I spent last Thursday soaking up words at Forest for the Trees, a whole-day seminar conducted by WritingNSW as part of the Sydney Writers’ Festival. Forest for the Trees brings together writers, publishers, and industry representatives to discuss the state of writing and publishing in Australia.
The program commences with a writer describing their journey to being published and how they stay on their path through the forest that is publishing. While the speakers’ pathways to getting published are as interesting as they are diverse (in the three years I have attended, vastly different pathways have been revealed), it’s the quotes speakers use to push their point home that I remember most.
So much can be relayed in a few well chosen words, and this year was no exception, with Julie Koh, author of Portable Curiosities and Capital Misfits, and one of The Sydney Morning Herald’s Best Young Australian Novelists of 2017, dishing out quotes thick and fast, telling it like it is.
I thought I’d share them, along with my own two cents worth of comment 🙂 :
- It’s okay to start late, and it’s okay to fail (something I struggle to remember).
- Sometimes you have to make sacrifices (and don’t we know it).
- Learn about writing and the industry ie. from festivals, courses, reading, twitter, professional memberships (let’s face it, finding out how the literary world works can be fun, and painful).
- Butter your own toast ie. don’t obsess how other writers work (my new favourite writing, make that life, quote. This one’s going up on my office wall).
- Book deals can be accidental (don’t you all wish one would accidentally drop into your lap?)
- It’s all about connections (you connect with people who understand your crazy need to do something that may not make you much, if any, money).
- You gotta have the hunger and the hustle. (Julie also said: “Preparation meets opportunity”, another good line to remember. There’s no shame in approaching key people).
- “When the Lord closes a door, he opens a window” (one straight out of The Sound of Music. Julie – Koh – referred to it as the scatter gun approach, spreading your work out wide. I must admit, I had a fleeting picture in my head of Julie – Andrews – fleeing from her hilltop meadow at the sound of gunfire 😉 )
- Your first book is probably not a magic bullet (speaking of gunfire…but seriously, don’t we all wish for the first book to strike it big? Yeah, probably not gonna happen).
- Know that the joy of writing is in the writing. Everything else is noise (yes, yes, yes! And that’s why I blog, for the sheer joy of it – and to get out of housework).
- Say “Yes” until you can say “No” – but preserve your sanity first (in other words, do all you can in the quest for success but don’t run yourself into the ground for it).
- Get your financial house in order first (this is something I haven’t heard from many writers. Julie said: “You don’t know how hard it is until you try…I may become super famous or super homeless, or both”. It’s extremely hard to make a living from writing, so it is wise to ask yourself why you are doing it).
- Realize that the literary world is no mythic garden of noble unicorns (I wish, you wish, my daughter wishes…)
- Be savvy about publishers, agents, and contracts ie. what type of relationship do you want with publishers and agents? (Julie employed a publishing consultant to go through Julie’s first book contract).
- Don’t get sucked into the prize culture (it’s important to keep in mind the subjectivity that may come into play when awarding winners – each panelist has their own taste and bias).
- If you’re a writer of colour, know it will be harder for you eg. you may be defined by it when asked to appear on panels/as a speaker (and the times are not a-changing fast enough).
- Your book can be a business card (it may be the BEST business card for your writing career).
- “Writing is like driving at night in the fog.” (Ah, what a great one to end with, that famous quote from American novelist, E.L.Doctorow, the second line being: “You can only see as far as the headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”)
I’d like to add, and maybe make a career of it that way too.
Hope you’re driving well,
P.S. Writing quotes that mention food strike a chord with me. For some reason, I’m more likely to remember them. Wonder why 😉
Do you have a favourite writing quote? If so, I’d love to hear it!