NAME: Sabaa Tahir
CLAIM TO FAME: Sabaa Tahir is the bestselling author of a YA fantasy series that began with the smash debut hit, An Ember in the Ashes, and was followed by A Torch Against the Night, and A Reaper at the Gates (coming May 2018). A first-time author, before which she was an editor at the Washington Post, Sabaa immediately won a legion of fans for her world building and vivid characters.
WHY’D WE PICK HER IN 10 WORDS: Sabaa’s life and work is as inspirational as they come.
I start writing in the morning, but only because I have to! I drop off my kids at school and then head to the office. Then I try to wrap up by 5:30 so I can have the evenings with them. But when I’m deep in draft or edit mode, I prefer to work at night—my best ideas usually show up around 2 a.m.
I can’t settle on one. I use Scrivener for when I’m drafting, because my books have multiple POVs and it’s a bit easier to see how I’m arranging everything with Scrivener. I use Microsoft word once I have the structure of the book down. And I hand-write in between, particularly when I’m struggling to either get into or develop a scene.
I listen to music! All of my books have enormous playlists divided up by character or character pairs.
I need coffee to get me started, music to keep me going and chocolate as a reward. ☺
That’s sort of a difficult question because it depends on where I am in the draft. Very early on, I’m lucky if I get 500 words a day. As I get in deeper to the story, I try to produce 1,000 words a day. And when I’m pushing deadline, I have done as much as 8,000 words a day. I call it momentum writing—instead of slow and steady wins the race, I sort of build up steam over the course of weeks and months until, by the time my deadline rolls around, I am writing 18 hours a day in a crazed fury.
It’s tons of fun for the people unfortunate enough to live with me. 😉
I used to start by screwing around on Social Media, but a friend of mine told me she found her productivity increased when she ignored the internet and all its lures until after lunch. Once I started doing that, I’d usually just go in to the last place I left off and start from there.
I go from being kind to myself to being brutal. Every word is suspect, every sentence a potential embarrassment. Every idea has to be interrogated, every bit of dialogue examined, every scene put the to the test of “What does this contribute to the story? Why? Do I need this scene? What does it add?” It is a very different mindset, much more punishing. I’m way grumpier when I’m editing because I’m reminded daily of how crap I am at my job until I start editing.
I read a lot of adult literary, Young Adult contemporary, poetry and long-form journalism. I do read some fantasy, but I dislike reading fantasy while I am writing or drafting, which is for most of the year, so I’ve found I’m reading less and less of it. I try to consume other media too though—I find that movies, TV shows, music, podcasts, etc. are all just as important as books when it comes to filling the creative well.
I think it affects everything I write, always, so deeply that I don’t really know how to pick it apart. It has absolutely slipped into my subconscious. To some degree, it’s like writing as a brown person, or as a woman, or as a parent—the desert sunk into me. It is me. So I can’t really separate it out. I guess one thing I can say is that it helps me find the darkness in my books. Because if you know the desert, you know it can be a vicious place.
My editors give me the best feedback. Usually I get it after I’ve turned in the first draft.
I always wanted to write but it didn’t seem like a practical job. I didn’t consider it something I could actually do with my life. It wasn’t until I was in my late twenties that my husband convinced me that I should go for it. Until then, it was something I did on the side. My “real” job was always editing, before that.
Oh man, they were all miserable but also glorious? I think Book 3 has been the absolute hardest and I’m not done with it yet…so I’ll reserve judgment on that question. But it absolutely gets more difficult. Ha ha, sorry to say…
I ping pong all over it. Some days are wretched and I want to tear my hair out and hide under a blanket. I ask myself why I’m doing this. But every now and then, the words come easy and it’s so wonderful that it makes all the rest worth it.