Khaled Hosseini: How I Write

How and why did you start the Khaled Hosseini Foundation?
Our family foundation was inspired by a 2007 trip I made to Afghanistan as a Goodwill Envoy for the UNHCR (the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees). While I was there, I met repatriated refugee families who lived on less than $1 per day, spent winters in tents or holes dug underground, and whose villages routinely lost children to the elements every winter. As a father myself, I was overwhelmed. I decided that, when I returned to the U.S., to make an effort to advocate for these people and do what I could to help improve their conditions.
Who are some great Afghani writers that your readers should know about, but who are not so well known abroad?
Fariba Nawa, author of Opium Nation. Atiq Rahimi, winner of Gaincourt Prize in France, author of The Patience Stone. Tamim Ansary, author of West of Kabul, East of New York: An Afghan American Story.
How does literature in your native language differ from English? Is one easier to write in than the other? Does one express certain things better than the other?
I write exclusively in English now. I could likely feign my way through a short story—a very short story—in Farsi. But generally, I lack a narrative voice in Farsi, and a sense of rhythm and cadence in my head, because it has been decades since I wrote fiction in Farsi. English has become very comfortable for me.
Describe your morning routine.
I get up and work out. Get home in time to get the kids off to school (on my days—my wife and I trade off), eat, read the paper, front page first, check all news on Afghanistan. Flip to sports page, check for any San Francisco 49ers news. Then I write, typically from about 8:30 to 2 p.m., at which time I go to pick up my kids from school.
What is a distinctive habit or affectation of yours?
I can’t watch TV without eating peanuts. Can’t be done.
How do you conceive of a book?
I don’t outline at all, I don’t find it useful, and I don’t like the way it boxes me in. I like the element of surprise and spontaneity, of letting the story find its own way. For this reason, I find that writing a first draft is very difficult and laborious. It is also often quite disappointing. It hardly ever turns out to be what I thought it was, and it usually falls quite short of the ideal I held in my mind when I began writing it. I love to rewrite, however. A first draft is really just a sketch on which I add layer and dimension and shade and nuance and color. Writing for me is largely about rewriting. It is during this process that I discover hidden meanings, connections, and possibilities that I missed the first time around. In rewriting, I hope to see the story getting closer to what my original hopes for it were.
Do you have any unusual rituals in your writing process?
I write while my kids are at school and the house is quiet. I sequester myself in my office with mug of coffee and computer. I can't listen to music when I write, though I have tried. I pace a lot. Keep the shades drawn. I take brief breaks from writing, 2-3 minutes, by strumming badly on a guitar. I try to get 2–3 pages in per day. I write until about 2 p.m. when I go to get my kids, then I switch to Dad mode.
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