We all like to daydream about finding success with our writing, but simply wishing for something tends to be an unreliable strategy. Advertising executive Sarah Bailey was one such daydreamer, but she found a way to devote more time to her writing and ultimately land a book deal.
Sarah’s job deadlines and demands often didn’t leave much time for anything else – resulting in sporadic writing attempts. “I loved my job in advertising, but was increasingly finding myself desperate to have more time to write,” she says. “At work, I was distracted by my own ideas. And I was in danger of becoming the Master of Starting Things … not so good at finishing them.”
Sarah started writing short stories to give herself a sense of completion and flexibility that fit with her busy lifestyle. Words flowed, and it help cement for her that writing was something she wanted to pursue. She was keen to hone her skills and hear from professional writers on the fundamentals to writing a good story. This is when she checked out the courses provided by the Australian Writers’ Centre.
“I think it was a little bit about permission. When you are not a professional writer I think you become convinced that any time you spend writing is self-indulgent, even selfish. I think structured courses can help you feel a bit more purposeful and you meet other writers which helps to legitimise the cravings!”
Sarah enrolled in a weekend course in Creative Writing Stage 1. “It helped me fall in love with narrative all over again. It made me really think about writing as a discipline and in some ways as a science,” she says.
“I think the course also reminded me that there is a real psychology to writing. While you always want to write something original, you want to do it in the safety of a proven framework. This course helped me to map out a clearer vision for the story that was starting to kick around in my mind.”
The course was a turning point for Sarah. “I walked away from the course feeling incredibly determined. I went from wanting to write a novel to deciding to write a novel. It helped me to feel like I had a right to spend more time writing. And most importantly, I think that it inspired me to create my own world and get the words down.”
So that’s what she did, writing and completing the draft of her book The Dark Lake in early 2016. She then pitched it to an agent (Lyn Tranter of Australian Literary Management) and worked it into shape before sending it to publishers. Incredibly, Allen & Unwin bought the world rights to the book in July.
It was published in Australia in May 2017 and in the US later in the year. Plus Sarah has also been commissioned to write a sequel for release in 2018.
“When I found out that Allen & Unwin had secured the book I was completely overwhelmed. Jane, the publisher at A&U, has been amazing from the start. She’s such a huge fan of my book and knowing that your publisher is as passionate about your work as you are is pretty incredible. Working with her and the A&U editors has been great. I am still learning so much and their advice has been spot on.
“Ultimately, I have found the path to publication to be a great experience. A lot slower than the advertising industry but a journey that I am excited to be going on again with my second book in the not too distant future.”
Life as an author
Sarah is still working in advertising, but has recently taken up a new role managing a creative projects agency. For her, mixing writing with another type of work is good for her brain – helping to keep the ideas coming. Plus, she gets to be around people – a welcome change from writing by herself.
A few short years ago, the thought of someone buying her manuscript was the stuff of fantasy. “I think when you’re writing, alone at home or in a cafe or wherever, the end point just seems so far away. You don’t even think you are going to finish whatever it is that you are writing, let alone ever get paid for it.
“Plus, there are so many steps to writing. You have to have the idea, then you have to write it, rewrite it, edit it, get an agent or a publisher to like it and then there is more editing.”
Looking back now, she’s not sure she could go through it again. “But then of course, now I’m writing a sequel and it doesn’t seem so bad! It is definitely a love/hate/weird relationship that I have with writing and I think those emotions are pretty common in any kind of artistic process.”
Permission to write
And would she recommend an AWC course to others in a similar position? Absolutely. “Do it. Research the classes available and pick the one or two that sound right for you… and sign up. Let it inspire you and help you feel like writing is something that can be a part of your life. I am definitely a believer that action inspires action.”
For Sarah, it was all about being given the permission to feel like writing was a normal part of her life – making her realise that the only way to be a writer is to write. “As obvious as it sounds, I think that taking the AWC class really bought that simple fact home for me.”