Know yourself. As I shared in the questions above, authenticity is key to drawing in audiences. When publicists reach out to me to pitch their clients for my blog, they sometimes offer “advice” pieces or listicles that their clients can write. I tell them we don’t want “advice” pieces, we want the raw story! I have found that even when experts and voices of authority share their personal stories of struggle and triumph, it resonates so much more with readers. I’m all about using GirlTalkHQ as a place for authentic human connection and sharing stories from the heart is the way we do this.
As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Asha Dahya, the author of ‘Today’s Wonder Women: Everyday Superheroes Who Are Changing the World’ (out March 18, Dover Publications/Ixia Press). Asha is an author, journalist and TEDx Speaker. She is the founder of a daily female empowerment blog called GirlTalkHQ.com. She has worked in TV and film for nearly 2 decades, both in Australia and the United States, for networks such as MTV, ABC, Fox, MSN.com, Disney and more. She is passionate about reproductive rights and the representation of women in media.
Thank you so much for joining us Asha! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?
I launched a blog in 2012 called GirlTalkHQ.com which is focused on sharing the stories and voices of women around the world, in all different industries and walks of life. I created the blog during a time in my life where I was craving the stories of other women so that I wouldn’t feel alone — I was going through a divorce at age 29, left a large church community I had been a part of for many years, and essentially found myself having to start all over again. Needless to say, I was a little lost but trusted my instincts which were leading me to find support and solace in the lives and struggles of other women. The blog has mostly been a “side hustle”, but in 2019 I landed a book deal based on some of the interviews and profiles featured on the site. ‘Today’s Wonder Women’ is a collection of 50+ interviews with women and femmes from around the world who are creating inspiring change in their communities, showing readers that you don’t need to be famous or super-rich to make an impact on the world. The book has become a full circle moment in my career, and has underscored how right my instinct was to use my platform to elevate the stories of other women.
Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
I think everyone has an interesting story and I am all about encouraging people to share theirs. Instead of highlighting one particular moment or achievement, I love looking back on the last 10 years of my life and use that as perspective to keep going in the present and future. If someone had told me 10 years ago that I would get married, divorced, married again, have 2 kids, become a TEDx speaker, start a blog, land a book deal, continue working in TV & media and develop my own documentary series about reproductive rights, I would’ve laughed in their face and allowed my imposter syndrome to tell me “impossible”! But the perspective I take away from this is that when we stay open to the opportunities life throws at us, the good and the bad, we can see ourselves on an unexpected journey that shapes us in such profound and powerful ways. This is why I believe in the importance of authentically owning your own story and sharing it with the world.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming an author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?
To be honest, writing a book wasn’t number one on my list of goals the past few years. I never looked at myself as “worthy” enough or even interesting enough to write a book that people would read. Thankfully I have a wonderful network of supportive, badass women who have encouraged me every step of the way and allowed me to feel confident in the career decisions I make. When the book deal opportunity presented itself, I jumped in feet first and looked at it as another avenue to use my voice for good and elevate other people’s voices in the process. My advice to other writers would be to stay authentic — to yourself and your voice. There will be people along the way who will give you many pieces of advice on how to change and tweak yourself to please the world and land you that golden opportunity. But at the end of the day, staying true to who you are is what is going to resonate the most with your potential audience and allow you to feel satisfied with what you do. And of course, write what you know!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I first started my blog, I had a vague idea of what it would look like and what message I wanted to share (empowering and inspiring other women and girls). But I thought that meant only writing about celebrities or well-known women. I first tried to be a copycat blog and soon realized that wasn’t working for me. I wasn’t as interested in celebrity stories and had to learn the hard way that interviewing everyday women was going to be my niche. I wish I had figured that out sooner but we all have to go on a bit of a winding path to find our true purpose, I suppose! While this isn’t technically a “funny” mistake, I do believe I learned a lot from making choices that weren’t right career-wise as they helped lead me to where I am now with my book.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Aside from getting ready to release ‘Today’s Wonder Women’ on March 1 in time for Women’s History month and International Women’s Day (March 8), I am also developing a documentary series looking at reproductive rights globally. It is called ‘Life At All Costs’ and dives into the real impact of abortion laws around the world on everyday women’s lives.I am in the process of pitching to production companies and networks.
Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
One of my favorite interviews (It’s so hard to pick just one — they are all amazing women!) was with Fraidy Reiss, the founder of a non-profit organization called Unchained At Last. It is the only organization in the US working to end child and forced marriage in America. She has her own story of escaping a forced marriage, and today is helping so many other women in the same position. Through her, I learned that child marriage is still LEGAL in 48 states (only New Jersey and Delaware have passed legislation banning it), and that between 2000–2010, there were roughly a quarter of a million documented cases of child marriage in the US! We often think of this as a problem in “other” parts of the world, but sadly it is happening in our own backyard. The two most common reasons for child and forced marriage in America are pregnancy and immigration. I encourage you to check out Unchained At Last, and buy my book to read more of Fraidy’s story. She is such a powerful woman and is literally changing the lives of so many people.
What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?
That your story and your voice matter. That your life is yours to lead, and you don’t need to bend to the will of others to be considered “worthy”. I believe we all want 2 main things in live: to be loved and to know we matter. After reading my book I have no doubt anyone will be encouraged in this manner.
Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need to Know to Become a Great Author”? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Know yourself. As I shared in the questions above, authenticity is key to drawing in audiences. When publicists reach out to me to pitch their clients for my blog, they sometimes offer “advice” pieces or listicles that their clients can write. I tell them we don’t want “advice” pieces, we want the raw story! I have found that even when experts and voices of authority share their personal stories of struggle and triumph, it resonates so much more with readers. I’m all about using GirlTalkHQ as a place for authentic human connection and sharing stories from the heart is the way we do this.
2. Know your target audience. Who are you writing for? Having your audience in mind as you write can help you stay on track. When I started putting together the stories for ‘Today’s Wonder Women’, I had a clear vision in mind of what I wanted to say and who I wanted to reach. This helped me choose the interview subjects knowing that they had similar missions with their work.
3. What kind of impact do you want to have? Are you trying to change legislation? Inspire people? Expose injustice to the truth? Knowing your end goal is a great place to help you start. My goal is to encourage more women and girls to raise their voice and change the equilibrium of how culture is created. The more we speak our truth, the less opportunity someone else has to dictate our narrative. This is what ‘Today’s Wonder Women’ is all about.
4. Do your research. Become the expert on your subject matter or story. Whether you write self-help, fiction, or anything in between, equipping yourself with the right knowledge will help readers trust what you have to say.
5. Just start! Don’t wait for the “right” moment, or for someone to give you permission. If writing is your passion and you have something to say, you don’t need to even wait for a book deal. There are so many avenues to help you begin to build up an audience, especially online.
What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?
I love talking! But seriously, since I was a young girl, I’ve always been a talker and been very curious about people and the world. It wasn’t until my 20’s when I was stuck in a marriage and church environment that stifled everything unique about me that I realized how important it was not to dim my light or turn down the volume on my voice. My TV career helped me become a better interviewer and place the spotlight on the person I am talking to, and I am grateful I am in a place today where I get to do this through the medium of writing.
Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?
I read so many different kinds of books and blogs! But the literature I am drawn to the most is fictional stories featuring women in lead roles, and especially written by women. I love the escapism of reading a fictional story to help me take a mental break from my everyday life, but I also really appreciate the work of female writers.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Drawing from the core idea of ‘Today’s Wonder Women’, I want to start a movement that elevates the focus on everyday superheroes. We live in a media-saturated world that is celebrity obsessed! While it’s not all bad because celebrities have the power to elevate important causes and messages, I find it disappointing that there is little to no recognition of the people in our communities who are doing brave, bold and badass things. What will it take to make this shift? I would ideally love to see the hashtag #TodaysWonderWomen inspire people to share stories on social media that go viral, and eventually I’d love to create a web series about this.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Follow me on Twitter and Instagram, @ashadahya.