Sara Donovan: Published life begins at 50

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Many people might get to the age of 50 and look at their successful career, grown-up kids, stable life – and happily put their feet up. But not Sara Donovan. In fact it was this rather domestic alignment of the planets that saw her come to revisit a lifelong feeling. A feeling that she had a story to tell.

“I had done other classes in writing over the years that had been really discouraging,” recalls Sara. “I couldn’t even do the writing exercises, let alone progress to writing a book. But despite this, I couldn’t get over my chronic author envy, or my gut instinct that I was a writer, despite my failures.”

So when an email from Australian Writers’ Centre chimed its way into her inbox one afternoon, things suddenly fell into place.

The power of gut instinct

It was 2012 and Sara was at a training program in the Blue Mountains, part working and part doing a spot of ‘altitude training’ of her own in an attempt to find a creative idea for a story. The email was perfectly timed.

“I was there struggling away, and I got an email from the Australian Writers’ Centre about Pamela Freeman’s Intro to Novel Writing Course,” Sara explains. “For some reason, I just KNEW I needed to be in that course. For once, I didn’t procrastinate and enrolled immediately, despite not even knowing what genre I wanted to write in, let alone what story to write!”

Things moved fast from there. Within two days, she didn’t just know the genre she wanted to write (romantic comedy), but she’d worked out the story she wanted to tell. “Even more surprising to me than my sudden clarity was how alive I felt being this close to starting my book. It was like a piece of me that had been in the freezer for decades was thawing out.”

It turned out her instincts were spot on, with the course and subsequent writers’ group being exactly the catalyst Sara needed. And there was more to come. “Acting on Pamela’s advice to get to know my genre, I also took Lisa Heidke’s course (Popular Women’s Fiction).”

If the novel writing course had been the ignition, this new course served to turbo-charge her endeavour. “After Lisa’s course, I pretty well couldn’t stop writing!” enthuses Sara. “It was the best course on writing I have ever done. I really enjoyed the depth of information presented by Lisa and her flexibility in being able to answer all our questions and still keep us on track to cover all her excellent modules.”

The power of good advice

“Pamela’s ability to see what is – or should be – the X factor in our projects was uncanny,” says Sara. “The advice she gave me about my story and writing during the course was direction-setting, as it was for every writer in the group – we were still quoting her a year later!”

Following her course, Sara’s other teacher, Lisa, acted as a mentor for her first draft. “She went through most of my chapters line by line,” remembers Sara. “It was the warmest, most stimulating, productive and successful learning curve I’ve ever been on!”

That environment gave Sara the confidence she needed. “I had showed up at my first course terrified of writing and attracted to writing,” she recounts. “I left on a mission – knowing what to do, how to do it and with a belief in myself.”

“The presenters at Australian Writers’ Centre have the ability to teach the intangible micro skills as well as the tangible macro skills of the craft.”

Published life begins

Sara’s first book, Love by Numbers was digitally published in July 2014 through international giant HarperCollins. It debuted at #133 on iBooks and was listed on Kobo as one of the Best Books of the Month.

It’s been quite a ride for Sara, who still runs her small business – a learning and development consultancy – but now balances it with being a writer.

Did Sara ever imagine she’d be earning an income as a writer? “I’m a chronic wild dreamer, so yes!” she laughs. But she is also quick to acknowledge the guidance she received along the way.

“If it wasn’t for the Australian Writers’ Centre, there would be no book. I would still be thinking about writing and not doing it, and that would be really sad,” she admits. “The best part is that I’ve discovered writing and what an important part of me it is!”

This was written by Australian Writers’ Centre graduate Dean Koorey.


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