by Alice Sudlow
Every writer has a dream. It’s what compels you to write in the early hours of the morning, after everyone has gone to bed, in the spare minutes you steal away during the day. It’s what motivates you when you’re stuck in the middle of a story, wondering whether the grueling work of writing is truly worth it.
Is writing worth it? Yes.
Are your stories worth telling? Absolutely, yes.
And if you pursue your dreams and dare to write, can your writing change the world?
One Writer’s Dream
Dreams are what motivated Nabeel Kallas to pick up his pen.
Nabeel’s a teenager from Syria. He’s witnessed civil war overtake his country and tear his homeland apart. On the outside, you wouldn’t guess that his circumstances would leave much room for dreaming.
He writes vividly of his life amidst war:
Can you imagine living the life where sleeping to the sounds of gunshots and bangs in the street next to yours is just an everyday kind of incident?
Can you live with the fact that you and your entire nation are thought of being terrorists and therefore banned from entering Europe or America—in other words, any beautiful country?
Would it be enough for you to live the life where everything is way less than it normally should be—from Christmas lights, to even reducing the times you get out of home because getting out increases the odds of your death? So you start to cut down on the gatherings with friends or even that walk along your favorite street in the Christmas season with your favorite holiday songs in your ears.
And even when you decide to take the chance on that troubled day, you realize that there are no Christmas lights whatsoever in that street that always used to shine so bright in such days that you could see it from outer space.
That’s when you decide to stay in your little bubble. In your little room . . . and you even begin to love it. You think of it as your safe haven.
Until your neighbor gets shot by a stray bullet while sleeping peacefully in his bed. That’s when everything changes for you.
The unreliable security—and unbreachable limitations—of his safe room, his home, weren’t enough for Nabeel.
He had to dream—and to write.
The Power of Story
Nabeel had always loved to write. But as the war intensified and the dangers around him heightened, writing became an escape, a space where he could nurture dreams that seemed impossible to achieve.
With this in mind, he began to write his first novel, When the Jasmine Returns.
It was about fantasizing about the life I wanted to have. Studying in Med school, having a couple of close friends to share my daily life with, meeting my perfect girl, nurturing my dreams, having this cozy, lovable life. . . .
Yet as he wrote, his dreams shifted. What if he could not only write a book, but publish it? What if he could share his story with the world?
What if he could help others peek into his war-torn home, to experience a narrative we’ve never heard about life in Syria?
What if his book didn’t just allow him to escape, but invited others to return with him?
What if his writing changed the world?
Nabeel realized When the Jasmine Returns wasn’t just for him anymore. He wanted to publish it, to share with the world a story that had never been told.
And his new dream dramatically changed what he wrote.
New responsibilities surfaced.
I realized I needed it to be more realistic, by not running away from the fact that this dreamy guy is living in a war-torn country.
I knew I had to insert this huge dimension into the story, for its own sake.
Writing at first was so amusing and heartwarming. Because I was writing about the life I was running to. Then I decided to write about the life I’m running from.
The collision of these two lives is what the novel is all about.
What Does it Mean to Pursue a Dream?
Nabeel’s book was born of a dream. It’s also about dreams: the dreams all of us hold, and the tension we face in making them a reality.
This actually is the life every one of us lives daily:
Dreams vs. Reality.
To what degree can we decrease the gap between these two?
How long can we ignore our own reality? How long will it leave us alone before reminding us of itself again?
What is life like in the eyes of twenty-something boys and girls in the midst of a war?
Wars kill people. But do they kill dreams, too? Or do dreams insist to even stay in our dead bodies because they just do not have that turn off button?
The characters he writes about are dreamers, too, as you’ll see in this excerpt from When the Jasmine Returns.
I was looking at the sky. The scene was wonderful. The moon was in the middle of a group of charmingly sparkling stars.
Ward looked to where I was I looking. She smiled. After a few seconds she told me in a loving voice, “I don’t think I can live away from this sky of my homeland!”
I didn’t know what to say to her. Traveling in those days seemed permanent, and that was the big hurdle in my way to America or Europe. But that way was the perfect way to chase my big dreams. So I got myself together and kept the tears in my eyes from shedding, and started telling her things with which I wanted to convince myself more than I wanted to convince her. “We will only be gone for a few years and then we will come back here, and live under this sky and save the lives of people of our country.”
I paused for a couple of seconds and said in a confident strong voice, “We WILL return!”
“I don’t think so,” her pessimistic voice said.
The side of the road was still filled with dead jasmines. Ward pointed at them and asked me, “If jasmines refuse to live here, how could the dreamy, ambitious people?”
I tried to keep myself from crumbling. “Someday, everything will return as beautiful as it was, and maybe more.”
She stopped talking for a minute. She thought about what I told her, then asked me as if she forgot all that she was saying, “Will we really come back here?”
I smiled. “Yes, I promise.”
“When the jasmine returns.”
Writing Change: Every Writer’s Dream
Nabeel’s dream is really every writer’s dream. We all want to write stories that will touch readers, stories that will change lives, stories that will make a difference in the world.
Of course, writing to change the world isn’t easy to do. It’s hard to know what story is worth telling, what story will truly reach people.
Then, telling the kinds of stories that can change lives is scary, risky work. It means searching deep within yourself for your greatest hopes and darkest fears, laying your heart and soul on the pages of your book.
That process can be painful—in fact, Nabeel didn’t want to do it when he first started writing. But as Robert Frost said, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”
If you want to reach your readers, you have to share the hardest parts of your story.
And once the book is done, it can be terrifying to publish it: to give your story to strangers to read and experience themselves.
But as Nabeel is finding, your personal story and experiences are incredibly powerful.
When you share your story with radical courage and vulnerability, your words have a huge impact on readers.
And your dream of changing the world . . . well, maybe it’s not that far away after all.
Help Nabeel Realize His Dream
Today, Nabeel is taking the final step towards his dream: publishing his book.
He’s just launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the first printing of When the Jasmine Returns and get it into the hands of readers.
But this is more than just a campaign. It’s an invitation to join him in this journey, to celebrate with him and help him realize his dream.
Here’s what Nabeel has to say about the book:
I’m inviting you to have a deep look inside Syria . . . inside some of the daily struggles we endure on a daily basis. To have a look at what we call a normal day and a normal life. I want to show you how our definitions of things have changed over the past few years.
And I hope I can prove to you that we are only people with ambitions and dreams as wide as the universe. We are against terrorism. We hate seeing it in our country as much as we hate seeing it infect others.
We do not want to destroy. We want to thrive.
We writers know what it is to have a dream. Will you join us in supporting Nabeel as he pursues his?
What dream motivates you to write? How could your writing change the world? Let us know in the comments.
Today, let’s write stories that will change the world.
Think of a way you want to inspire people. Do you want them to have hope in dark times? Do you want them to be courageous when things get tough? Do you want to show them it’s possible to forgive when you’ve been hurt?
Then, take fifteen minutes to write a story that will inspire your readers. It might be a personal story, or it could be fictional. Has there been a time when you were bold and fearless in the face of obstacles? Or maybe you’ll create a character whose heart is broken and is struggling to forgive.
Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable in your writing. Remember, your vulnerability is what will touch your readers.
When you’re done, share your story in the comments, and be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers.