There are many ways to stir the creative spirit. In today’s W.O.W., Sabaa Tahir shares how music inspired her manuscript, An Ember in the Ashes. In detail, she explains how her playlist helped her get in the right mind set to write certain characters and scenes. Her writing journey proves inspiration comes in many forms, and if you follow that inspiration, you can create an amazing manuscript.
Many thanks to Sabaa for sharing her writing odyssey today…
Amy: You worked for five years at The Washington Post. What made you decide to make the jump to writing fiction?
Sabaa: I’d had the idea for EMBER for a couple of years, but never had enough time to work on it. My departure from the Post coincided with the arrival of my first child. Since I wanted to stay home and spend time with him anyway, I figured it was a good time to take the leap and commit to my writing, too. Full credit to my husband, though–he’s the one who kept telling me to write the book!
Amy: Was AN EMBER IN THE ASHES your first completed manuscript?
Sabaa: Unless you count my 4th grade masterpiece “The Birthday Party”, yes, EMBER was my first completed manuscript!
Amy: I love how much you are inspired by music. How much does that factor into your writing?
Sabaa: There’s this great line in THE NAMING, by Alison Croggon, where a character who is quite a wanderer says “Music is my home.” That’s basically my life mantra. Music plays a huge role in my writing. My first book has a massive playlist with a couple hundred songs on it—and that’s after I culled it.
I associate certain songs with certain characters or scenes. While writing a scene, I’ll often listen to a song on repeat b/c the song helps me get in the right headspace. I really believe that without the music I listen to, the book wouldn’t be what it is.
Amy: Are you one of those people who had an easy time writing a query or did it take several tries before you landed on the one you wanted to send?
Sabaa: I did months of research before querying. I read through the entire archive of Query Shark. I read the “Successful Query” series on Writer’s Digest. I made sure I was really prepared before I ever wrote the first word of the query. Then it took a few weeks of tweaking and editing to get it right.
Amy: How many agents did you query for AN EMBER IN THE ASHES? Did you receive instantaneous response or did you have to wait for requests/rejections?
Sabaa: I queried 11 agents and was pretty lucky in that I heard back from them quickly.
Amy: What can you tell us about “your call” with your agent, Alexandra Machinist? How did you know she was the right fit for you?
Sabaa: Alexandra had this energy that really appealed to me. I found her excitement for the book—and for my career as a whole—very inspiring. She answered all my questions with patience and intelligence. When I wanted to meet her in person, she was totally up for it. Within a few minutes of sitting down with her, I was pretty certain she was “the one.”
Amy: Publishing can be a very difficult business. What has inspired you to keep writing through good times and bad?
Sabaa: Probably sheer stubbornness. I had a lot of lows in writing EMBER. And I kept thinking “I left my job for this. I’m spending time away from my kid for this. I’ve told my family I’m doing this—my husband, my parents, my brothers. I can’t let them down. I can’t fail. It’s not allowed.”
Amy: If you were giving a keynote speech at a writers conference, what would be the most important piece of advice you would share?
Sabaa: Maybe for some people, making a career in writing is easy. But for most, it’s a tough road. I believe that if you want to do this, you’ll have to make sacrifices. Writing has to be more important than your friends, your hobbies, your social life, even, sometimes, your family and health. And of course, it has to be more important than your own pride and ego—otherwise you’ll never improve.
Available April 28, 2015
LAIA is a Scholar living under the iron-fisted rule of the Martial Empire. When her brother is arrested for treason, Laia goes undercover as a slave at the empire’s greatest military academy in exchange for assistance from rebel Scholars who claim that they will help to save her brother from execution.
ELIAS is the academy’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias is considering deserting the military, but before he can, he’s ordered to participate in a ruthless contest to choose the next Martial emperor.
When Laia and Elias’s paths cross at the academy, they find that their destinies are more intertwined than either could have imagined and that their choices will change the future of the empire itself.
SABAA TAHIR was born in London but grew up in California’s Mojave Desert at her family’s eighteen-room motel. After graduating from UCLA, Sabaa became an editor on the foreign desk at the Washington Post. Three summers later, she came up with the concept for her debut novel, An Ember in the Ashes. You can find her at SabaaTahir.com, or follow her on Twitter: @SabaaTahir