A Peek at the Creative Space of Farhana Zia

Joining us today for Creative Spaces is Farhana Zia, the author of Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-Ji. (The illustrator of Hot, Hot Roti, Ken Min, shared his Creative Space earlier this year here.) Hot, Hot Roti, Farhana’s picture book debut, earned a starred review from Kirkus who wrote, “Food, family and storytelling set irresistible hooks in this high-spirited double picture-book debut.”

Farhana is an elementary school teacher in addition to writing children’s books. Her stories blend humor and tradition, memories and contemporary moments. 

Visit this link for an excellent interview with Farhana Zia and here for a booktalk with both Farhana Zia and Ken Min.

Describe your workspace.

I do all my writing in my family room, which is just off my kitchen. I write in a deep leather side chair with the laptop on my lap and my feet up on the ottoman. If I need a pencil to scribble notes along the way, I keep it next to me, for lack of a better place to put it. I seem to always lose it and find it rolled into the sides of the chair. Very frustrating! The room is longer than wider. There is a leather sofa, brown leather reclining chair, TV, Yamaha console keyboard, and pictures of our kids and grandkids. From one set of windows, I can see the dense leaves of an oak tree in my backyard. From the windows of the adjoining room, I see the sky between more leaves. It is cozy where I sit and I can’t really imagine doing my writing anywhere else.

Describe a typical workday.

I am an elementary school teacher first, and my workday is primarily related to teaching fourth graders. I leave for work around 6:30 A.M. My students arrive at 8:20 A.M. And leave near 3 P.M. The time in between these hours is busy, invigorating and goes by in a flash. I return home at 4 P.M and begin my writing at 7. I generally write till 10 P.M. If I have a deadline to meet, I may go until 1 or 2 A.M. I do my writing with an eye on the news or whatever else my husband might be watching on TV.

List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.

May I list four and categorize them as necessary rather than favorites? My laptop is the most invaluable. There would be no writing without it and as a writer I’d be completely lost.

The brown leather chair next to mine has great emotional importance. This is where my husband sits while I am doing my work. He sits in it and he reads while I sit in mine, and write. There is great comfort in this proximity.

The family photographs keep me rooted. I have photographs of my children, grandchildren, mother, and in-laws on the mantle, and on the walls.

The ottoman provides support and comfort for my feet.

Do you have any rituals in your work habits? If so, describe them. What do you listen to while you work?

I’ll combine two questions. . . The first thing I do is turn the TV on. I like to work with the TV going. The sound is never a distraction because I am terribly focused on my work. It more or less serves as white noise and it is soothing, and often necessary. I prefer not to work in quiet. This is just about the only ritual I have, other than the ritual of always beginning my writing after dinner.

What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?

I drink lemon flavored seltzer water when I am thirsty. If I am hungry, I might snack on chips or crackers or might even dip into some ice cream, now and then. I try not to, though, but never succeed.

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

My work keeps me focused. The deeper I am in my work, the more focused I get. If I have a deadline to meet, that keeps me focused. Generally though, to be focused I need to have the ideas flowing. It’s hard to write when there is nothing to write about. I sometimes run into this situation.

Do you write longhand, on a computer, or another way?

I do all my writing on my laptop. If ideas come to me in bed, I jot them down on scraps of paper to use later. I use long hand only when my laptop is not available.

How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?

My writing tends to fan out from a focal point. Once the initial idea is in place, it’s a matter of building, layering, and developing. It usually takes a lot of writing and rewriting until I get to where I want to be. I can safely say that I enjoy the revision part of writing the most.

If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?

I’d give up my workspace to my husband, if I had to, and move my writing over to the sofa, on the other side of the brown leather chair.

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?

At the 2011 Winter SCBWI conference in N.Y, I heard a keynote speaker exhort aspiring writers to read, read, and read. I’d tweak this advice by saying that writers ought to read books that are well written, especially in terms rich language. You never know where you might pick up a nugget that will help you say what you want to say just so.

One Response to “A Peek at the Creative Space of Farhana Zia”

  1. LadybugSF

    I agree about reading books that are well-written… was listening to NPR's correspondent blogger Monkey See, and she advised that we can never read everything… but perhaps that's a good thing. It's not all worth reading! I'll check on Wednesday to find out what is worth reading.