Maggie Hamilton – Author & Publisher at Allen & Unwin

Writer, social researcher and publisher Maggie Hamilton gives regular talks, lectures and workshops throughout Australia and New Zealand; writes for magazines; is a keen observer of social trends; has a passion for the art of living meaningfully, and is a regular media commentator.

Maggie Hamilton’s working life has encompassed the public and private sectors, and includes senior roles in book publishing and with the ABC. Her professional commitments have included serving on the executive committee of the Sydney Peace Foundation and as member of the organising committee for the Federation Australian Women’s History Project, the Office for the Status of Women, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Maggie’s many books include Secret Girls’ Business, a one-stop fun guide to girls living more creative empowered lives. This sits alongside What Men Don’t Talk About And Why, based on her research into the lives of real men and boys and how they see their world. What’s Happening to Our Girls? based on two years’ research into the twenty-first century lives of girls, presents an insider’s view into the challenges girls are currently experiencing, and the solutions to these issues. In her newly completed book What’s Happening to Our Boys? Maggie puts the lives of our boys under the microscope, uncovering the issues they struggle with, and how best they can be supported.

Maggie has also published a number of additional books including Coming Home: Rediscovering Our Sacred SelvesLove Your Work, Reclaim Your Life and Magic of the Moment for adults. Passionate also about giving children as rich a childhood she has written a number of books for children, and still presents to children and young adults when she can.

Describe yourself in 3 words:  Writer, Researcher, Publisher.

What is your life motto?  Don’t ever doubt the universe – it is always wise, spot on, and loving.

When did you start pursuing your career and how long did it take to become successful?  I’ve been writing for 20 years – it’s that ten thousand hours thing I guess. Looking back I realise it takes a long time to hone your ability to do something well. That said I think the important thing is that you should never feel like you’ve arrived either, because you stop growing.

How much time and effort did you dedicate to pursuing your dream? Lots! With my writing days I would write 8 or 9 hours a day. When I’m writing a first chapter of a new book, I would rewrite it  40 times or so, but then the bonus is at the end of the book I’m in the flow and the chapters almost feel as if they write themselves.

What are the challenges in your line of work? I think it’s a very vulnerable process. When your book comes out, and because I work in the publishing industry, everybody can see how many books I’m selling. Everybody can read the reviews. It’s like having a school report that’s in the local and national papers.

Writing each new book or undertaking any new creative project is a spiritual journey. It takes us to our greatest highs and we get terribly excited and exhilarated about it, but it also takes us into the dark nights of the soul. It’s actually being able to stay with creative vision in the dark nights of the soul that’s critical. Sometimes the dark nights aren’t anything to do with your creative process. Life gets in the way (dramas in your personal life, you’re unwell or somebody else is unwell) and suddenly your ability to connect with your projects is really fragile.

The test is to dare to hold that vision through thick and thin – and that’s where the rewards come. When you can do this, that’s what makes the finished creation much better. There’s times when you need to be brave, to dare to walk through those dark times even though you don’t know where you’re going. You wonder why you put your hand up for this project. You agonise as to whether it’s of any use to anybody.

In the 21st century we’re told it’s important not to be vulnerable, but I’m not sure that’s right. In dark moments this is what stretches us as human beings and connects us profoundly with others.

What is the mistake that taught you an extremely valuable lesson? For me, it is the technical things, where I’ve done things the long way around. For example in the beginning when you’re not backing up enough or your computer crashes. It’s agonising but I think you learn more through those moments than your successful moments. When you’re successful you can become complacent and you have to keep pushing through to keep your edge. 

What is the best piece of advice you have been given to date? Dare to hold the vision. We all get knock backs. So many successful people make it sound like the path was just laid out for them, but if you look at the lives of people who have achieved extraordinary things; often they have had to overcome the most incredible obstacles. It’s not about wanting life to be easy – but fulfilling.

Whatever we strive for, there are no short cuts. When we stop searching for short cuts, that’s when we find the treasures. 

In your mind, is formal training essential? I think it depends on what the area is, because I work in the publishing I have access to a lot of expertise around words and colleagues who fine tune what I’m doing all the time. I think wherever possible welcome criticism because that’s what polishes your work and gives you the edge. Also you need to hone your skills, put the time in. If you’re a dancer, you have to dance the dance a thousand times to get it right. If you can be around people who can help you do that, you are shaving off hours of where you want to get to.

Do you think having a mentor is important? How would you go about getting one for this industry? Absolutely, if you can find a mentor that’s great. In publishing, the writers’ centres are a great place to go as they have mentor programs and weekend workshops.

Having mentored people over the years, I think it’s really important the person being mentored flips into the idea of letting the mentor do the thinking for them. It’s pretty disheartening when you’ve offered to give your own time to help people then you realise that they were hoping you were going to do the hard work for them. Listen and put the work in.

What are some steps those starting out can take to start/further their career? The first thing is to be a big reader in the area you are hoping to write in. I’d stay away from the exact topic you’re writing. Observe how the words are spun together and be a very aware reader and then let go of all you’ve observed and find the spark of inspiration – that is where your project begins. It has to absolutely fire you up to the point that you can hardly sleep, because you’re thinking about it and writing notes about it and really being in the groove of what you are trying to do.
Another thing is to have a regular writing routine.

What kept you going when you weren’t at your best? I have such aching desire to tell stories and communicate and I couldn’t imagine life not doing it. Even though it is frustrating some days, bewildering and I might question my core reason for doing it – or think I’m mad, under all that I find it deeply satisfying. 

Do you believe that ‘making it’ is about luck and being in the right place at the right time? I think the universe meets us half way and we have to do our bit. Sometimes we short-change ourselves, when we are looking for the easy breaks. I’m not saying magical things don’t happen – they do, I’ve had many magical things happen and continue to, but we’ve got to apply ourselves too.

Another thing I’ve noticed working in the publishing industry and creative environment is, you hear from a lot of people who have great ideas who do nothing with their ideas. They never sit down to create their idea out of paper, or clay or stone, or dance it. What I’ve discovered is that if we don’t pull our idea into the physical realm then it stays out there in the ether.

The whole process of pulling ideas out of the ether is interesting too. Sometimes you see 2 or 3 manuscripts within weeks of each other come in on exactly the same topic. All the possibilities are out there, we just have to draw them into everyday life and ground them here.

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