Becoming a Published Writer

This one is for 19 year old me and for all of hopefuls out there, with dreams of being a published writer.

If I can do it, then you can too.

Where it all began

Like many of you, I’ve been blessed to be raised by story tellers and artists. When I was a child, I was often found drawing and painting. In my High School years, I had some really brilliant teachers who focused my interest in art and poetry.

I started writing with intention when I was studying my Honours in Primary Education at UOW. My favourite subject on children’s literature, had me captivated by picture books. I fell in love how they brought together art and poetry in evocative ways, and I wanted to be a part of their world. I would spend each afternoon joyously writing poems, rambles and fragments with a cuppa, reflecting on experiences, songs, daydreams and worries.

My first book

My unorthodox journey into publishing was born out of ignorance of the system and a courageous connection with a stranger.

The Incredible Freedom Machines (Scholastic, 2018) was written on a red Ducati Monster 659, on the South Coast of NSW. After being diagnosed with severe anxiety and depression, riding was my guaranteed source of joy each afternoon. I sat down after a particular ride with a deep sense of gratitude for my machine, and the happiness it provided. The manuscript for this story poured in its entirety from my leathers and onto the page as I sipped tea. It was a poem, which I edited vigorously before bravely sending on to Matt Ottley (whom I’d never met but deeply admired) to illustrate it. He graciously obliged, taking it to his editor at Scholastic.

Since then, this book has been published by Scholastic in Canada, Russia, Armenia and Turkey. The Incredible Freedom Machines has been shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards, listed as Notable by CBCA and performed by the Western Australian Symphony Orchestra with thanks to Matt Ottley and The Literature Centre.

Chipping away

After the initial success with my first manuscript, I continued to write daily. I set myself a goal to aim towards (number of books I’d like under contract by a certain date). I also set a rejections goal (number of rejections from publishing houses and competitions that I aimed for each year).

These benchmarks gave me something to chip away at and encouragement to keep putting myself in the ring even when I was rejected over and over again by publishers.

I also submitted to industry competitions, joined facebook groups, found mentors, attended writers events, read and listened to podcasts and had loads of coffees with poets.

When I got stuck with writing, I painted, baked, meditated, played my guitar, surfed, did some yoga, walked my dog or socialised. I found these reconnections with the earth, others and myself really opened up my creative flow again.

Living to write

I’m a firm believer that to be an engaging writer, we need to live and I feel really fortunate that life’s challenges and moments of wonder led me to creating my next few texts:

My debut poetry collection, Kindred (Magabala, 2019) was written over six years. This poetry collection is split into three parts, “Mother” explores my connection with Culture, “Earth Child” with Country and “Lover” with others in my community. Writing these poems served to heal a lot of intergenerational traumas in my family.

My second picture book, Our Dreaming (Scholastic, 2020) was penned as writer in residence at Bundanon Trust. It shares the Yuin and Gundungurra Dreaming as they were told to me by my Elders.

Happy Ever After (Scholastic 2021) is a picture book that tells the haunting story of my Mother’s removal from Yuin country in the early 1970s. She was raised as a state ward in children’s homes. This one is haunting and necessary — I cried most of the way through writing it, listening to Mum’s stories.

Another picture book, Afloat (Hardie Grant, 2021) evolved from conversations with a mentor. It follows the story of an Elder teaching foraging and weaving practices to a child, to tie canoes together, to a form a raft to survive an incoming storm.

Mother Speaks (Magabala 2021) was born from conversation with Dr Anthony McKnight, a Yuin leader and mentor. He told me that before we learn to speak language, we must learn the language of Mother Earth. Mother Speaks attempts to awaken us to the conversations that bubble beneath the surface.

Writing every day

Not a lot has changed since I started writing, I’m still trying to honour 19 year old me, who loved the process of taking pen to paper each afternoon. I’m also trying to attend to my 5 year old self, who had dreams of being an artist.

I’m still doing the work to stay in flow with my creative self, making sure I’m setting goals and chipping away at them. I’m submitting to competitions, networking and sipping coffees with poets.

When I get stuck, I paint, bake and play. I wholeheartedly believe that anyone can become a published writer, they just need to write every day.

Proud Gunai woman, Kirli Saunders is an internationally published and award winning writer, emerging artist and First Nations language conservationist.

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