Why writing is still relevant in today’s world?
The Anxious Writer is an emerging social media phenomenon based out of Egypt that aims to inspire others through daily narratives of honesty and vulnerability. Our founder, Sartaj Anand, sat down with Mariam Mazhar, the human behind Anxious Writer, to learn more about her story and how writing helps her make sense of the world we inhabit today.
Here is an excerpt of their conversation —
Who are you?
I am a 21-year-old Egyptian, studying Multimedia Journalism at the American University in Cairo (AUC) with a minor in Business Administration, Creative Writing, and Arabic and Islamic Civilisation.
What do you do?
I am currently a full time student, a copywriter at an Egyptian startup called The Doodle Factory, and a senior Arabic editor at AUC’s newspaper The Caravan. I also work as a teaching assistant for an audio production course.
What’s your real story? What makes you, uniquely you?
I believe I have a long way to go to have an actual story. However, what I can say is that I have gone through a few experiences that have shaped me such as my father’s death in 2013 and being diagnosed with anxiety. What makes me, uniquely me is that I feel like I am in a constant struggle with my own self to become better, stronger and happier. I feel like there is always a gap between the person people think I am and the one I see. And I am constantly trying to bridge this gap.
Why did you start the Anxious Writer? Why call it that?
I started the Anxious Writer because someone who greatly influenced me at the time encouraged to do it. They convinced me that I had something I should share with the world. So I started it in the summer of 2016 as an anonymous page but then Instagram announced it to all my Facebook friends and it was no longer anonymous. So I stopped posting anything, until a year later I decided I wanted to open my heart on a platform and provide people with written text that they could identify with and relate to. I called it Anxious Writer because my anxiety is a very big part of my story. It pushes me to do stuff and holds me back. It allowed me to develop this need to express myself through writing and I wanted to reach out to other people who felt like they were not understood.
What do you hope to accomplish with the Anxious Writer?
I hope one day Anxious Writer will be a destination for people to feel like they are understood. I wish people could view her as someone who will always understand them, never judge them and listen no matter what. I hope I can develop it into a platform where people not only read what I have to say but share with one another their own stories, hopes and dreams. I believe in the power of strangers and sometimes when someone you have never met talks to you or encourages you, it can become much powerful than those around you. And I want Anxious Writer to be that stranger for others. This is already beginning to happen as people started messaging me to share their own experiences with anxiety or tell me how much they relate to what I write.
Was writing always your passion?
Writing was always my passion even before I decided to consider it as a career. Ever since I was a little girl I always wrote diaries, letters or even stories. I always expressed myself better in writing. Even when I wanted to express my love for someone or tell them I was mad, writing was always the way to do it.
They say great writing comes from great tragedy. Would you agree? Is it the case with you?
I would agree. People have always complemented my writing. However, I believe every time I go through a hurtful situation it gets a bit better. At least this is how I see it. After my father’s death my writing improved significantly and this is also the case with more minor hardships. I guess because writing is one of the purest and most raw forms of expression, we tend to become better at it when we have more emotions piling up in our chests.
Do you consider yourself an amateur writer? When and how do you become a pro?
I do consider myself an amateur writer and I believe I would never consider my self a pro! Because every time I get better, I read something that intrigues my emotions and I feel like I need to write something like that. There is always one step ahead and I just do not see where I could tell myself I am a pro.
What does it take to become a great writer? How are you working on becoming one yourself?
It depends on the kind of writer you want to be… I believe I am working to get better by learning more about the “rules”. Through my creative writing and journalism courses I get a feel of what both, having a certain set of regulations and being a free spirit feels like. But then again to me, being a good writer is being true to yourself and to those who are going to read what you write. Do not make up emotions, do not exaggerate how you feel and just write from your heart and soul. This is what it takes to be a good writer, how far you are willing to show your true self and soul to your readers.
What is the role and responsibility of a writer today in the digital era?
It again depends on what kind of writer you are referring to. Copywriters and journalists hold great responsibility because they are given more and more freedom every day and with this freedom they get power. And one should work really hard to be up to such responsibility and stand up for what they believe in. For creative writers, they hold responsibility every time they advise people, direct them or even show them something that is not true or create expectations for them that they cannot bear. I am not talking about fiction writers of course, but writers who want to become influential one way or another.
Who are the writers that have inspired you? How have they helped shape you?
There are various great writers out there from those whose novels we study to the people who have Instagram accounts. But for me, Charles Dickens made me fall in love with stories and words, John Green made me believe that books and words could make people cry, and my high school english teacher shaped my belief in writing.
Have you faced writer’s block? How have you overcome it?
I face it every day! It depends on what I am writing, if it is for copywriting I draw mind maps and jot down key words and thoughts. If it is for an article I put down the facts and quotes right in front of me and joggle them. But for Anxious Writer or anything else that is personal and based on emotion, I just write. I look into my heart, see what I feel right now and just write it.
Writers thrive when they have peers. How is your community of peers in Egypt? How are they helping you become better?
I do not have peers, I have teachers. In university it is helpful to get feedback from one another. But online, I consider everyone to be better and more talented than I am and there is always more room to learn from them.