Writers On Writing / Kate Mildenhall on Talking the Talk

“You’ve spent all this time writing the book – then, what a lot of writers don’t realise, is you’ve got to go out in the world and talk about it.”

Writers on Writing - Kate Mildenhall

We spoke with Kate for First Friday, our monthly conversation with an industry professional. Kate joined us to discuss the art of talking about writing, her own writing practice, and what she’s learned interviewing guests on her podcast, The First Time.

Below is a transcribed excerpt of Kate’s chat with Writing NSW Membership & Operations Manager Rowena Tuziak. Catch up with the full interview on the Writing NSW Youtube channel.

Why is talking about your work such an important skill for writers?

You’ve spent all this time writing the book – then, what a lot of writers don’t realise, is you’ve got to go out in the world and talk about it.

And often you have to do that before it’s published! Whether it’s in grants, in elevators, or at events – even when you are randomly meeting an author in a signing line, and they say ‘oh, what are you working on?’ You’ve got to have your pitch like that.

In the seminar, we’ll go through how to talk about your own work, as well as tips if you want to get into interviewing or hosting writing panels. There really is a need for writers who can talk the talk – writers who are prepared to stand up and say ‘yes, I want to host that, I want to interview that author.’ This could be transcribing the interview and publishing it that way, or publishing it as audio.

So as well as building strategies and tips to talk about your own work, we’ll also explore talking with others about their work.

Your podcast, The First Time, interviews authors about the first time they publish a book. How did the writing process differ for your second novel, The Mother Fault?

In terms of the writing process, I was shocked that it was just as hard, if not harder, the second time. There is something really delightful about writing that first novel when you don’t know if it’s going to be published – the kind of ferocity but freedom you have in that writing.

The second time, when you know there’s a market and a deadline and readers there’s a more expectations you put on yourself.

For my second book, I did a few things differently. I journaled, so I kept a word document open on my computer (although it crashes constantly, because it sits at 200,000 words). It’s my catch-all document. I’ve actually written about this for Lee Kofman’s blog – you can read that guest post here. I do this because when my first novel, Skylarking, came out, I was really surprised by how I couldn’t really remember the writing process. My journal has become this document where I put everything I’m reading, links to research, the people that I’m talking to, or changes that I’m doing – everything I need to keep track of the project.

Now, with my third novel, I’ve started to print out physical copies of my outlines, using them to mark big changes in the draft or timeline. I also sometimes use a whiteboard, just because I find that a novel is a really hard thing to hold in your head (particularly as you move into editing).

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to an emerging unpublished writer?

I’ll draw on a couple of pieces of advice that have come in recently – one of them is from the author Margo Lanagan, who talked about having fun while you’re writing, and the other is from an interview I did with Holly Ringland, who talked about writing what makes your heart glad. All of the talk about industry and networking and social media, sometimes you just have to put it to the side and ask, what is the thing that is joyful for me?

Treat writing with joy and love and excitement. Come to the page with this slightly anticipatory feeling that something good is going to happen, even if you’re talking about darkness. Take it back to simplest thing: write what makes you buzz, and from there you can start to think about how to get it out in the world.

Kate Mildenhall is the author of Skylarking (2016) and The Mother Fault (2020). She is co-host of The First Time, a podcast about the first time you publish a book. She is a regular host at writers festivals and book events and has interviewed authors including Lisa Taddeo, Sarah Winman, Helen Garner, Tony Birch, Liane Moriarty, Jane Harper and many more. 

Join Kate’s seminar Talking the Talk, Wednesday 23 November 6:30 – 9pm at Writing NSW. Enrol here >>

Kate Mildenhall - Talking the Talk

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