A Writer's Life: The Joy of Writers' Events
One of my absolute favourite things to do as a writer is attend writing events. There is something in the air that calls to me (it’s possible it’s the collective inner hum of imposter syndrome that everyone talks about, but let’s imagine for a moment it’s not!) As a burgeoning writer, working hard to develop my skills and learn all I can about the industry, writing festivals in particular are a treasure trove of information. Thankfully, the Melbourne calendar is full of them.
One of my must-attends is the Emerging Writers Festival. Running every year at the State Library, it provides so many opportunities: to be introduced to new work, see new styles, meet the creatives who produce the work, chat with others who inherently understand what it is like to live so deeply inside your own mind, learn new skills, and also be exposed to endless information about the industry, including tips and tricks to help new writers who are looking to understand how the complicated world of publishing works. Whenever I walk through the doors of the Wheeler Centre (who so kindly hosted the National Writers Conference this year due to the renovations happening in the library), I feel at home. In fact, I feel the overwhelming desire to twirl giddily, so happy am I to be in that space. I have never once walked away from an event there without having learned something new, and something so damn helpful that all I wanted to do was go home and just write!
This year’s festival has so far been all of those things. I spent Saturday at the conference, and from the very first greeting by the festival volunteers at registration, to the lovely fellow writers I met in the crowd, to the sessions and speakers themselves, I was overcome with how much I love being in those spaces. People are so generous with their advice, and it reminds me of how wonderful and collaborative the writing community truly is. Writing is often a lonely thing, and being able to land in a room full of people who love it as much as I do is a delightful experience. The opening session of the day was exactly this. Five writers each shared their top five tips for writing well and there were definitely some key takeaways here: Toni Jordan’s ‘keep an aspiration book and a confidence book on your desk’; Maria Tumarkin’s suggestions to ‘never reach for the low-hanging fruit’ in your own writing and to ‘always offer other writers notes on their work’; Alison Whittaker’s ‘learn how to grapple and make peace with your own shame’; Katherine Brabon’s advice to ‘stop being at war with solitude’ and to not ‘be afraid of the gaps and silences in your writing as they’re often necessary’; and Charlotte Nash’s practical tip to ensure that your work is ‘edited by a competent person’. They gave so much and I finished their session with an overwhelming desire to sit and write for hours. I also had the pleasure of meeting some wonderful women in the crowd - two fellow academics who share my love for writing fiction too, one of whom has her debut novel being released next year! Everyone stay tuned to read Anna Whateley’s Peter Lyre’s Rating Normal. I’m excited already!
The second session I attended was about writing ‘the Racial Imaginary’ and consisted of a conversation between four women sharing their perspectives on racial literacy and how writers can ensure their work addresses this thoughtfully. With a focus on bringing awareness to whom the structures and systems include and exclude, Odette Kelada, Genevieve Grieves, Denise Chapman, and Roj Amedi presented a complex and nuanced discussion. This was the session that allowed me to really think hard about how my own writing and education so far have presented the ideas of race, and how my own lens impacts the things that I say. It was a necessary reminder that there is so much that needs to change in our society, that writing is a powerful tool for addressing that change, and that it is definitely up to all of us.
Session three was about the complexities of writing with emotional honesty. The conversation shared between Charlotte Nash and Melanie Cheng addressed how writers can tackle writing characters who experience situations they themselves haven’t directly encountered. The advice was practical and pragmatic, including a discussion about the benefits and limitations of writing from different points of view, and even a thoughtful discussion about how to write characters people don’t necessarily like with emotional integrity. I walked away from this session with pages of notes on how I might trial different ideas!
The remaining three sessions of my day were particularly informative sessions: one on constructive feedback and how to ensure you are capable of understanding the feedback you receive and how to put aside your ego to take it on board - ‘everyone wants you to put out a brilliant piece of writing!’; one on how to write the perfect pitch for the moment you feel ready to present your manuscript to the world (what a treasure trove of tips and tricks Robert Watkins was willing to share here!); and finally, a conversation about what happens along the journey to being published. Rounding my day out with a trip to the Readings Bookshop to purchase some more novels for my home library, I found myself thoroughly satisfied with my day and spent my train journey home reading poetry and pondering all that I had learned that day.
If you’re into writing but have never been to a writing event before, I strongly recommend it! If you went too, I’d love to hear your thoughts! If you didn’t, does it sound like something you’d be into? Leave a comment below and let’s talk it through.