On Writing

‘Just get the words down on paper’: Maggie O’Farrell’s insights for writers

Photo of author Maggie O'Farrell

Author Maggie O’Farrell joined our trustee and Sandeep Mahal on Instagram Live, discussing how she went from “writing short stories about cats” as a child and “some pretty grim poetry” as a teenager, to winning the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction with her novel Hamnet.

Sandeep is also a judge for Discoveries, our ambitious writers’ development programme, launched with Curtis Brown and NatWest, which offers aspiring female writers of all ages and backgrounds encouragement and support at the beginning of their creative journeys.

With these writers in mind, Maggie talked about her experience of writing across different forms (from memoir to children’s fiction, journalism to adult fiction), how writing workshops helped her as a writer, and she gave some great advice for emerging writers, drawn from her own experiences of writing alongside a job and childcare.

Here are five wonderful writing tips from Maggie, given during the event:

  • “A huge amount of writing is reading – you can’t be a writer unless you’re a reader.”
  • “You have to think of your fears and doubts as your friends, because they’re useful.”
  • “What I wish I’d known when I was starting out, is that you don’t have to worry about beginnings. Don’t worry too much about knowing what you’re doing at the beginning. You can start in the middle if you want! Just put the words down.”
  • “Stories will always find their own shape – they’re like water, they will fill whatever vacancy they’re given.”
  • “If you can, go to a writing group or workshop. I’ve always found workshops amazing.”

To watch Maggie and Sandeep’s discussion in full, head to our Instagram.

Find out more about our Discoveries programme here > > >

The Women's Prize Podcast

Tune into host Vick Hope and a line-up of incredible guests on our weekly podcast full of unmissable book recommendations.