sheer force of will. What I mean is that once you sit down and commit to sitting there for a specified period of time, you will eventually put fingers to keyboard (or pen to paper) and get work done. Maybe you need a cup of your caffeinated beverage of choice to activate your mind. Maybe you need an arrangement of cushions and footstools to get comfortable enough for the words to flow. Once your writing environment is in place, all that is left is to stop messing with it and just write.

I spent a long time in this space where I would just read about writing and not actually write. Sure, I picked up on the finer points of putting together a manuscript, but the writing process itself was quite neglected. The fact of the matter is that you learn by doing. You can choose to spend all your life making one piece of art or spend your time making different things and improving along the way.

Most things worth knowing are simple. It is when our natural resistance to making effort comes into play that things get complicated. You can choose either to “keep it simple, stupid” or make life unnecessarily tangled for yourself. It’s your choice.

Finding my way back home

“Home” for me is writing. I have never suffered as much as I do when, for whatever reason, I give it up for a period of time. Whenever I turn back to it, it welcomes me back with open arms. I lose myself in it. It is my personal process of healing. If I don’t write, my unspent creative energy builds up into a big block of worry, and that is unhealthy.

In my autograph diary in which I got autographs from my teachers and schoolmates back in high school, one of my teachers told me to keep a hold onto writing, as she herself regretted letting go of it. Whenever I experience the peaceful bubble I can cocoon myself into when I write after a break from it, I recall this piece of advice from her and doubly appreciate it. I would be a fool to give up writing permanently. It is just hard-wired into my brain.

My brother is my personal cheerleader as far as writing goes. He is responsible for getting me to set up a “writing tracker”, which is basically a notebook in which I chart my writing progress. As usual, I either have several works in progress at one time, or none at all. I suppose it’s “all or nothing” for me.

My latest return to writing has been a happy one. I finally started writing my book, for real this time. I started a serial story for one of the magazines I write for. Both projects are enough to keep me on my toes. I aim to see both projects through to completion. That would be a serious achievement for me as a writer.

So, here goes nothing. I’m all set to continue my writing journey. I’ll keep you posted as to how it goes!


Love, a four-letter word?

It’s that time of the year again, when the noblest of actions is reduced to a love-themed merchandising day. I am talking, of course, about love. Love is something that we as a nation must understand completely before we can accomplish anything worthwhile. If we keep misunderstanding love, we keep wasting our precious time and energy in chasing a lie.

Defining love

Love is a verb. This means that love is an act between two people. Love, the feeling, is a product of love, the verb, plain and simple. If you do actions of love for someone, it will result in creating a space for that person in your heart, and a space for you in that person’s heart.

What, then, is an action of love? Let’s stick to the basics. The most basic action of love is the way in which you look at a person, the way you use your eyes in his or her presence. If you look at the wording of our traditional poems and songs, you will find that they are filled with description of the language of the eyes. The poet talks about sitting in wait so that he may gaze upon the beloved, the singer sings about that one glance he is dying for, and we everyday people are stuck scratching our heads and wondering whether Cupid ran out of arrows when it was our turn. The reality, dear readers, is simple: whether or not you believe in your life partner being determined by fate, finding that life partner is hard work, arranging to be married to them is harder work, and keeping a marriage alive and working is the hardest job of all. Love is work, and work is effort. The concept of love being something that happens all by itself due to the beauty of a random person’s body and mind catching your attention, is a nice little story to tell by the fireside, but it is not a law of life to believe in.

The effects of “crush culture”

When young people decide to spend their free time admiring celebrities, the girl next door and the cousin from abroad, a “crush culture” is established that results in heartbreak. By “crush culture” I mean the time and energy spent in watching the crush, thinking about the crush and obsessively discussing the crush with friends. Schoolgirls are notorious for this–they do not even spare the teachers who they see all year round or the invigilators who they see during their annual exams. Any and every pretty person they see is a target for their whims.

What is frustrating about this is that this heartbreak is completely avoidable. It is simply a matter of how much you value your own heart and your own ability to love. Are you going to throw away your heart after every pretty face on the TV screen, or that cute boy or girl in the tuition centre? Yes, it is completely normal to be attracted to what appears beautiful to you. What I am asking you to consider is: is it worthwhile to fill your mind and heart with every person who attracts your attention? What do you get in the end, from all the hours you spend fascinated by that personality? The answer is that you get nothing at all. You, your mind, your heart and your time are worth more than that.

The myth of “the one”

This problem begins when we take our different forms of entertainment too seriously. The media sells the lie that there is only one perfect match available for you in the world, and that you have to be very high up in the social rat race in order to find that one match, and you will never have “chemistry” with anyone else. The reality is that there is a range of compatibility we have with many people, and out of them we can choose the one who appears to suit us the best. For a man, that would probably be the best-looking woman out of all the women of similar personality that he can approach for marriage. For a woman, that would probably be the most “well-settled” man out of all the men she finds to be compatible with her own self. The thing is, in real life, suitable matches do not line up for selection in this manner. Life is not a reality TV show. Really finding and choosing someone for marriage involves considerable patience, prayer, planning and preparation, and how can we grow all these qualities and techniques in ourselves when we are young, if we are impressed by fictional stories?

Love conquers all

In our experience of life, we come across many different people. There are people we like, people we dislike, and people who don’t matter to us. Out of all the people we like, we spend more time with a select few. The others are just there to pass the time with when our close friends aren’t around. The way we approach people in general has a big effect on our effectiveness as an individual member of society. The human heart has an incredible capacity to love, if only we understand this. If you consider love simply as a positive force that you use to brighten up your little corner of the world, starting with loving your own self, then the time passes more pleasantly. Don’t get me wrong: approaching every aspect of life with love is not easy, and discussing how to do it is beyond the scope of a single article, but it is possible. I will go beyond even the word “possible” and say that love is the purpose of existence–just don’t get stuck on the romantic version.

The importance of self-love

By self-love I mean regarding your own self in a positive way. A lot of us are caught up in self hate simply because of negative body image, peer pressure, family problems or some other reason. Call it self-esteem, call it self-care, whatever you call it, stop right where you are and take a deep breath. We are all human and certainly, desiring marriage to a suitable life partner is perfectly acceptable. It just doesn’t make any sense to waste our mental, emotional and spiritual energy on “time-pass” connections and end up neglecting our own poor hearts that need our urgent attention. Like they say, “bloom where you are planted”–easy to say but hard to do, certainly, which is why actually doing it takes a lifetime.

This article originally appeared in Us Magazine for the youth, The News International: