Writing is rewriting. The first draft is just a start. Rewriting isn’t really starting over, it’s building a better story out of the terrible one. If it’s not perfect the first time, don’t take it to heart. Write it again and again. It’s easy to get too close to your work so take a break doing something completely different, and then come back to it. You’ll find that you’ve either figured out exactly how to fix the horrible thing you’ve written or that it actually wasn’t as bad as you originally thought.
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 Tay Reem.
Reem is a former Industrial and Organizational Psychologist turned author. Her debut poetry novel, Tales of Woe, is loosely based on a true story about her parents’ marriage and what it was like growing up in an abusive home. She’s not only an author but a savvy business woman as well, taking complete control of her work by starting her own publishing company.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?
Sure! When I was in the 7th grade, my English teacher asked the class to make up a story using one of the provided pictures as a prompt. I remember feeling this surge of energy coursing through me as I wrote my first thrilling short story. Before then, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer. After that day, I knew I needed to be an author.
Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
As I was trying to figure out how to publish my book, I first settled on Amazon as my main platform. One thing bothered me about it though — in the product details, it would say “self-published” and I wanted something different. I remember thinking “hmm, well I guess I’ll just start a publishing company then”. That’s how Owens Publishing House was born. It is now my main platform.
To some, this may seem like an over the top solution to a seemingly slight inconvenience but that’s me in a nutshell. I tend to build skyscrapers simply because I’d prefer a better view. I’m glad I did it! Not only did I make my own dreams come true, I now also have the rare opportunity to make other authors’ dreams a reality as well. What’s better than that?
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?
I had a successful career as an I/O psychologist working for giant companies, making a lot of money at a really young age. My biggest challenge was leaving corporate America behind and finally finding the courage to follow my real dream of being an author. It’s still a scary road because I have no idea where it will lead.
The writing community on Instagram has helped me be a little less afraid. It’s such a positive and nurturing corner of the internet. We encourage each other and give great feedback and help each other grow. I’ve made very talented friends through writing. If it wasn’t for them, I’d still be too scared to share my poems and stories.
Having support around you while embarking on a new venture is the secret sauce. My sister, my friends, my publishing house, my followers, they are the reasons I feel encouraged to keep writing.
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?
Back in college, my creative writing professor seemed to really be invested in my work and my future as an author. He was a notable author himself and I was a little star struck that someone who was doing what I wanted to do thought my writing was excellent. Well. It turned out he was most interested in flirting than helping me correct my subject verb agreement. I was disappointed to say the least, but I look back and laugh now because I was so naïve then. I learned to be especially cautious with my art around people I look up to because they are also flawed humans and I’m easily disappointed.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I am currently working on a collection of thrilling stories about everyday people who find themselves in complicated life situations that ends up putting their humanity and morality to the ultimate test.
I am also laying the foundation for my non-profit. My vision is to create scholarships and leadership programs designed to help young girls in developing countries get an education and mentorship for their chosen career path. I want to build schools and give girls the tools they need to have a shot at being the woman they’ve always imagined themselves to be.
Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
In Tales of Woe, there’s a major scene where I carefully describe witnessing my father beat up my mother. It was a traumatic moment in my childhood but also a pivotal point in the book where the reader finally understands what led up to the collapse of my parents’ marriage. That specific moment was very scary and confusing to me as a child. Writing Tales of Woe was my attempt at finally facing the monster in my closet. The best thing about the book is the three different points of view trying to explain the same story and give their own perspective of what caused our family to dissolve — all written in the form of poetry.
What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?
In Tales of Woe, the Mom character succumbed to societal pressure to be a wife and mother before the age of 30, otherwise everyone would think there was something wrong with her. She picked the first seemingly nice guy to marry and her world unraveled almost immediately afterwards.
The main take away from the book to readers everywhere is — do not make the mistake of believing marriage will complete you. Having a man does not make you more of a woman and not having a man does not diminish your value as a woman. Women are not automobiles, we do not depreciate over time. It is okay to wait until you find the right one. If he never comes, that should be okay too. Being without a man is far better than being with the wrong man.
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.
- Writing is rewriting. The first draft is just a start. Rewriting isn’t really starting over, it’s building a better story out of the terrible one. If it’s not perfect the first time, don’t take it to heart. Write it again and again. It’s easy to get too close to your work so take a break doing something completely different, and then come back to it. You’ll find that you’ve either figured out exactly how to fix the horrible thing you’ve written or that it actually wasn’t as bad as you originally thought.
- Know about what you write about. One of the stories in my next book takes place in a city I don’t know. Because I want the story to feel as authentic as possible, I did my research on the location and took a few weeks to visit. Now I know enough to write about it.
- Resist the urge to write long, detailed descriptions. It’s very tempting to want to be thorough in writing every detail we see in our minds for our readers, but this is almost never a good idea. You don’t need much to paint a vivid picture, pick three or four important details and leave it as that. The mind is very good about filling in the rest. For example, when describing a person, I tend to pick hair, eyes and skin tone. When describing a location, smell, visual objects that create a mood, weather and maybe how the place makes the character feel is enough to set the tone. These are just examples — pick whatever attributes best fit your writing style.
- Study great authors. Every aspiring author should have a few great authors they admire. Study their techniques and pay attention to the words they choose to paint the pictures in your mind. Use that to help you find your own unique voice and join your favorites in becoming a great author as well.
- Outlining is your friend. Personally, my computer screen is not big enough for me to see all my ideas. I have a huge dry-erase board that sticks to my wall and I use that to outline. I write down all my ideas, how I think I want to connect my characters, and see what works and what doesn’t. Staying organized in the mind will always help make the writing process smoother.
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?
Reading! I’ve always been an avid reader and the more I read, the better my writing got. I use my favorite books as a reference to how great books are written. Sometimes, I’m not sure how to say things, but I remember how another author said it and I use it as a guide. Reading is so important in general but for me, I wouldn’t have discovered my love for writing if I didn’t read so much.
Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?
I like the old stuff — Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell Tale Heart, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies and others like these.
Those stories were more than entertaining, they painted perfect pictures of the flaws of humanity that really stuck with me. Every time I reread those works, I get re-inspired and I reimagine my own characters.
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. 🙂
I’ve always been against the idea that there is only one number one spot, especially for women but even more so in the African American community. I’ve never bought into the concept of suffering as a form of payment for acceptance or worthiness into any community. I think we need to normalize reaching back to help those who are coming up trying to do the same thing we’ve already done instead of hoarding knowledge and adopting a warped sorority mentality.
I would like to see more selflessness, more kindness, more helpfulness and more empathy. We’ll progress in anything we choose to do so much faster if we are intentional about preventing peers from repeating our past mistakes. Life is already hard, no matter what. But it is because we suffered through it that the next person shouldn’t have to.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!