Some thoughts about writing from Tom Keneally

Adelaide Writer’s Week 2010

I had the privilege of hearing Australian writer Tom Keneally speak several times during this year’s Adelaide Writers’ Week. On each occasion he was in fine form and proved to be not only a brilliant speaker, but also funny and instructive – often at the same time.

I didn’t take many notes during the week but preferred to just sit, listen and soak up the wonderful atmosphere while listening to such a fine parade of great writers. I did take a few notes for one of Tom’s talks.

“I am the one who needs my books – the world goes on perfectly well without them. I am no longer under the delusion that the world needs my books.” Tom Keneally, Adelaide Writers’ Week 2010

This is a sober reminder about the world and about books. He is perfectly right, of course. The world will continue functioning as it does without that novel or short story or poem you are slaving over. It will make no difference at all if that piece of writing is never published.

Tom is also wrong

At the same time, I believe that Tom is also wrong. The world may not need that novel, non-fiction book, sonnet or article, but there is surely someone out there – perhaps only one person, or a handful of people – whose lives can be changed, influenced or even enhanced by what you write. This is why we must, as writers entrusted with divine words, always strive to write the very best we possibly can.

Our writing can – and should – make a difference.

Good writing.

Tom Keneally opening Adelaide Writers' Week 2010

Tom Keneally opening Adelaide Writers' Week 2010


2 Responses to “Some thoughts about writing from Tom Keneally”

  1. Ken Rolph says:

    In a paradoxical way, knowing that the world does not need our books frees us to write whatever we want. It would be very hard if you had to spend your time figuring out how to write the kind of book the world needed to read. Better to write the one inside you.

  2. Trevor says:

    I have to agree with you Ken. At times writers try too hard to find out what the market is demanding. They then write the story or book that fits the trend or fashion, only to find that the market has moved on to some new fad. I think it is far less stressful to write the story from inside that demands to be written – and then find a market in which it is most at home.