Sydney Writers’ Festival 2013 – My Path Through with Forest with Emily Maguire

Forest for the Trees

#SWF2013_ForestforTreesThis is the second time this excellent workshop has been organised by the NSW Writers’ Centre and run at the Sydney Writers’ Festival. I always find the sessions talking about the life of the writer very interesting. So many people want to be a writer, but what is it really like? Can a successful writer concentrate on their writing alone, or do they need to do other jobs too?


My Path Through the Forest

A writer’s life entails much more than just getting words on the page. Author and journalist, Emily Maguire, takes us through what she will be doing in 2013.


  • Emily’s first novel Taming the Beast took two years to write at night.  It was sold to a tiny Australian publisher for a small advance but her dream to be published had come true.
  • When the international rights were sold she quit her job to have a few months to look for something else. That was nine years ago and she hasn’t had to look for a ‘real job’ since.
  • She stretched her big advance further, writing endlessly. Her first freelance story payment came through just in time to stop the phone getting cut off. This first story helped her get other jobs. In the years since she has returned to study and returned to teaching, but is always writing madly and hoping there will be enough money.
  • She does a lot of freelance work and her success rate on pitches has improved because she knows what certain editors want and her name is more known. However, she isn’t pitching as hard as she used to do as she spends more time on teaching and her first preference is to work on her fiction.
  • She also enjoys writing book reviews for freelance work, although she does feel guilty as times as it’s heaven to read and write about a book.
  • Emily has a website, is on Twitter (sometimes a lot, and sometimes not for weeks) and doesn’t blog.


  • Emily also runs creative workshops for kids, is running Year of the Novel for NSW Writers’ Centre and works mentoring authors. She also has a newly elected position on the Board of NSW Writers’ Centre.
  • I loved her advice on writing organisations: The best way to find warm generous writers friends is to be a warm generous writer friend. That’s the benefit of writing organisations – you can find people at various levels of experience.
  • Emily also enjoys talking about the writing life and is asked to do this at libraries, schools and festivals. However, she gave some sage advice about talking about writing – and also about social media:

“Talking about writing can be energising – BUT you can kid yourself you’re working hard on your craft, when in actual fact you’re talking about writing. “ Emily Maguire

  • She described herself as a novelist with four done, and one on the way. But writing her books is the smallest slice of the work. If she could afford to she would spend more time writing novels but this is not unusual. But it IS the centre of her life. Emily is now working on her 5th novel, but it could be the first, she still needs to carve out this novel out of the world.
  • A writer is making something from nothing. It’s her and the keyboard. her fingers, sometimes frozen, sometimes aching, sometimes her body hurts, this body, dressed in mismatched tracksuits or PJ’s, but always with a coffee, and that’s it. That’s all there is. “Hence the terror and elation”. Emily said writing is thinking of a word, a sentence, a paragraph, then doing it again, and again, and again. And ensuring those words justify their existence, before it’s ok to present to someone else.
  • When she is writing she sits down and switches off everything else. She reminds herself, her novels take time. It’s easy to think you need to be rushing, seeing others and what they have done”The more days of my life I spend writing, the better I would have lived.”
  • At times she knocks back invitations, but she does that because writing matters to her. She asks herself if the thing she’s about to do, is it more important than writing her novel?
  • She writes a first draft as quickly as she can – a skeleton – and deals with all  the notes she’s made in a seperate file. Then she goes through it again and again, putting layers on layers, stripping off half of them, putting down new layers.
  • Thoughts run through her head. Maybe her agent will hate the book? Or feel nothing? Maybe he’ll love it, but her publisher won’t –  she thinks of all the possibilities.
  • Emily told us there is no one right way to do this work, there are multiple ways through the forest.

I think this is the most important message and one that reinforces the talk last year by Sophie Cunningham. Each writer must find their own way through the forest. Learn from others, but don’t be afraid to strike your own path. Don’t feel the pressure that may come when you compare your own path to other writers.  It’s not always an easy path, but often one that writers feel compelled to take.

Thank you to Emily Maguire for sharing with us her path through the forest, and for Pantera Press for supporting the session at the Sydney Writers’ Festival. And huge thanks to NSW Writers’ Centre.


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