Khaled Hosseini on Writing

Khaled Hosseini

Khaled Hosseini

When asked to write a piece about what gave me the courage to write my first novel, I was slightly bewildered. The truth is I have never needed courage to write. Obstinacy, patience, the willingness to trash two-hundred pages and start over, yes. But courage? Of course writing is always marked by anxieties, apprehensions, and alarming lapses in self-confidence, but I have always regarded these as necessities; they keep my rear glued to the seat and my fingers to the keyboard. I began writing back when I was a boy running around the streets of Kabul. Then, as now, writing would come to me as an irresistible impulse, not a fear to overcome. In fact, I would need courage not to write.

But if writing has always felt to me as natural an act as blinking, submitting a story and exposing myself to the unpredictable reactions of a reader never has. That is where the courage comes in.

I began writing The Kite Runner on a whim, back in March of 2001. A couple years earlier I had written a short story by the same title, which then sat on a shelf in my garage alongside ski boots and a pair of sleeping bags my wife and I used camping in Yosemite back in 1995. Then my wife came upon the dusty short story, read it, and passed it to her father who then called me and told me how much he loved it, how he wished it had been longer. I sat down and re-read the story, which I’d more or less forgotten about. I found my initial instincts about its failures reconfirmed: the limited space suffocated the characters; the short story format did not fit the natural arc of Amir’s story. Reading it now, though, I suddenly saw something new: what had failed as a short story might succeed as a novel.

I began the process of expanding the story into a book that same night. Immediately, I was drawn into Amir’s life, his self-doubts, his moral weaknesses, his overpowering Baba, his friendship with the good-natured, doomed Hassan. I woke every day at 5AM and wrote for three hours, then dressed and went to the clinic where I worked as a doctor, saw patients, did it all over again the next day. It required no courage. In truth, I couldn’t wait to get up in the morning.

Roughly two-thirds of the way through the writing of The Kite Runner, two hijacked planes slammed into the twin towers and the world changed overnight. Suddenly, everywhere I turned, there was talk of Afghanistan, the Taliban, Bin-laden, and the greater war on terror.

I had never really intended to submit The Kite Runner for publication–the decision to write it was really to satisfy my own literary curiosity–and now the potential for interested readers (beyond my immediate family) seemed to me about zero, which frankly relieved me. My wife Roya worked hard to convince me otherwise. As she pointed out, amid all the talk of terror and war, precious little was being said about the Afghans themselves, their customs, their culture, their unimaginable suffering over the course of the previous quarter of a century. “Your book can put a human face on the Afghan people,” she said, “show people another side of our homeland.” It took a while, but eventually I saw it her way. I finished the novel and sent it off to publishers in June of 2002.

Four years after the publication of The Kite Runner, I still get e-mails and letters from readers who tell me that the Afghan tragedy has become personal to them as a result of reading this book. As both a writer and an Afghan, I could not ask for more. And it is my wife that I have to thank. Not for the courage to write this novel, but for the courage to share it with the world.

From Wikipedia:

Khaled Hosseini (Persian: خالد حسینی‎ [ˈxɒled hoˈsejni]; /ˈhɑːlɛd hoʊˈseɪni/; born March 4, 1965), is an Afghan-born American novelist and physician. He is a citizen of the United States where he has lived since he was fifteen years old. His 2003 debut novel, The Kite Runner, was an international bestseller, with the paperback spending 101 weeks on the bestseller list (#1 for 4 of those weeks). In 2007, it was followed by A Thousand Splendid Suns which has spent 21 weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list for paperback fictionand 49 weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list for hardcover fiction (#1 for 15 of those weeks).The two novels have sold more than 38 million copies internationally.


One thought on “Khaled Hosseini on Writing

  1. I’m glad Khaled Hosseini found courage to share “The Kite Runner” with the world. And, it was my pleasure to meet him in Atlanta three years ago when he was introducing his second book, “A Thousand Splendid Suns”.

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