Yesterday I was fortunate to attend the Children’s Book Council of Australia Northern Sydney Branch Lunch with the Stars. As much as I’d love to say I was one of the stars, the truth is I was there to represent Room to Read* and to do some mingling with the librarians. A fantastic bonus was that I was able to hear Matthew Reilly, Kate Forsyth and Belinda Murrell, among others, share their passion for writing – and reading – with the Year 5 and 6 students who attended.

Whether or not you’re a fan of Matthew Reilly’s (www.matthewreilly.com) action-packed prose you have to give credit where credit is due – he’s sold over 4 million books world-wide and has managed to switch on who knows how many teens – especially boys – to reading. In fact Reilly was brave enough to open his talk with a review that rubbished one of his books, closely followed by an email from a 14-year-old boy, a previous non-reader who devoured one of Reilly’s books and never looked back.

Reilly is also a model for those fiction writers considering self-publishing. When his first book, Contest, was rejected by numerous publishing houses, the 19-year-old paid $8,000 out of his own pocket to have 1,000 copies self published. He then hawked them around to book shops, about two-thirds of which agreed to have them on their shelves. When a commissioning editor walked in, bought a copy and read it, Reilly’s writing career was made. Of course not every self-publishing story has such a happy ending but as Reilly told his young audience yesterday, following your dream, no matter what obstacles are put in front of you can open doors and make amazing things happen in your life. While not many of us will be able to replicate Reilly’s success the lesson in pushing on despite rejection is a good one for all writers.

I also loved Reilly’s other advice to aspiring authors – keep interesting newspaper clippings, snippets of conversation, any information that intrigues you in some way in an ideas box and dip into it whenever you’re looking for inspiration. Combine ideas, change names and details, see what stories you can weave together, and guard the box with your life.

Belinda Murrell (www.belindamurrell.com.au) spoke about the shared joy she and her sister Kate found in writing, even as young children. Growing up in a family that encouraged the girls to indulge their passion for books both of them ended up as professional authors and both write fantasy/adventure novels that engage young readers just as they were as children.

The audience was no less enchanted by the wonderful family tale told by Kate Forsyth (www.kateforsyth.com.au) about her  (and Belinda’s) ancestor, Charlotte Atkinson, who wrote A Mother’s Offering…,  the first book of stories for children published in Australia in 1841. Kate’s passion for writing oozed from her words as she spoke and the message once again was clear: follow your heart and don’t let anybody stand in your way if you really want to do something.

And that applies to all of us who are aspiring to be published. Of course there are going to be rejections. There will be times you wonder why you are putting yourself through such torture. But if you love to write and your aim is truly to see your words in print – and if you are open to learning and improving your writing – you must stay focused and remain determined. If Matthew Reilly had given up after those first few rejections he certainly wouldn’t be the world-wide success he is today. And if Charlotte Atkinson had given up her fight for her children in the difficult days of the early colony after she was widowed she would never have published the stories she told them each night before putting them to bed.

Listening to other writers speak about their craft is a wonderful way to find inspiration. Google your favourite writers, read about their experiences, check out their websites and whenever possible go and hear them speak.

What writer’s advice have you found inspiring?

*Room to Read is a not-for-profit organisation that builds schools and libraries and provides scholarships for girls in 9 developing countries. For more information go to www.roomtoread.org