Sarah Ayoub

How did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I got the journalism buzz when I was 10, decided it was my calling when I first saw my name in print at age 11 (I sent a very bad poem into a Lebanese newspaper) and went full-steam ahead with the goal in my last year of uni and have not looked back since. Plus, I am not really good at anything else. I’m bad with numbers, I have terrible coordination and my attention span – even when it comes to topics I love – is ridiculous. And if I ever encounter anything remotely sad (even the likes of people missing their train) I am bummed for the rest of the day. It’s a good thing then that writing fulfills me beyond measure.

How did you get into writing for magazines?

I was interning at The Sunday Telegraph’s Sunday Magazine (now Sunday Style) and after a while, they started letting me write their events section, which was a quarter page section underneath a comedian’s column. Once I got the hang of that, I wrote a 300 word topical piece for them, and felt a little more confident to approach editors with my ideas. At the same time, I was taking a features writing subject as part of my media degree at Sydney University, and one of the assignments that I had was writing a pitch letter. I got a HD for it so used it as a basis for a pitch letter to Girlfriend, who commissioned me for the story. That was the first time I got paid for an article and it became much easier after that. I looked up advice on pitching and tried my hand at Yen, because it was smaller at the time and a great stepping stone. I wrote for Yen and Girlfriend until I graduated, and by the time I returned from a short stint travelling around Western Europe, I was confident enough to pitch elsewhere.

What do you like to write about?

Anything that remotely falls into the lifestyle category, or that involves topical issues. In my early writing years I was desperate to find a niche, but I think I’ve come to terms with the flexibility of writing about a variety of topics. It’s allowed me to write for a multitude of magazines and websites, and has facilitated appearances on the panels of writer’s festivals and at media industry days and journalism workshops. Plus, I’ve been on radio & TV, discussing everything from the representation of Middle-Eastern people in the media (smart stuff) to Gen-Y (topical stuff) to the hype surrounding the Sex & the City movie sequel (trivial stuff). These days, I love writing features on topical issues and people doing exciting things, as well as travel posts for my blog. I never thought I would be into travel, and I wish I was better at taking photos so I can really make something of it.

How did you get the idea for your blog?

I was made redundant from a job in advertising during the GFC. I had debated walking away from it because I wasn’t inspired or challenged, and in all honesty, I can trace back my first ever ‘life slump’ to that time in my life. Getting made redundant allowed me to think more about writing, but it was still very early on in my career so I thought it would be fun to blog about my writing lessons online. As the blog gained traction I tried to do too much with it, and it lost its authenticity and writing angle, and with that, I lost my passion. It took a long time offline to realise that I had to be true to my voice and my passions to make it worthwhile, even if it didn’t deliver what was trendy. So it evolved from just a writing blog, to a bad lifestyle blog, and then I took it offline to re-channel my energy to bring it to what it is now – an amalgamation of my passions for travel, experiences, conversations and writing. I realised somewhere along the line that those were the things that inspired me to keep writing, so in a sense, they actually aided my career and prevented writer’s block. So these days, the blog is a resource for emerging and aspiring writers, as well as a journal of my day-to-day loves and experiences.

I’d like some advice on breaking into the industry – where should I go?

Apart from the my writing tips section, which evolved from my original blog Wordsmith Lane to offer real-life advice to aspiring writers, there are plenty of other bloggers who write about the craft. Jeff Goins and Allison Tait write extensively on writing and building up your writing career (respectively), and Rachel Hills dishes out some answers to writing-related questions. If you want to be an author, you could also check out Stephen King’s On Writing. Some of my author friends swear by it, although I have been half-way through the book for a long time now. Sometimes you’ll find resources on the websites of arts organisations (centres in each state, and places like The Wheeler Centre).

How long did it take you to write your book?

Long! I am not a clinical, focused writer. Some writers I know can just wake up and write. I am the worst procrastinator and on top of that, I need to ‘feel’ the story. If I feel like my characters are not communicating with me, then I won’t be able to write. That said, writing HISASW took about five years one and off. I’d write a chapter or three then abandon the project for six to eight months or something. Towards the end, I think I drove my agent mad. I wrote my second novel in about two to three months, plus editing time (which took way longer).

What does an agent do? Should I get one?

It’s entirely up to you. I don’t like negotiating things or dealing with contracts and paperwork, and my agent is one of the best in the biz in Australia. She represents my interests across all facets of my ‘author’ career – negotiating my contract terms, payments, rights etc. For that, she makes 15% of everything that I make. She is totally worth it.

Who is yours? Can you give me her details?

I am represented by Selwa Anthony, but unfortunately, I am under strict instructions not to give out her details.

Can you read my manuscript?

Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to read manuscripts and give tailored advice on them. You can submit general writing questions to me via social media and I’ll answer them here. If you’re after custom advice, you can do what I did and do a manuscript assessment with a professional at your local writer’s centre.

I have a product/brand that I would like to send you information on. What should I do?

Thanks for your interest! Do get in touch via email with your proposal/press release. I get a high volume of emails and only respond to ones of interest, or to those who have taken the time to check out the blog and see what I actually write about. I only want to publish stuff that is relevant to my readers, or to my own experience. Plus, I am trying not to fill my life with too much ‘stuff’.

I’d like to interview you, or have you as a guest on my show/panel/blog. Do you do that kind of stuff?

For sure! Get in touch via email, twitter or my Facebook page and we’ll tee something up. Thanks for thinking of me.

Where do you get your ideas and what are some of the things that inspire you?

From life! I tend to think that writers have this ingrained curiosity and reflection in them – they find ideas in random places and scenarios because they just contemplate them. There’s a lot of ‘What if’ in their lives. I am constantly inspired by new experiences, escapes to lovely destinations, people chasing their dreams, learning from and improving my health and lifestyle, and buying pretty things that make my everyday that little bit sweeter. I love old-world glamour, buzzing cities, good food, afternoon tea and anything sparkly or Parisian.

Who are your favourite writers?

I’m constantly inspired by Rachel Hills’ smarts and Liv Hambrett’s talent. I love books by Kate Morton, Kimberley Freeman, Philippa Gregory and Deborah Challinor. I am a massive fan of historical fiction. In terms of YA, Melina Marchetta and John Marsden are two of my all-time favourite authors, but I have also loved books by Stephanie Perkins, Gayle Foreman, Huntley Fitzpatrick, Lauren Morrill and Jessica Shirvington.

Where do you write?

Always at a desk. That desk could be anywhere in the world, but it’s usually my office. Some places I would love to write from are: Paris (always), New York, Santorini and the Barossa Valley.