FINDING MY VOICE – Sarah Ayoub
I knew I always wanted to write, but I assumed that I would stick to the one genre – feature writing and journalism. I never had any aspirations to write books, or rather, to write creatively. I assumed because I couldn’t write short stories that I couldn’t write novels, but one day, I just imagined this girl stuck at home on New Year’s Eve because her strict, conservative father wouldn’t allow her out, and I just had to write down her sentiments.
That eventually became the first chapter of my debut novel, Hate is such a Strong Word, ($17.99, Harper Collins), but not until about four years later. Although I knew I had written the opening to a book, I had no idea where it could go. And as far as I was concerned, I didn’t know HOW to write novels. I had not studied creative writing at all, and I realised this even more after I had gotten my book deal and was going through the editing process: there was a lot of telling not showing. I basically wrote like a journalist, so it took a while for me to find my ‘creative writing’ voice.
As a result of this, I found the structural edit stage of my novel a little hard. I had to unlearn things that were habitual, and drag out things my character said to the reader into conversations the reader would see/read her having. I’d always been used to writing it like it was, or writing it after it happened, but this time, I had to write it unfolding.
Finding my creative writing voice when I had written factual, feature pieces for so long was a little difficult, but having such rich detail about my characters in my head really helped. The fact that it was my first novel – and I had no book deal prospects – meant that I could write for myself and that took the pressure off a bit. In all honesty I never thought about what I should be doing – I just shared the characters’ stories in the best way that I could. Thankfully, that meant I could get it all out, and fix it up later.
Reading so much certainly helped. I read a fair bit of YA in my teens – mostly Australian – but I stopped reading it once I reached my late High School years, so I wasn’t sure if I was delivering what my reader would want. But I figured as long as the story was authentic and the characters were realistic and relatable, they would understand. That said, I am glad to be reading YA again – I forgot how amazing it is and it’s been fun engaging with readers as both an author and a reader.
I didn’t really take trends into account. I knew there were books about Australian girls of ethnic backgrounds already in the market, but I wasn’t deterred because my book had a strong point of differentiation in that my main character, Sophie, goes to a monocultural school. It’s difficult being an ethnic girl among white people, but I knew it would be interesting from a reader’s point of view to encounter the sentiments of a girl who doesn’t belong in her own environment, even though she fits in.
I hope my journey shows that you have the potential to make a career out of writing books even with no creative writing experience. Reading is the most important thing you can do, in particular the genre you want to write in, because that way you can see where people get it right, and where they get it wrong. I also recommend investing in a manuscript assessment session before you start shopping your book to agents and publishers. I write extensively on writing, and share tips, tricks and advice for writers, on my blog, which will be relaunching in September. I started it out to chronicle my journey as a freelance writer, but when I started writing my novel, I had to share that journey too. People found that interesting, so I now have a series called ‘First Book Journeys’ where authors of different genres share their very different experiences of publishing. Hope to see you in the comments section when it relaunches – I promise it will be worth your while.