Ignoring the Masters

Today’s topic is about the books and authors that have inspired me to write. But the authors I most admire never inspire me to write. Mostly they inspire me to keep turning the pages of their wondrous, luminous books. And then, when I dive back into my own work, I’m paralyzed by waves of shame and insecurity as I know I’ll never produce anything so perfect.

Writing is hard! There’s so much going on at every level from the word-smithery of the smallest sentence to the big themes one is trying to convey. My own stumbling attempts make me admire my heroes’ mastery even more. 

The only thing that keeps me going, despite the all-too-painful awareness of my literary limitations, is that there are simply too few stories that reflect the countries, cultures, and lives I’ve been a part of. I’m not the best person to tell these tales. I’m just, for now anyway, one of the only ones who can.

This feels all the more urgent at times, like the past couple of weeks, when Iran is in the news again; and the drumbeat for continued sanctions, isolation, and even war are getting louder even as the new administration represents hopes for a different direction. The lack of diplomatic relations between Iran and the U.S. and the resultant scarcity of opportunities for travel and interaction make it so easy to demonize an entire people. 

In this environment, fiction is one of the only ways to travel across time and space and get to know and even root for people one might never otherwise get to meet. When readers become invested in the fates of characters they care about, it becomes harder to reconcile policies that inflict pain on a civilian population in the name of regime change.

So I write because I feel a responsibility to introduce folks that should get to know one another. And I write because I get a kick out of putting words and sentences together and seeing what my characters are going to do. And as I write, I try to ignore all thoughts of the masters until I’m done with my daily word count and ready to be transported into the beautiful worlds they create.

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Ehsaneh Sadr is an Iranian-American novelist and activist with a PhD in International Relations. She has worked, in various capacities, on campaigns related to Palestinian human rights, Iranian sanctions, access to credit for rural villagers, and safe spaces for children in crisis. She currently works with the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition to create the cultural and infrastructure changes needed to support a shift away from carbon-based modes of transportation. Ehsaneh currently lives in Northern California with her husband and two children but also considers Washington DC, Salt Lake City, and Tehran to be home.