Last weekend I went to the Emerging Writer's Festival held at the town hall in Melbourne. Over the weekend I attended nine panel discussions on various subjects. I found all except one of them of interest. At a cost of $37 it was a bargain for any writer living in Melbourne. I had to travel down from Wangaratta and stayed overnight, but still found it well worth the cost.
I arrived early on Saturday and, taking their advice that some sessions could be booked out, took up a seat for the Seven Enviable Lines session. While I waited I looked through the showbag they had given me and find quite a few things that I will read, such as, a book called Perspectives containing non-fiction and fiction pieces on democracy, the future (perfect for a science fiction writer) and meeting the needs of vulnerable people, written by established writers and new writers. The first piece is written by Barry Jones who I have a lot of time for having read his book Sleeper's Awake where he warned of the coming challenges to Australia and the West. Barry Jones also warned the Hawke Government about global warming in 1984. The bag also contained a 2005 edition of the Griffith Review, a magazine which I am curious about because one of my master's lecturers, Jennifer Webb, edited it at one stage. There was also an issue of the Victorian Writer, which might finally get me around to subscribing to it and a magazine called Wet Ink, as well as heaps of bookmarks and other stuff on writing.
As I examined the bag's contents the dingy hall filled rapidly with 200 - 250 people, mostly in their late 20's to late 30's. The title of the panel discussion, the Seven Enviable Lines, referred to seven things the panellists wished they had been told when they started writing. The first to speak was poet Pooja Mittal. The things she wished she had been told were:
1. There are no ivory towers, you need to network to succeed. As mentioned in a previous post, I thought the underlining theme of the weekend's sessions was it's not how well you write or luck that will get you published, it is who you know.
2. All criticism is constructive, even that aimed at cutting you down and hurting you. A writer has to learn how to disengage their ego. I reacted badly to the first critiques I got, but have gradually come to value critiques, especially those where the author has tried to offer helpful criticisms.
3. Conserve your syllables, in other words use the least amount of words to say something. She gave a few examples of how this leads more to showing than telling in writing.
4. Writer's block is just that a road block, dry seasons are very natural, just let them happen. I don't know whether I agree with this as I have never suffered from a lack of ideas to write about, my problem is making the time for writing (which was dealt with in other sessions).
5. Inspiration doesn't strike, so there is no use waiting for it. It surrounds you, so go out and look for it.
6. Change is natural, so as a writer you will probably end up dabbling in various genres of writing. I have written short stories, novels a few newspaper articles, this blog, a website, an interactive story on that website etc.
7. Give no excuses for your writing. Behave like a criminal and have no shame. Explain less (this is one of the problems that frequently creeps into my writing) and don't seek to untangle all the knots (are you listening Professor Webb?).
The next panellist was Luke Devonish who writes historical novels, plays and was the script editor for 1,500 episodes of neighbours. Surprisingly he didn't appear to be brain dead. His seven enviable lines came in the form of wishes.
1. I wish someone would have called me a wanker. He felt that someone should have told him not to believe his own publicity, especially since he wrote most of it.
2. I wish someone had told me the importance of story.
3. I wish I had been told the real deal about agents. They don't get you work, they may get you more money for work you have already found.
4. I wish I had been told to keep my mouth open. You must be able to talk about your work, to defend it, to plug it.
5. It pays to be multi-skilled.
6. I wish someone had told me that you can't make a living out of writing if you can't spell and have lousy grammar skills.
7. I wish I had been told that there is absolutely no shame in aiming for the lowest common denominator. He felt that few writers seemed to be striving for good old fashioned entertainment. Sex and death are the two golden words in selling a story. If your story is dragging kill someone, preferably the character who readers/watchers will say, "no, you can't kill him".
8. (he got to eight) Just do it. Stop listening to others who doubt your abilities.
Freelance writer/editor and non-fiction writer Rachel Hills was next.
1. Media is about who you know, she accumulated contacts and bylines.
2. Start submitting stories now.
3. You need to work hard. She mentioned that when Hunter S. Thompson was learning to write, he pulled out a copy of The Great Gatsby and typed it up on his typewriter. In doing so, he felt he learnt the style of F. Scott Fitzgerald. I've been thinking about which author I would choose if I was going to do this, it would have to be someone contemporary, whose style I enjoyed, like Peter Carey or Margaret Atwood. Maybe just a chapter or two of each.
4. Write for publications you enjoy reading, and write what you enjoy writing. This cuts out a few speculative fiction magazines for me.
5. Learn the publications you want to write for.
6. Learn to leverage what you have already done. In other words learn how to use what you have written and have had published to sell what you are now trying to sell.
7. Getting to where you want to be will almost always take longer than you hoped.
Theatre director/writer David Milroy (I hope I've got that right) was next.
1. Writers spend more time thinking than writing. Having a lie down is good for writing.
2. Bananas are good for writing.
3. Surround yourself with people you trust to critique your work.
4. The biggest killer for writing is exposition (that's two of the panellists who mentioned this.)
5. Try and visual what you are writing, without the sets and props.
6. Share what you learn
7. Obsess about your writing.
The final speaker was novelist and writing teacher Kathryn Hayman.
1. You will be rejected, so keep on writing.
2. Take risks, you have to allow yourself to get it wrong. Her students found it hard to take risks. In my masters one of the better and more satisfying pieces I wrote was written in a ficto-criticism style, a style I had argued was full of wankery. I took a chance on it for the final project in one of my subjects.
3. If you're entering writing for the money, become an arm's dealer instead. There are a lot easier ways to make money.
4. There are many different methods of undertaking the writing process.
5. Trust your own voice, people will generally be more receptive to your writing if it is truthful.
7. Be brave.
I will post about the other eight sessions in the coming weeks.